What's New in Captivate 4

By Scott DeLoach

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Following the very successful and highly-regarded Captivate 3, Captivate 4 is yet another strong release from Adobe. In this review, I will describe the new features of Captivate 4.


Click a link below to jump to a particular section; click any "CONTENTS" image following a section heading to jump back here.

Project and Design Templates    Link to the review contents

Captivate's templates have been divided into two features: project templates and design templates. Project templates are similar to PowerPoint's master slides. You can add objects to create a standardized layout for your projects. The new placeholder objects can be used to specify content that changes from slide to slide, such as the title. For example, you can specify a title and content area using placeholder objects, and add a previous button, a next button, and a logo using standard objects.

Design templates are similar to PowerPoint 2007's themes. You can create a design template to specify the appearance of each object type, and you can easily change a project's design template. In fact, you can apply different design templates to slides in a project.

Figure 1: Project template with placeholders

Worth upgrading for?

Yes. Placeholders are a long-awaited feature in project templates, and they should simplify creating company-wide project layouts. I didn't expect the new design templates, but I really enjoy using their counterpart in PowerPoint (themes). Design templates are worth upgrading for if you need to create client-specific versions of your projects.

Panning While Recording     Link to the review contents

Captivate has always been limited to recording within its well-known "red box" recording area. With Captivate 4, you can enable automatic or manual panning, and you can switch between no panning, automatic panning, and manual panning while recording. If you enable panning, Captivate will automatically move the recording area if you click outside of it.

Figure 2: Panning options

Worth upgrading for?

Yes, if you do not create full-screen recordings. It's definitely worth upgrading if you plan to embed your demos into help topics or make them available on hand-held devices.

PowerPoint 2007 Linking    Link to the review contents

If you use PowerPoint 2007, you can now link your PowerPoint presentations and edit them from within Captivate. I'm sure part of the credit goes to Microsoft for changes they made to PowerPoint 2007, but great job, Adobe! Imported content is still not converted to Captivate objects, but at least you can edit it in PowerPoint. This feature will be extremely useful for Captivate users who reuse co-workers' PowerPoint content. If your coworker changes the PowerPoint presentation, you can update your Captivate project and reimport the changes.

You can still import content from older versions of PowerPoint, but the linking feature requires PowerPoint 2007.

Figure 3: PowerPoint 2007 linking

Worth upgrading for?

Yes, if you use PowerPoint 2007 and either have a lot of content in PowerPoint or reuse coworkers' PowerPoint content in your Captivate projects.

Widgets     Link to the review contents

Widgets are ActionScript-based objects that can be added to Captivate slides. You can create your own widgets using ActionScript 2 or 3 and share or download them from Adobe Exchange. Captivate 4 includes the following widgets (as ActionScript 2 and 3 versions):

  • Buttons (back, next, perpetual, and Flash)
  • Certificate
  • Form Elements (check box, combo box, radio button, and list box)
  • GoToSlide
  • Jumbled Word Question
  • Pie Chart
  • Print Slides

Widgets offer a lot of potential, and I hope they become as popular as Dreamweaver's extensions and widgets.

Figure 4: New widget dialog box

Worth upgrading for?

Yes, if you want to provide completion certificates, allow users to print, or need to include a form or survey. If the user community starts creating and sharing widgets, this feature will become a definite reason to upgrade.

Variables and Advanced Actions     Link to the review contents

Like many Captivate developers, I've used a lot of tricks to capture users' names. In Captivate 4, you can now create a variable to store names and any other information. You can then reuse the variable in captions (Great job, Joe!) or within the certificate widget to create a printable course completion certificate. All of the internal Captivate variables are now available, too. You can use them to control your project using a custom button or playback control or from within Flash.

Advanced actions are ActionScript scripts that you can write and assign to objects such as buttons and click boxes. You can use them to enable conditional actions or to assign more than one action to an object.

Figure 5: Variables dialog box

Worth upgrading for?

Definitely, if you need to capture users' names or want to extend Captivate with ActionScript. The advanced actions will finally allow advanced Captivate users to push Captivate to the next level.

Drawing Objects     Link to the review contents

Captivate 4's new drawing objects can be used to add lines, rectangles, ovals, and polygons to your slides. All four drawing objects can be customized to use a specific fill and stroke color and width, stroke style, and fill transparency. The line feature may be the most useful of the group, since you can include arrows on the start and/or end points of the line.

The drawing objects may not be needed very often, but they are a good example of how Captivate has become a complete tool by including lesser-used features that most users expect to be available.

Worth upgrading for?

No, but they are a much-appreciated addition to Captivate.

Photoshop Layer Support    Link to the review contents

The Adobe Creative Suite must be very successful, because Adobe seems to be bundling everything into suites now. The eLearning and Technical Communication Suites may not get as much publicity as CS4, but they do show an attempt to attract instructional designers, trainers, and technical writers to Adobe's products.

As part of this "product synergy," Captivate now supports Photoshop layers. When you import Photoshop PSD files, each layer becomes a separate Captivate object. You can set each layer's options independently, such as size, timing, and transparency.

Figure 6: Photoshop layer importing dialog box

Worth upgrading for?

Yes, if you create your images in Photoshop.

Right-clickable Click Boxes    Link to the review contents

Right-click support for click boxes is another relatively small feature that has been strangely missing from Captivate. Finally, in Captivate 4, you can enable right-clicking for a click box. The reason it's been missing is because the Flash player captures a right-click itself, so your project never "sees" the right-click.

Right-click support has been added, but there are still some big limitations. If you use ActionScript 2, you must turn off accessibility to use the right-click option. ActionScript 3 fares slightly better: it will work with accessibility enabled, but only when running in a browser. It does not work at all in exe files.

I almost never need to use right-clicking with a click box, so I'm not worried about the limitations. I will definitely choose accessibility over right-click support, though, if I use ActionScript 2. I'm glad to see Adobe has made some progress with right-clicking. It sounds like a difficult issue to resolve.

Figure 7: Right mouse click option

Worth upgrading for?

No, but it will be convenient the few times it's needed.

Text-to-speech Captions     Link to the review contents

The text-to-speech option may end up being more a toy or fun diversion than a feature you use in your projects. It certainly adds a fun "cool factor" to Captivate. If you check the "text-to-speech" option for a caption, Captivate will read the caption's text as a voice over. A male (Paul) and female (Kate) voice are included for English captions. They both sound much more realistic than I expected, and for simple words I think they do an excellent job. If you don't mind the occassional computerized pronunciation, they should be fine for your projects. In case you're wondering, Paul does a great "I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that" HAL 9000 imitation.

The text-to-speech feature is licensed from a third-party company called Neo Speech. Their website advertises male and female Korean, Japanese, and Mandarin Chinese voices and a female Spanish voice. These voices may be included with language-specific versions of Captivate, or possibly Adobe may make them available for downloading in the future.

Figure 8: Text-to-speech option

Worth upgrading for?

Yes, if you are comfortable with the computerized voices and you need voice overs but can't afford or don't have time to record them.

Table of Contents    Link to the review contents

The new Table of Contents option joins the playback control and border options in Captivate 4's skin editor. You can add a table of contents on the left or right of your project as an overlay (a sliding panel on top of your project) or as a separate panel. You can add a photo with contact information, allow the user to navigate using the TOC, and show or hide the slide duration and search features. The TOC even provides a status flag to mark slides that have been viewed.

Using the TOC may require some small design changes to your projects. For example, you will probably want to provide a label for each slide so they are not named Slide 1, Slide 2, etc. You may also decide to change Next buttons in self-paced learning projects to pause at the very end of the slide timeline and continue when clicked. I usually set my buttons to go to the next slide. If you use the TOC, the slide's status will only be marked as complete if the user views the slide to the end of its timeline.

Figure 9: Table of contents in a published project

Worth upgrading for?

Probably not, but it's a great feature that I plan to use in most (if not all) of my future projects.

Single or Multiple SWF Output     Link to the review contents

Most Captivate users want to create one SWF file that includes everything for their project. In Captivate 4, you have the option of creating one SWF file or separating your skin, widgets, full-motion recordings, and/or animations as separate SWFs. If you separate a commonly-used element, such as a skin, you can reuse the file in multiple published projects. That approach may be more efficient, and it should result in smaller SWF files.

There are still a few features that cannot be combined into one SWF file: Flash video and question pools. If you use either of these features, they will still be stored in their own file(s).

Figure 10: Single or multiple SWF options

Worth upgrading for?

Yes, if you can work around the remaining limitations.

Publishing to AVI and PDF     Link to the review contents

Adobe has added two new publishing options to Captivate 4: PDF and AVI. The PDF option allows you to create a PDF document that contains your SWF file. This feature requires Acrobat 9, but it does provide a convenient way to distribute you project.

The AVI publishing option allows Captivate to support new media and mobile devices. You can create an AVI using any codec installed on your computer and tstream it on the web, publish it to YouTube, or (assuming you have the necessary codec) view it on a portable device such as an iPhone or Blackberry.

Figure 11: Publish to AVI options

Worth upgrading for?

Maybe. Most Captivate developers will probably not add their videos to YouTube or make them available on handheld devices. However, it's an interesting feature that will appeal to some developers.

Aggregator     Link to the review contents

MenuBuilder has always been the worst feature of Captivate. I don't think it was updated since it was first released as part of RoboDemo, and it never worked well. I'm happy to see that MenuBuilder has been replaced in Captivate 4 by a new feature called Aggregator. Aggregator is very simple: you select your modules and arrange them in order, and Aggregator creates a simple menu page. It doesn't have as many options as MenuBuilder, but it works well and the menu looks good. I'd like to see Adobe add skins to Aggregator and give us more control over its appearance.

Aggregator can combine projects that use ActionScript 2 or 3, but not both. Also, I was not able to add SWFs that were created with previous versions of Captivate. You may need to republish your projects with Captivate 4 before using Aggregator.

Figure 12: Aggregator in published project

Worth upgrading for?

No, but I'm happy to see a replacement for MenuBuilder.

Captivate Reviewer     Link to the review contents

The new Captivate Reviewer is a free Adobe AIR application that can be used to review and add comments to a Captivate project. You can publish your project as a SWF, create a review (crev) file, and send both files to your reviewer. The reviewer then opens the crev file in the Adobe Captivate Reviewer and adds their comments. Reviewers can create and return separate comment files, or you can set up the crev file so that all reviewer comments are combined into one review file.

The reviewing feature is well done, and it's a great addition to Captivate. Of course, your reviewers will need to be able to install the Captivate Reviewer AIR application to add their comments. If you work in a large company with strict computer security, your reviewers may have to request help from the IT department to install Captivate Reviewer. There's nothing Adobe can do about companies' security policies, but it's worth keeping in mind.

Figure 13: Publishing for review options

Worth upgrading for?

Maybe. If you have numerous reviewers, the Captivate Reviewer will streamline your review process.

Web-based Help System     Link to the review contents

The new Captivate 4 help system is web-based, which means you won't have access to the help system if you are not connected to the web. You can download the help as a PDF, but you must first open a topic to find the download link. On the positive side, the new help system can search both the Captivate community and the help topics, which makes it much more useful and dynamic than before. You can also add comments and ask questions to the community through the help system.

The bad news with the Captivate help system is that it's not context-sensitive: the help always opens to a blank search page. What happened, Adobe? It's rare to see a product without context-sensitive help. I definitely expect context-sensitive help from the company that produces RoboHelp.

Figure 14: Captivate help system when it opens

Worth upgrading for?

Definitely not. The help system in every Adobe product should be a showcase for RoboHelp, especially Captivate and FrameMaker. Adobe: please add the context-sensitive links back to the Captivate help system.


I spoke to RJ Jacquez, Senior Product Evangelist at Adobe, about the Captivate help system. Here's what I learned:

By default, the Captivate help system opens the web-based version if you have an Internet connection. In my case, that led to a blank topic whenever I opened the help. If you are not connected to the Internet, the help system opens the local version. When I disconnected from the Internet, the help system worked great and included context-sensitive help. Now, it also opens a context-sensitive help topic when I'm connected, but it's very slow (usually 10 seconds).

If your context-sensitive help opens to a blank topic or is really slow like mine, switch to the offline help. You can switch between offline and online help by clicking the icon in the bottom right of the help window (see Figure 14). The icon resembles a Trivial Pursuit playing piece, but with 8 wedges. I'm glad the context-sensitive help is still available, even though it wasn't easy to get it to working. I think the working help system, with context-sensitive links and content from the help community, is another good addition to Captivate.

Summary     Link to the review contents

Captivate has always been a good product, and I've been a huge fan and supporter of Captivate since the first version of RoboDemo. With the new features in version 4, Captivate has the potential to become a great product. The new AVI publishing, variables, and advanced actions are extremely useful additions. Hopefully, the Captivate community will be flooded with project templates and widgets we can all use to enhance our projects. If so, we could see Captivate join Photoshop and Dreamweaver in the list of "featured" products on Adobe's home page where it deserves to be.

Scott DeLoach is the Founder of ClickStart, a user experience design, consulting, and training company. Scott is an Adobe Certified Instructor for Captivate, and he has received numerous STC chapter and international awards for WBT systems he has developed with Captivate.

Scott regularly teaches onsite and online Captivate classes. If you are interested in Captivate training or consulting, please visit ClickStart at www.clickstart.netExternal link or email Scott at scott@clickstart.net


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