The questionable value of consistent Application Interfaces

May 6, 2010

Hi gang

One of my favorite applications has recently had an interface update. Namely, Adobe Captivate. In considering the changes, I find that I often hear words similar to those below used to describe changes.

“Yes, it’s great because the new interface shares that of all our other applications. This means you can come up to speed very quickly with our other applications.”

But I have to stop and ponder that. I have some rather serious concerns about the validity of it. Please bear with me on this.

Sure, the overall look and feel of the application may now be totally consistent and follow suit with the other applications produced. But does it really help me here? I mean, beyond the first screen. Yeah, I know that on the first screen I can generally open my most recently edited projects easily and I know that other common functions are there. Such as opening the help or being presented with news about the product. But I have to conclude that this is pretty much where it ends.

So Captivate now shares the same overall interface with Flash. We have panels galore and items in different places. However, I cannot say with a  straight face that knowing the interface for Flash or Captivate makes me immediately proficient in the other application. How can it?

Sure, you have panels for this and panels for that. Maybe you know that the properties for something are always in this panel. But how does that help you learn the application any easier? The point is that different applications do different things. Each application has its own specific functions. You use Flash to create Flash stuff. You use Photoshop to edit images. Once I become familiar and comfortable with the new application interface for Captivate, I’m STILL going to be mostly bewildered by Photoshop and will still have to pick and poke to figure out how this new content aware thing will help me or how to create layers and all that, won’t I?

I dream of the day when we have the capabilities of those proposed in The Matrix. Where all it requires is a special download to our brains and suddenly we can fly a helicopter. Or navigate Photoshop or Flash. (At the moment, for me, Photoshop and Flash skills aren’t really that much different from what it must take to be able to successfully pilot a helicopter. I’m likely to be equally successful with all three.)

Until next time… Rick 🙂

The school of hard knocks…

April 9, 2010

Hello world! 😉

Okay, this one is more of a general musing and a bit of rambling.

Recently my Windows XP machine was rendered nearly unusable. Seems that despite having Anti-virus software installed, I managed to pick up a Trojan Horse. Here I thought I was being a good do bee and I had Avast anti-virus installed. I’m protected, right?

As it turns out, Avast performed its normal cycle of updating the virus definitions. Moments after it updated, WHAP!!! Seems it discovered a Trojan Horse in some obscure file. I’m not even sure if the file was an actual Windows file or not, but it sure seemed that most of my applications liked using it. So Avast quarantines the file.

Then things got worse. Nearly any application I opened was apparently looking for the file. Bummer… BIG TIME BUMMER!

About the only way I can imagine that the trojan got there was that I had been installing lots of different trialware and freeware in efforts to determine the simplest way to configure my setup for movie production. Ahh well. Lesson learned!

So I knew I was facing a potential reload of the OS to get things right. I’m looking at the aging computer and thinking that perhaps an upgrade was in order. So I bit the ole bullet and upgraded to a 4 Gig Windows 7 64 bit machine. Sweet! Except there are certain things that don’t seem to like 64 bit Windows 7 all that well. I knew that it offered an ability to tell applications to run in XP compatibility mode. Hmmm, mine seemed to be missing that capability. Further research seemed to indicate that my PC had Windows 7 Home Premium installed. And Home Premium doesn’t offer that little nugget. What to do?

Well, I upgraded the Home Premium to Ultimate. Now I can run the apps with no issue, right? Not so fast. Some apps STILL refused to work properly despite my attempts. Then I poked around Google more and discovered the Windows Virtual Machine with Windows XP Mode. Seemed to install okay. Had one small hiccup where it was unable to connect to Microsoft to validate my copy was genuine, but I tried again and it was all good.

So now I have a Windows XP virtual Machine where I can run nearly all the apps I was running before. (Captivate 1, 2 and 3 – RoboHelp X5, 6, and 7 and other apps.) I’m mostly a happy camper. And I’m largely productive again. Still will be a while before I’m *FULLY* productive, but such is the life of an upgrade, no?

Anyhoo, if you have been wondering where I’ve been. There ya have it! Rick 🙂

Dual Monitor Magick

February 5, 2010

Hi folks

Long time no post! Well, business has been super slow and I’ve been super busy! Lately I’ve been using Camtasia Studio to create some training videos. During the process, I was tasked with using a second monitor. I like the setup overall but when you are recording the primary monitor, certain issues emerge that one doesn’t normally encounter or really even think about in day to day use.

For example, I know that when I’m using Captivate I have options to hide the Captivate icons on the Taskbar and in the System Tray (or Notification area if you are a Windows Vista or 7 user). This is great as there is no evidence you are using Captivate to record. But I’m not using Captivate. I’m using Camtasia!

Camtasia works with two parts. There is the Camtasia Recorder that you use to record the screen, then there’s Camtasia Studio, where you make the edits. When you run Camtasia Recorder, you may configure it so that it minimizes itself to the System Tray. You may also configure the System Tray area to hide the recorder. So far so good. But I wanted to display Windows Notepad on the second monitor to display my script. All seems well and good so far, right?

The problem I encountered with this approach was that I wanted no evidence I was running Notepad. See, all running applications are placed on the Taskbar. A bit of Googling landed me on the following page:

www.mediachance.com

This site offers a totally FREE utility that adds a Taskbar to your second monitor! You may ask why that’s helpful. Well, the Taskbar on the second monitor contains the applications you placed there! This means they are removed from the Taskbar on the primary monitor and allows you to have a squeaky clean environment for recording.

How cool is that?

Until next time… Rick 🙂

RoboHelp Patch Issued

November 3, 2009

Hi all

I’m pleased to report that the Adobe RoboHelp developers today issued a long expected and desired patch for RoboHelp 8.

If you have been using RoboHelp 8, click Help > Updates and try to upgrade!

Fellow Adobe Community Expert Peter Grainge has details about the patch on his site at the link below.

Click here to view

Until next time… Rick 🙂

New Google Group starting

October 26, 2009

Hi all

Yeah, it’s been a while. Sorry for no post. But I have something good for you!

Adobe is good about purchasing other companies. That’s how I became affiliated with them. One such company they purchased was named Serious Magic. (Personally, I think it’s misspelled and should have been called Serious Magick, but that’s the topic for another post.)

Serious Magic produced some way cool tools in the video arena. One of the tools is known as Visual Communicator. (VC)

Click here to visit the Adobe Visual Communicator page.

This tool does some neat stuff. You can create your own videos in a “newscast” style. Amazing effects are possible right out of the box. Based on the forums for Visual Communicator, you might think there aren’t many folks using it. I’m hopeful the activity there isn’t indicative of the user base.

One of the proponents of VC is a gentleman named Rob Zdrojewski. (Call him Rob Z if you like.) This guy does some cool stuff with VC. He even has some training videos on using VC. Haven’t ponied up yet, but I am planning to.

Anyhoo, if you are into VC, you will be interested in joining his new Google Group to learn more about it!

http://www.TeachMeVC.com

Until next time… Rick 🙂

http://www.TeachMeVC.com

False Starting

September 21, 2009

Greetings and salutations!

Yes I’m keenly aware that the blog is in need of updating! Life has a way of getting in the way, no?

Okay, onto the meat of the post. This one will be RoboHelp HTML focused.

When RoboHelp authors create web based output such as WebHelp or FlashHelp, we sometimes find that folks grow extremely confused between the start page and the default topic. This post is intended to provide some insight into this common mystery.

Broken down it’s pretty simple. The Webhelp Start Page is the HTML page that launches your WebHelp system. The Default Topic is quite simply the first topic that is presented to your end user after things load up and settle. Pretty straightforward, huh?

Unfortunately, all too often we find that folks will attempt to name these two HTML pages using the same file name. When that happens, RoboHelp sees a conflict and will rename your Default Topic. The name it changes to usually bears a trailing _1.htm. This happens because it’s quite common for the Default Topic to be stored in the same general location as the WebHelp Start Page. Because as the final configuration you are instructing RoboHelp HTML to name the WebHelp Start Page identically to the Default Topic, something has to give and RoboHelp does its best by renaming the Default Topic and amending all references to it internally. As a best practice, I normally advise folks to consider naming this page index.htm.

This type of naming has benefits. If you have many different help systems it may become cumbersome to determine what the start page is for each one. Things are simplified if all you do is look for index.htm. Additionally, if you are placing the help in a folder on your web server, the URL that opens the help may omit the start page name. This is because it’s a standard Web Server behavior to serve up the index.htm page if a page hasn’t been specified in the link. I like simple things.

On the flip side of things we also see where confusion reigns and folks are unsure which page to link to after they upload the files to the server. And often we find that in this confusion they point a link to the Default Topic. And when this occurs, they are nearly always surprised when they fail to see the nice frameset surrounding their topic. All they see is the miserable Show link in the upper left corner of the page.

Until next time. Remember the Golden Rule. They that have the gold, rule!

Another Link in the chain

July 22, 2009

I blogged about linking a couple of months ago and advised why certain links fail. Click here to read the earlier post. This post is intended to shed further light on other types of links and offer a method to overcome the issue.

Often Captivate authors desire to insert links that open Microsoft Word or Adobe PDF documents. And almost as often, these types of links fail as well. What’s quite a mystery about all this is the fact that when you are viewing via the web browser, if you observe the address bar of the browser, the path and file name are exactly what they should be to open the document. To deepen the mystery even further, if you but click in the address bar and press enter, the document loads right up. Strange, huh?

I’m not even sure what possessed me to try it or why, but in search of a workaround to this issue I decided to try using a now defunct application called Menubuilder. If you have Captivate 3 or earlier installed on your PC, Menubuilder is there.

Menubuilder was created back in the days when eHelp corporation held the rights to what we now know as Captivate. In those days it was called RoboDemo. eHelp saw a need to present a handful of movies and created this Menubuilder application. It created what you might call a “one slide wonder“. In these situations, all action occurs on what would be a single slide if you did it in Captivate.

What I discovered was that if I created a small Menubuilder output in SWF format and used the Insert > Animation option of Captivate, my links began working without issue!

So if you have Menubuilder at your disposal, here are the steps.

Start Menubuilder – Most likely you will be clicking File > Record/Create > Menubuilder Project…

StartMB

Once you have done this, you should be greeted with a MenuBuilder dialog. Choose the Blank project option and click OK.

MBProj1

You should now be inside MenuBuilder.

From here we will set the size of the project by clicking Options > Project Options…

MBProj2

The smallest size you are able to define is 320 pixels wide by 200 pixels tall. Configure for this size and click OK.

MBProj3

Click Insert > Clickbox… and insert a Clickbox object.

MBProj4

Type only the file name of the Word or PDF document and ensure you place a check mark in the “Save file with project” check box. Then click OK.

MBProj5

MenuBuilder will likely post what looks like a catastrophic warning at this point. This is because you just typed the file name and you didn’t browse to the file. Ignore the warning and click No.

MBProj6

Now size the Clickbox so it covers the MenuBuilder edit area.

MBProj7

Now click File > Export… and MenuBuilder will prompt you to save the MenuBuilder project file. This is the equivalent of the Captivate .CP file. It really doesn’t matter what you call it or where you save it. But the step must be completed to continue. Click the Save button to continue.

Choose Flash Movie as the type of file and click Next>.

MBProj8

Name the file and choose the location. This step is pretty important. You are creating a SWF that you will be inserting into Captivate to do the linking for you. Name the file something you recognize easily, such as LinkToPDF or LinkToWord. And save in a location you can easily find later. I find the Desktop is a good place for my workflow.

MBProj9

Click Finish and close MenuBuilder. You are now finished using it.

Now inside Captivate, edit the slide you wish to link from and click Insert > Animation… and point at the SWF you created using MenuBuilder.

I have no clue why this works to open a PDF or Word document while the links Captivate creates on its own fail so often. But work it does. And as long as I have a workaround, I’m a happy Captiv8r.

I’m sure this comes off making me sound like we should accept what software companies give us and never complain. Should we have to do this to link properly? Absolutely not! But I’m a realist and recognize that it is what it is. I can grouse about it but all that will do is put me in a bad mood.

What I CAN actually do is to report it to Adobe so they can factor it into the next build. And if enough of us do that, it’s likely we will see action. The likelihood of that happening is directly proportional to the number of Bug Reports they receive on the issue. So if you are reading my little blog, please consider reporting this issue to Adobe. Here, I’ll make it as easy for you as I can.

Click this link to visit the Bug Reporting form

Double-takes

June 20, 2009

Okay, I’m in a weird mood. There’s nothing unusual about that, though.

Here where I live they sell some supposedly intelligent food choices in the grocery stores. But I have to seriously question this one!

SmartChicken

Looks like this one was a slow learner to me! The “smart” one’s are still walking around and clucking, aren’t they?

Man I hate to eat the remedial students!

When Captivate Links don’t

June 19, 2009

Hello all

This post is intended to shed some light on a Captivate phenomenon that is reported time after time after time in the support forums.

Okay, so what am I talking about here?

Normally what happens is the Captivate developer inserts a Button or a Click Box object that is intended to be used to link to a Microsoft Word Document, PDF, Web site or other file. They preview using F4 to preview in Captivate and the links work just dandy. But upon previewing using the web browser or viewing immediately after publishing, the links fall flat and just refuse to work.

What gives?

Like an overprotective parent, the Flash Player is likely blocking the link without your knowledge. Normally when links like this are present Flash will issue a warning alerting you.

flash8_error

Unfortunately (and I’m unsure as to exactly why) this dialog doesn’t always present itself. Instead, the Flash Player lurks on your system and silently blocks the linking, leaving you scratching your head and wondering why the Buttons or Click Boxes aren’t working as they should.

The trick to correcting things is to open the Flash Player Settings panel and pointing at the location where your files exist to mark them as being safe to work with. If you get the dialog above, you may conveniently click the Settings… button to open the Settings Panel. However, if the dialog isn’t being presented, that’s probably a bit of a stretch!

I’ve had a small tutorial on the web for a long time now that has been successful in walking folks through the basic process. While it’s not my proudest work to date, it does seem to get the mission accomplished. You may view it at this link.

Note that fixing things so the links work for a preview may prove to be a bit problematic. This is because when you preview, you are viewing from a temporary location. So it’s best if you can Publish. Then mark the Publish location as being safe.

Since this post first appeared I’ve created a related post. You may view it by clicking this link.

An old dog learns a new trick!

June 4, 2009

Hello world!

I’m guessing you probably thought I forgot about my blog! No, things just got really busy for me. I’ve been traveling a bit and spreading Captivate and RoboHelp joy across the United States.

So what is this new trick you speak of?

Here’s the deal. During one of the recent classes I was facilitating, one of the participants mentioned something about a specific desktop display setting she should be concerned with. She said that the person advised her to configure it specifically in order to achieve the best Captivate output.

Needless to say this was news to me and I was more than interested.

Mind you I’ve known for years that Windows offered something referred to as “Font Smoothing”. Personally, I don’t like the effect and I regularly turn it off. I suppose this may partially account for why I’ve never noticed it having any effect on the Captivate movies I produce. However, I’ve noticed that when I open PowerPoint and watch the latest “Best pictures of 2008” PowerPoint that has arrived in my In-Box (which looks suspiciously like the one that had the “Best pictures of 2007”) that upon exiting the presentation PowerPoint ever so helpfully enables the pesky option. So I end up visiting the dialog a LOT to turn the silly feature off!

However, it came as a total shock and surprise to me to discover that this little setting would affect the way Text Captions were rendered in my Captivate movies.

As I so often do, I decided to put it to the test. I wanted something to show and illustrate to future class participants. So that evening in my hotel room I tested and screen captured and tested and screen captured. Below is the result of those tests.

To check or change this setting:

  1. Click Start > Run…
  2. Type desk.cpl into the Run dialog and press Enter.
  3. Click the Appearance tab.
  4. Click the Effects… button.

The table below contains images of three different Captivate movies. Below each movie is a magnified image of the text so that you may see the effect.

CaptionSmoothing

That’s it for the moment. Hopefully you found this as interesting as I did. You probably didn’t though. I’m pretty much a nerd when it comes to this Captivate and RoboHelp stuff. Folks look at me and their eyes sometimes glaze over when they see how excited I get about it.

Have fun all…