Adobe Captivate 2019

06 September 2018

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Smart Video recording (webcam and screen)

Wow! This one really caught my eye and I'm really pleased to see it included in the new version of Captivate….but I also find it intriguing. What Adobe has done (I think) is to take some of the functionality within the Adobe Presenter (a product I loved and miss using a lot) supporting application Adobe Presenter Video Express, and put it into Adobe Captivate. Many of you reading that statement will say "No, not really", but what I mean is that the new functionality in Captivate clearly has its lineage associated with what has gone before. It's a fantastic new feature that will benefit many.

What I did in the past (particularly at Massey University) when I needed to provide some rapid support for people using Adobe Connect, was fire up Captivate for a screen recording session, talking live over the capture as I explained how to do something. I then published those recordings up to the Adobe Connect server and made them available. Now, with this new functionality, that whole process could be enhanced and look a whole lot more professional, with a video of the person speaking included…if only I wasn't so camera shy :-) But don't get me wrong, this is a superb enhancement!

In testing, I was intrigued by an odd warning I noticed saying that I couldn't capture the audio of my Mac...

Disabled audio capture
This may not be new issue with Captivate, but I wasn't impressed with where it led me.

The hyperlink took me to this page, stating that in order to capture Mac audio you need to install something called Soundflower. Now I usually don't like installing apps to make other apps work…and when going to the download page for Soundflower, it doesn't look like (no offence to its developers) that there is much maintenance going on. In fact, High Sierra just gets a workaround mention at the beginning of the page - https://fluxforge.com/blog/soundflower-os-x-10.11-10.12-macOS-sierra/

This really surprises me. For a major company like Adobe to point to what looks like not-so-well-maintained software as a needed install, caught me off-guard. I use multiple screen capture tools that can capture Mac audio without needing to install additional third-party software (SnapzPro X for example), but I think it's even more prudent to look at companies with more high-end screen capture functionality and take a look at how they handle the situation. Screenflow (which I have used for around 5 years now) does it more eloquently than Captivate does, prompting users to upgrade their driver (not a term that is typical for Mac users) and then explaining how to use that driver in the future.

Screenflow software prompt
Telestream's Screenflow prompt to install additional software for sound capture is a lot more reassuring than the one for Adobe Captivate

The reassurance for me here is that I know and trust Telestream…I'm not so keen (even if Adobe is asking me to do it) on installing a third-party driver whose maintenance I am questioning. Maybe Adobe could create a fork of Soundflower and maintain it and build it into the app? Then again, why does Snapz Pro need neither of those things? Curious. I guess it's really about the 'spit and polish' that Adobe puts on the product. To me, the hyperlink and suggestion of Soundflower almost feels like an afterthought as opposed to a an eloquent solution. It wasn't a reassuring thing to come up against, so at that point I decided not to proceed.

Chroma key effects

I was really impressed by the chroma key effects and how simple they were to set up. I was incredibly lazy in testing, not even bothering trying to have a consistent background colour behind me, but even then the outcome was far better than I expected. Once I completed the screen capture and the webcam recording, I couldn't find a way to easily replace the web-cam recording without starting all over again though. Perhaps I am missing something?

I think it's vital to be able to replace the web-cam capture in the timeline. It could be for many reasons...you've fluffed your lines, that chequered shirt you decided to wear causes camera flare, you discover that the cat crunching on her food nearby was far louder than you thought (this happened to a colleague of mine when she recorded in her house), you just want to do your voice and camera part over again, or maybe you want someone else to sit in front of the screen and be recorded? I wanted a way to go back, have Captivate play the screen capture back to me, whilst allowing me to add in a new webcam capture, but I couldn't see it. Surely there's an easy way to do this?

In fact, I often do a similar thing in reverse when using Screenflow. For one organisation I worked at, I found the best method was to write an actual script, record the entire script as audio only, and then I would go back to the beginning of the project, have the project play back the audio to me, as I captured the associated screens I was working through. Another way to put it, I just followed my own instructions as they were read out to me, by me :-)

For Captivate, I'm saying I hope I can do the opposite. Capture a live screen and webcam talk at the same time, but that the most important of those two things is the screen capture. I'd love to be able to go back, strip out the webcam footage and play the screen capture back to myself, as I re-record the webcam input in a more professional way. As far as I can tell, this can't be done?

Import of questions by CSV or CSV template

This is one of those features that someone who doesn't use Captivate will think "meh", whilst my thought was "OMG…this is going to save so much time!" It seems such a simple idea, but it has huge ramifications. In a large organisation Instructional Designers are often provided with Word copies of questions, develop the Captivate project and then publish…being asked to revise the questions as people test the project out and come back to them. Having the ability to share and re-share a CSV version of all the questions not only is going to save a lot of time, but it's something you could easily pass on to clients to have them specifically work on whilst you take care of other things.

Just take a look at the feature on the Adobe website. It may seem slightly complex at first...and mostly spreadsheet-based, but the simplicity of doing all this work in Excel first is huge and will ultimately save so much time. Just import these questions into Captivate and you're done (mostly)!

In testing this process worked really well, even if (as the video on the Adobe site shows) it's a little more complex on a Mac when exporting the CSV file. If I am being picky (and hey, I know I am) I found that I tripped up on the buttons on the second tab of the Macro. I was interpreting "Add Question" as "I want to enter another question on to this form" when it fact it is more like "Add the current question to the CSV dump that it going to be exported". The reason I spotted this was I kept noticing that my final question wasn't appearing in the CSV export. This was because I needed to click "Add Question" after entering in all the text of the question before proceeding.

CSV form buttons
"Add question" does not mean you want to enter the next question into the
spreadsheet, but add the current question to the spreadsheet to be exported.

I'd like to see this made a little more obvious, even if the first button could be changed to "Add question to list" or "Add question to pool"? I understand how the process works, but I repeatedly kept forgetting to click that "Add question" button at the end. The other thing I kept causing to happen (because I was forgetting to click "Add Question") was that I would click "Clear Input Form"…at which point there was no macro prompt to say "Hey, you haven't added that question to your pool…as you sure you want the form cleared?"…and so I kept clearing everything I had just typed. So, it's a matter of getting used to how the template works before proceeding and not wondering why or where your questions have disappeared to.

PowerPoint to responsive eLearning

Testing this feature started off as slightly confusing for me and then came to an abrupt end. I thought "OK, great…it will take PPT files and let you add them to a project as responsive slides, as per the video example…so I guess I need to start with an empty responsive project?" So I created a responsive project and saved it. Problem is, this blank responsive project wouldn't let me insert a PowerPoint slide. It seemed odd that if the ideal vision was that of importing slides and making them responsive, that my responsive project wasn't letting me add them to it.

No option to add a PowerPoint slide               No option to import a PowerPoint slide
PowerPoint Slides can be converted to responsive slides, but not it seems, by trying
to add them to a Responsive Project. The options were greyed out for me.

Update - 11 September 2018

The cause of the above problem may be (as I wondered) that I don’t have Java installed (and sorry, I'm not prepared to install it to test) but I found this video showing (admittedly from a Windows PC and not a Mac) that you clearly can do an import that way into a Responsive project - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnFAbDLO7ks

Instead, I had to create a blank project (not a responsive one) to then import these slides into them. And that unfortunately is as far as I got…or more precisely, as far as I am prepared to go.

As Captivate began importing the PowerPoint slides from a PowerPoint file, I received prompts telling me that if I wanted to use the Java command-line tool (which I don't, but I suspect Captivate must) then I need to install a Java Development Kit.

Java Development Kit prompt
Hmm, not great news for those of us that like our Macs to be free of Java. If you do, you won't be able to convert PowerPoint slides.

From searching the Internet this is not a new issue with Captivate. Apple doesn't release their macOS with Java installed any more, and I have managed to avoid having it installed on my Mac for the last 3 years at least. So, sorry...as much as I would love to test this feature, I like my Mac 'Java free'…so testing this feature ends here. It did keep saying it was importing the slides, but at the point that I was asked to select the slides I wanted to use, the interface wouldn't respond. Clicking "Cancel" had no impact, so I had to force-quit Captivate.

Import slide prompt fault
Without Java, the PowerPoint import process comes to a sticky end

Fluid boxes and automatic device preview

Fluid boxes and responsive design was a big step forward with the previous release of Adobe Captivate, but I think it's fair to say that it wasn't the most intuitive or easy-to-use approach/interface. Take a look at the video concerning the changes in this version of Captivate and you can see that Adobe has spent a lot of time making responsive design development (I almost wanted to say "responsive design design" there) more manageable. UI tweaks in Captivate make working in responsive mode that much easier, so I'm really impressed to see the work that Adobe has done here. They've really refined the UI to make this a more productive tool. I guess this harks back to my previous post, where I think there are some older sections of Captivate (like the preferences section) that I think are long overdue for this kind of UI/UX review and attention, so it's great to see even a relatively new feature continue to be refined.

I think the automatic device preview is really neat…and a bit of a go-between if you don't want to jump to a Live Device Preview or browser-based previewing. As touched upon earlier, the exemplar project that Adobe supplied worked well and looked superb using this feature...but that wasn't what I had experienced earlier when using the device preview option. So clearly there is a a mis-match here between what you see and what the final version may be, but it's a superb tool for giving an overview of how your project adapts itself as part of responsive display.

Automatic device preview
For a rapid review of how your Responsive Project behaves, Automatic Device Preview is a superb tool and concept

The real benefit of this feature is that it is less of a chore than other preview methods within Captivate, whilst covering off numerous device resolutions in one go. Very quickly, without having to launch a web browser or link to a device, you can have the question answered "What impact did that change I just made have on my project?" and you can repeat that process quickly, making rapid changes and testing. Superb!

Revisiting my last article

A few weeks ago I published an article about using (what was then) the most recent version of Adobe Captivate as part of a 9-month contract at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Most of the article was focused on frustrations with what I consider to be a superb application. I thought I would review the points I made and see if any changes/improvements have come along with Captivate 2019…

  • Performance - No improvement. My contract with Foreign Affairs has ended, so I can't doing a true comparison of performance on the PC that I was using, but I do find Adobe Captivate on my Mac to be sluggish, as it has been in the past when I have tired trial versions. I know a faster and more capable Mac would improve my experience, but my current Mac does meet the System requirements.
  • Preferences layout - No change
  • Instances of projects - This appears to be a PC issue (I am back on my Mac at home) and I have not experienced it on my iMac.
  • Undock panels - There is in fact a solution to this that I had missed. Read the update just after these bullet points.
  • Font management - No change
  • Spell checking - No change
  • Realtime preview - Not quite, but the new live device and atomic device preview features are amazing!

Update - 11 September 2018

I'm both pleased and incredibly frustrated that there is in fact a solution to this...and it appears to have been around since 2016. I tried numerous ways to get the customisation of the tabs I wanted, and a lot of time searching the net for a solution...but then I just happened to spot a setting in the Global Preferences that I had not spotted before...

Enable custom workspaces
It's a well hidden feature, but when activated, it's a useful feature

You can read about what this option lets you do on this page - https://helpx.adobe.com/captivate/using/customizing-workspace.html

However I'm frustrated that such a superb feature was so hidden away in the Preferences...an area I've already stated, needs an overhaul. So...I got there in the end, but boy I wish it had been something I discovered earlier.

Help! It's confusing!

No, I don't mean that using Adobe Captivate is confusing...I mean that the way Adobe has opted to integrate Help options into the product is confusing. It's as if they just decided to throw consistency and intuitiveness out the window. Here's what I mean.

But first - Interface design, usability and end-user computing (or these days, UI/UX) was part of my PostGrad Computer Science studies, so it holds a special interest to me when using software. Hopefully this explains why I picked up on some of the following...

1) A "Community" button on the toolbar

Take a look at the "Community" button. Look where it is. It's placed on the toolbar, as though it is something that you add into or use with a project...

Community button
Adobe appear to have thrown consistency out of the toolbar to promote their community site

Why is it even there? Well, I personally think that it's because Adobe want to promote their great new Community portal, and they want to make it prominent within Captivate...but in doing so, they've set aside the user experience and consistency. If you're going to have Help buttons there, why not have them all (something I don't want to see, but it would be consistent)?

Next, what happens when you click the button. Does it launch your web browser? No. It launches what you might mistake for another project (because a new project tab called "Community" appears") and displays the community site from Adobe. But why here? And why like this? It is causing Captivate to behave in an atypical way. If the Community button needs to stay where it is (and I actually don't think it should be in the toolbar) then why not have it behave the same way every other link works, by launching the user's browser?

Community page
The Community button launches a web page, but not within the user's browser, but within Captivate!

And remember the word "Community"...we'll come back to it.

2) Live chat and UI inconsistencies

Take a look at the following 3 images...

Sample Projects/Tutorials button

Access Adobe Resources button

Live Chat button

The first thing I noticed was that only 2 of the 3 buttons let you know what they are by hovering your mouse over them. Then, one also clearly indicates that you click it to "Access" something, so why don't the other 2 buttons use the term "Access" also? And look at the second icon for a moment...it's an envelope. When you see a button represented by a envelope icon, what do you think it means? You thought email, didn't you? Yet this is in fact a link to a web page.

At the end, there's a "Live chat" option...but why here? Those first two options are to access additional resources and material, and the final one is to get help. To be completely honest, I thought at first that maybe Adobe had introduced the ability to add live chat functionality into Captivate, as I didn't think a chat support option would be sitting there. It's in an odd location. If it is about getting help, why isn't it under the "Help" menu (it's not...it's missing) just like other options are?

3) Resources, Resources and Resources

I understand Adobe wanting to promote the resources available to support you. But is a resource a sample project or a tutorial? Ends out it can be either. In fact it also appears that a resource in Adobe's eyes, can also be a weblink.

When you then download sample project resources, they become available within Adobe Captivate. But the"Resources" tab in the window where you can access them, not only contains these sample projects, they contain what look like other sample projects, but are in fact tutorials videos.

So are these local video or videos you download to this section (like sample projects)? No. The tutorials listed there are in fact just links to tutorial videos on a website. It's getting messy folks!

Even more bizarrely, once you realise these "Resources" are in fact simply links to tutorial videos, you are then greeted near the end of that list with what also looks like another tutorial video icon, but in fact is a link to more sample projects. It's really inconsistent.

What about the difference between "More Sample Projects" and "More Resources"?

You could possibly argue that everything is a resource...but the term is used so broadly here, it gets quite confusing. This is then further confused by the fact that when you interact with something Captivate calls a "Resource", the way in which Captivate behaves can vary.

Clicking "Resources" can...

  • Bring up a widow within Captivate to download resources (I had to chuckle at the typo present that states that Adobe is "not conducting a survey" as you can see in the following image)
  • Bring up a web page external to Captivate that may or may not link to any actual resources
  • Bring up a web page external to Captivate that is in fact the Community site

Resources can appear in their own window

Resources can appear in a tab or sometimes relate to other things
Go looking for Resources within Adobe and it becomes a bit of a gamble as to what you will
be presented with, and how it will be presented to you! Resources often means multiple things.

Just look at the second image above again and the button "More Resources". I said I would come back to Resources and Community. Well that button is in fact a link to the Community site...and do you notice the icon of two people? It is in fact the same icon used for the "Community" button on the toolbar. So since it looks like Community and takes you to Community, why not label it "Community"? It's really confusing!

My suggestion to tidy Help up

I think many of the items discussed should be moved out of the layout and back into the Help menu. I know Adobe probably want them to be more prominent, but not when it's causing usability issues and inconsistency. I also think the window that appears when you start Captivate up should be tidied up. A new tab "Sample Projects" should separate those and the awesome Tutorials that Adobe also want to have there (as an aside, please also create a separate "Tutorials" link in the "Help" menu). Then use this area to better promote the Community portal, rather than awkwardly having it in the toolbar. The current placement there is poor.

So here's what I suggest...

  • Remove the "Community" button from the toolbar. Have "Community" accessible from the Help menu and the window I'll discuss below
  • Get rid of the buttons I mention in (2) above (Sample Projects, More Resources, Live Chat). It's messy having them there.
  • Move most of these items to the Help menu, as well as adding one specifically for Tutorials
  • Make the window (discussed below) more sensible and consistent
  • Get rid of the confusing term "Resources" as it is used at the moment to represent different items and links to different places

So, here you go...my version of what Adobe should do...


Sample Projects is now in its own tab. The projects listed can be downloaded from here directly,
and once downloaded the icon is replaced with a view icon. Note in the bottom left of the
window that the link to the Community site is now worded correctly and clearly is a button.

 


Tutorials are now in their own tab and no longer mixed in with sample
projects. It's also clearer that the items are links to a tutorial on the Internet

I hope Adobe brings some consistency into the Help system and isn't afraid to delegate a Help link to the Help menu (rather than as a visible button). I hope they do give some thought to these issue.

Summing up

Reviews often ask if the new version of a piece of software is worth the upgrade. Categorically, with Adobe Captivate, the answer is Yes! This is due to a combination of existing Captivate functionality, the amazing new features...and the improvements that Adobe have made to some existing sections, most notably fluid boxes.

That said, there are issues with the software that I would like to see Adobe resolve. About 6 years ago I felt that Adobe Captivate was becoming too big a beast and suggested that it might benefit from there also being a smaller version which I dubbed Adobe Captivate Elements. This was really in response to the fact that the complexity in Adobe Captivate could in fact be refined by Adobe rather than the software becoming a behemoth of an application to use.

Performance of the software remains an issue for me (or at least Adobe should list more realistic minimum specs) and attention to reviewing the interface needs to be carried out. I feel like it is almost time that Adobe did a "No new features" update similar to Apple's approach with Snow Leopard, focusing on UI/UX and under-the-hood improvements.

It's great that Adobe has done so much to develop the support material and community website for Captivate. It's something I wish they would do for my other favourite Adobe product, Adobe Connect, where the community site hasn't had anywhere near that much attention (https://www.connectusers.com), but they also need to refine the UI to make accessing support material less confusing, including developing consistency in terminology. The same can be said for using Adobe Captivate, where it sometimes isn't clear why or what the difference is between (for example) a "Question Slide" and a "Knowledge Check Slide", or why converting a PowerPoint to a responsive project can't start with a blank responsive project.

It is astounding all the things that you can achieve with Adobe Captivate...and the '2019' release takes that even further. I'm looking forward to seeing what developers do with this release, and to spending the next few months guessing what Adobe might have in mind for future versions.

Updated - 11 September 2018

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Philip Roy - eLearning specialist. Former owner NZMac.com, NZ Macguide writer, Adobe Education Leader & NZ Flexible Learning Leader.