Thoughts on Adobe Captivate - 2018
I have used Adobe Captivate since it was first release in 2006 (technically that was in fact version 2, with version 1 being called Macromedia Captivate). However for various reasons I haven't had the opportunity to use Captivate with my work recently…although I have always kept an eye on each iteration that Adobe has released.
With a recent contract as an Instructional Designer/Trainer for the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, I was able to get back into Adobe Captivate for the first time in around 5 years. It was great to be using such a superb tool again, but also frustrating to find that many of the quirks of the program remain after all these years.
During the course of my work I spent some time noting down my frustrations, which I am going to discuss here.
Note - The work I did at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) was placed onto a restricted network, so I won't be providing any examples of the work that I produced here.
But before that…
Over the past 5 years there are a lot of changes to Captivate that do deserve praise and attention. One of the things that I think Captivate has handled well is the gradual (but now slightly hastened) move away from Flash to HTML5 driven content. I like the fact that Adobe haven't overly complicated the process of evaluating existing projects and correcting them to function in an HTML5 friendly environment.
The ability to develop responsive, fluid designs is excellent, as is the ability to record from/on devices. I am also pleased to see Adobe develop an LMS (Adobe Captivate Prime) with Captivate at the forefront. That was a bold move Adobe and I hope that it is paying off.
With regards HTML5, the version of Adobe Connect that I was publishing to (combined with the browser version that was in use on the network) meant that whilst I produced HTML5 friendly projects, they were still being delivered internally as Flash files (i.e., I published as a combined Flash/HTML5 project that is currently being delivered as a Flash movie). An update to MFAT's version of Adobe Connect (which is on the schedule I believe) and an update to MFAT's web browser of choice, will easily resolve these issues. For some Embassy staff, this will resolve issues with poor connectivity (in the country they are located), as testing has shown the HTML5 versions of projects stream much more efficiently for them.
Additions of interactions, actors and themes over the past few years have also greatly enhanced Adobe Captivate. It's an interesting mix of screen capture tool, simulation creator, presentation tool (although I'm not sure I have ever used the PowerPoint import feature) and scenario development tool. Recent moves to enhance the responsiveness of projects and cope with scaling for all devices are also very cool and noteworthy.
I also want to mention (despite the fact that it happened a long time ago) that as a long term Mac user, I was of course overjoyed when Captivate also started being produced as a Mac application.
But the not so good news…
One of the things that surprised me was how some things hadn't changed with Captivate…and the first (and I think crucial one) is simply the performance of the application…in this instance on a Windows 7 PC. I was amazed to find on a PC with 8 Gb of memory, Captivate coming up with "Program not responding" messages during simple things such as saving a file or closing the application. I've seen this for years previously, but I was surprised that the performance of the application simply hadn't improved. I did many of the things suggested online (including manually clearing out the cache files) but the problem remained. Note that 8Gb of memory is double the minimum RAM recommendation - https://helpx.adobe.com/nz/captivate/system-requirements.html
A colleague had even more RAM installed, but continued to see these "Program isn't responding" messages simply as part and parcel of working with Adobe Captivate. Surely something could be done after all this time to improve and optimise the performance of the application?
Layout - UI/UX
- Global preferences versus project preferences are just astoundingly confusing…still. There should be more work done to make the preferences interface more logical and explicit in showing the difference. This article highlights the difference - http://www.infosemantics.com.au/adobe-captivate-troubleshooting/how-to-set-up-preferences and shows how easy it is to miss the subtle change. I can't understand why they can't make the difference so much more blatant? Why not have a tick box that simply says "Override global preference for this project" at the top…and if it is ticked, you know you are using Project-specific preferences? I don't actually like that approach, but at least it is a bit more blatant. I think the preferences pane needs a total reworking.
- I still find window instances of Captivate confusing. It was possible on the PC, to have projects open in tabs, but on other occasions you could open a project as an entirely separate application instance….and not even know you'd done it. I often found I would open a second project, wonder why I wasn't seeing it as a second tab in the application window, only to find it had opened up as an entirely separate instance of the application. Is this a Windows thing? Because it allows for inconsistency and therefore, confusion.
- I was working with 2 monitors, but I found it frustrating that I couldn't tear off the Properties and Library tabs and move them to the second screen. Because of the size of the project I was working on, I found myself forever opening and closing the side-bar on the screen, as it took up precious real estate. I just wanted to move both of these tabs out of the way but still have immediate access to them.
- Font management remains frustrating…as there seems to be more than one way in which you can have (for example) regular and bold text in the same text box…and I found I was often having to redo a piece of individual text, because a change had been applied across the entire text box I was working on when I didn't want that (note - it's about 5 weeks since I used Captivate and I don't have a copy here in front of me to describe the issue better).
- Spell checking - why is it so hard? I found that I could spell check my project and it would report errors, but often it didn't highlight where that error was or what slide I needed to look at. So I would have to stop the spell check, then use the "Find" function to find the actual slide location of that error, correct it and then go back to spell checking the whole project again. I'm fairly sure I wasn't doing anything wrong, but it shouldn't be that complex. As a side note, I'm amazed how many applications do spell checking badly these days...even Mac applications frustrate me because of how clumsy Apple's built in spelling system is.
Update - 11 September 2018
I'm both pleased and incredibly frustrated that there is in fact a solution to number 3 above (Properties and Library tabs) and that it appears to have been around since 2016. Rather than repeat myself, I want to point you to my newer article on Adobe Captivate 2019 for the solution.
- Templates versus themes is complex and confusing. I get the need for both, but it's not the most intuitive to understand and use within the application.
- I kept coming across an odd bug with 'assets' (and I'm using them in a broad sense...to be explained in a moment) that couldn't be deleted. What I was finding was artefacts on slides that appeared to be from other slides that had been deleted. The artefact (usually a small part of an image) was not selectable, didn't appear as an asset in the timeline or library and could not not be removed. It was almost like a refresh issue (but note even closing down the application didn't resolve the issue). It wasn't solved by deleting the project cache, and ultimately the only solution was to completely recreate the slide, by creating a new slide and moving the assets and background images that I did want to use, one at a time, leaving the artefact that I couldn't remove on the 'old' slide, which was then deleted. To make sure this wasn't something that I was just missing the solution to, I had a colleague come and try and resolve the issue for me. Again, he discovered this asset image was non-existent, could not be found or selected. Note there are also people experiencing the same issue on the Adobe forums.
For the future
- With the move to HTML5, I would love to see the ability for changes you make to a project slide to be applied immediately to a preview of the project running in a browser. What I mean by this is that rather than go through the process of:
- Edit slide
- Preview project
- Spot mistake
- Close preview
- Repeat process above
..I would love if an HTML preview in a browser was almost a "live" preview (a bit like some web authoring tools allow) and that as you make a change to a slide, the browser refreshes and applies that change. Having a browser open with a live preview of a project on one monitor, whilst you 'tweak' changes and fix bugs to the project on the other monitor, would be fantastic…without having to stop and reload the preview.
- I am also both pleased and disappointed to look back at an article I wrote on this site suggesting an 'elements' version of Adobe Captivate, to see that whilst some of the ideas came to fruition, albeit in a slightly different way to how I suggested them (such as simple development via an app that allows you to transfer your work to the full Captivate application) I still wish that simple screen capture was easier than it currently is...even if this meant spinning off the screen capture process into a separate app on the PC. One of the great things about this is that you could hand over screen capture to an end user who perhaps (as an example) knew the system they were capturing better than you, and then fed that capture file to you (as an instructional designer) to work your magic in the full version of Captivate, enhancing it and making it a useful piece of training material.
Finally, in searching for solutions for some of the problems I was experiencing with Captivate, I came across this article which I think deserves some credit in pointing out some concerns around Adobe Captivate - https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/58-hazards-after-adobe-captivates-treacherously-long-learning-small
That all seem a bit negative, doesn't it?
Well you might view it as that…but to me it's a bit like job appraisals. I often say "please stop telling me what I am doing well…tell me what I need to fix". I love using Adobe Captivate, but it needs to get better. Adobe needs to spend time resolving the issue that others have pointed out and the items that I found frustrating that are listed above...because ultimately, improvement to the product benefits all Adobe Captivate users and Adobe itself.
Updated - 11 September 2018