RE: Authorware vs...? (summary of responses)

Subject: RE: Authorware vs...? (summary of responses)
From: Tom Beverly <TBeverly -at- CreativeSolutions -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L -at- LISTS -dot- RAYCOMM -dot- COM
Date: Thu, 27 Jan 2000 10:50:43 -0500

Thanks to everyone who responded. This was my first posting, and I was
pleasantly surprised by the group's willingness to provide information. Here
is a summary of the responses to date:

Original message is below, with some responses inserted where appropriate
(see >> entries).
Following the original message are several standalone responses.

I work in a department of about fifteen technical writers, and we're
beginning to investigate software for the authoring of tutorials that would
ship with CDs of our software. Much of what we've seen is pushing us toward
Authorware, but some very important questions have arisen, and we need help
to decide whether Authorware will work for us, or if there is something
else that might better suit our needs.

We will have some time to learn the software, but there may be several of
us who will need to learn it. None of us are programmers. We work primarily
with tools like RoboHelp and Word. We need to use detailed screen shots. We
might have limited access to graphics people. Given these circumstances,
here are my questions...though geared toward Authorware, I would be
interested in answers from the perspective of other applications.

--Can a writer produce a professional-looking tutorial in Authorware
without programming proficiency? How would the lack of such proficiency
limit us? (We may have some access to programmers too, in the off-season.)

>>Yes. Authorware was designed for use by instructional designers,
people without programming experience.

>>Yes. You may not be able to do some of the fancier things, but for
demos and cbt testing you should be okay. Last I used authorware, they
had a free, full-featured demo version that would allow you to create

>>It depends on what kind of tutorial you're talking about. If you're
talking
about horsey, doggie, ducky kinds of tutorials, where all the user does is
click the Next and Back buttons, you won't need programming skills.

>>(cont'd) If you're going to track users' learning, though, it gets a bit
more
complicated. I wouldn't say that you would need "programming experience" for
it, because it isn't like programming that you would do to create an
application. But you need someone with that mindset, I suppose. It would be
as
much a new learning experience for a seasoned C++ or VB programmer as it
would
be for a writer.

>>Yes, absolutely. Without sounding like a Macromedia commercial,
Authorware's ease of use makes it possible for all skill levels to quickly
author materials.


--I read everywhere about Authorware's steep learning curve, and that six
to eight months may be required for learning it. Is it that bad?

>>No.
>>I learned the basics in a Multimedia class that met weekly for 4 months,
at the end of which I was able to produce a functioning prototype (my
class project). AW is a feature-rich application--I'm no expert. You
probably would want some training to help get up to speed.

>>I don't think so, personally, but when I dabbled with Authorware, I had
already
been usind Director for a while. It's hard to say how much I carried over.

>>Install the demo version; the learning curve is not steep. BTW: Peachpit
Press does an exceptional job with their Visual Quick Start Guides for
Macromedia products, pick one up on Authorware.


--Does Authorware require vector graphics (as Macromedia Flash seems to) or
does it work well with bitmaps and other basic formats?

>>Works with other formats. I remember using JPEG, for one.

>>Works with bitmaps.

>>Bitmaps work fine. If you want to see an interesting use of Authorware
for
tutorial use, check out www.dpec.com. I took their Visual InterDev courses,
and
got a lot out of them. I think they mixed Authorware with Macromedia
Dreamweaver with Coursebuilder.

>>It does work with other formats. Vector graphics scale without
distortion; use these types of images if you can. Besides, you really don't
want to use bmps with web deployment. You can use (I think) Flash or
Firework to optimize your other formats for the web. (I use Adobe's Image
Ready.)


--How does sound work in Authorware? What sound format(s) does the
application support? What hardware, software and/or plug-ins must a user
have to hear sound?

>>AVI was one format (there may be others).

>>.wav files, and others. Have to have a sound card, of course.

>>Well, if you're delivering on CD, you won't have any problem. If you're
delivering over the web, your users will need the Authorware plug-in. That
is,
unless Macromedia has added Authorware support to the Shockwave plug-in. I'm
sure you could find out by going to Macromedia's web site.
>>Voxware (sound package) is include with Authorware. It reduces the size
of the sound files without any noticeable change in sound quality. It's very
easy to include a sound file: WYSIWYG drag-and-drop. Authorware does not
support mp3.


--How would Authorware's cost compare with that of other applications,
especially considering that there may be seven to fifteen licenses needed
for authoring?

>>It's relatively expensive... I believe about $2500 per seat, if memory
serves. Allen Interactions, a training and consulting firm founded by
the guy who originally designed AW, also sells the software, so you can
contact them for pricing. Their web site is: <http://www.alleni.com/>
(the class I took was taught by one of their employees).

>>It ain't cheap (at least it wasn't when I used it several versions ago).
>>Authorware used to be extremely expensive (around $4K per license). I'm
pretty
sure it's dropped so that it's around the same price as Director ($1K).
>>$2399 (that's with a savings of $300.00) Take a look at Dreamweaver's
Coursebuilder: $499--includes Dreamweaver 3. Priced through 2/11/00


--Is Authorware a product that will allow us to expand into other areas
(Web demos and/or tutorials, etc.)?

>>Yes.

>>Yep. It's capable of doing lots of interesting stuff. One of the aspects
about
Authorware that sets it apart from Director is its ability to interact with
a
database. This is inteded to store test scores and stuff like that, but can
be
extended to media and such, so that you can make demos modular and easily
updatable. Or so I've heard.
>>Absolutely.

Thanks in advance for any responses. I'd also be interested in knowing
people's overall impressions of the latest release of Authorware and of
other CBT and WBT authoring tools.

******************************************************
Other comments:
There's also a listserv for AW that I was subscribed to when I took
the class. (A large amount of text followed...unfortunately none of it
contained subscription info. I investigated this, and found the following
info about subscribing, which I have copied and pasted here.)
You can subscribe to this list by sending a message to the listserv address
LISTSERV -at- LISTSERV -dot- CC -dot- KULEUVEN -dot- AC -dot- BE
with the command SUBSCRIBE AWARE <your name>. A subject is not needed.
example:
SUBSCRIBE AWARE Danny Engelman
The listserver knows you by your email address!
That is the email address it finds in the From: field of the email message
you send to (un)subscribe.
You may leave the list at any time by sending the UNSUBSCRIBE AWARE
command to the listserv address.
If you experience problems with your subscription please contact the
listmanagers.
****************************************************
In a previous professional life, one of the members of the
Tech Pubs group used a product called DemoShield to
create a product demo/tutorial. I didn't use DemoShield myself,
so I don't know its learning curve. I do know the person who
used the tool was definitely a writer, NOT a programmer. The
tutorial she produced was great -- simulated walk-throughs
of the interface (from screenshots) with associated
explanatory text is what I remember. I know screenshots
aren't vector graphics, so that's a big plus over Macromedia
Flash.

An advantage is that DemoShield is made by the same
company that makes InstallShield, the program that
installs 99% of the Windows software I've ever installed.
If your company uses InstallShield, maybe you can
get a package deal on DemoShield.

Check out the overview on the company's web site:

http://www.installshield.com/demoshield/overview/

*******************************************
Now, for what it's worth:
About 2 years ago, part of my project team developed an EPSS for GTE using
Authorware. It turned out great. Because they didn't have time to have much
of a
learning curve, people with experience were brought it. Experience ranged
from
graphics to familiarity with the other big CBT devo tool that I can't name
right
off.

But the team lead was a writer, and with a large number of private-time
hours
and 2 weeks of training by Assymetrix, he became proficient within a few
months.
But yes, I'd say that y'all stand a good chance of needing 12 weeks or more
to
comfortably master all elements of development in the tool. And from what
I've
seen, sending all or part of the team to official training is worth it. Part
of
the team can support the others, y'all attend in shifts, etc.
*********************************************
We worked with a package called Quest - from Allen Communications
(www.allencomm.com). It has its strengths and weakness. Depending on what
you do, it is pretty much pick a paste. The tutorial for the software was
fairly good and I got to work with it in a matter of a month or two (there
is always a constant learning curve). I have some programming background
but consider myself an amatuer.

Quest is also open enough to allow a programmer to add in features that
are not included in the software.

Quest is somewhat like PowerPoint if your familiar with that.

After using Quest for a while, we took a look at a demo of Authorware. I
was impressed with the capabilities of it at that time (over a year ago).
I also liked the fact that it did a lot of 'tasks' for you - quizzes and
tests for example. I didn't think that it was too difficult to 'program'.

I think Authorware would be a good choice - from comments of others.
Because of the other things that Macromedia offers especially for web
delivery.

Inside Technology Training is a magazine that has all sorts of articles an
info on CBT / WBT. ( www.ittrain.com )
****************************************************
Hi Tom - I may be able to answer a few of your
questions. I downloaded a trial version of Authorware
right after Christmas (I had never even heard of it
before then) and used it to produce a prototype for a
web application (which I completed in three weeks).
The learning curve for the more advanced features is
steep, but I was able to produce a fairly interactive
piece in a short amount of time (I'm not a programmer
either). I used all screenshots for the demo
(Photoshop files that I converted to either .gif or
jpg format). I didn't work with sound, but the
tutorial did and it looked pretty easy to incorporate.
The cost is expensive, but after seeing the demo,
upper management okayed the purchase for our dept (I
sent the order in today). Authorware turned out to be
a really good vehicle for demoing a product. It's one
thing to read about what an application will do on
paper, but...when I tried to actually produce it for
the demo, some things just didn't work. So, I'm sure
that we saved a lot in dev time by being able to see
and use the UI *before* it was fully developed. In
case you couldn't tell, I became a fan of Authorware.
I'm now looking forward to learning the more complex
stuff. (BTW, I'm a UI designer/tech writer.)
*****************************************
You may want to check Macromedia's web site for info regarding Authorware
online
user groups. I've seen the user groups on the site, and you may get answers
to your post
there!
******************************************
Sorry, this is a non-answer, but....
I use & love Dreamweaver (for web site development),
and peruse the Macromedia site often for news, tips, etc.
I've noticed "Courseware for Dreamweaver". They say
on their web site:

"CourseBuilder is a powerful extension application to
Dreamweaver for creating Web-based learning content
and interactive Web pages."
http://www.macromedia.com/software/coursebuilder/

Did you consider this product at all? The only reason I mention
this is that Dreamweaver is very easy to use, very stable,
extremely capable (and very extensible). Since "CBforDW"
is an add-on to DW, you would have all the DW strengths,
plus whatever MM added for CBT, and you would have the
premier app for building web pages, HTML help, and so on.

Another thought: if you make your tutorials playable
in a web-browser (running off the CD), the user will not
have to learn a new interface (as they might with another
type of tutorial). Nearly everyone is comfortable the web
these days. (You could also quickly put the tutorial
up on your web-site with no additional work.)

And on an unrelated subject, I used DemoShield to
create demos. It can also be used for tutorials. When I
was investigating sw for creating demos, both Authorware
& DemoShield were mentioned & compared. The buzz is
that DS is much easier to learn than Authorware (I think
it's cheaper too). http://www.demoshield.com

By the way, both DemoShield and Dreamweaver use
bitmaps; both support sound, and require only that the user
have the same audio cards & sw that they'd need to
hear sound over the web.
***************************************
I found Authorware to have a long learning curve because it is unbelievably
powerful--it's engineered to handle large projects. It's the quality of
software that people can make a career out of.

Before you and your dept make a decision, why don't you tinker with
Dreamweaver
and the Coursebuilder extensions? This used to be Dreamweaver Attain, a
large
set of add-on extensions that let you create HTML-based course lessons. I
used
this product as Attain and liked it for what I had to do. The Macromedia
site
offers a 30-day trial of Coursebuilder.
******************************************
I recently went to Authorware training and started my first CBT in the last
few weeks, so I may not be the best resource. But here are my thoughts:

-- There is definitely a bit of a learning curve. Setting up some of the
navigation and interactions can be a little hairy. I do have a certificate
in VB programming, but the only programming used are defining variables. For
example, entering "Movable=False" makes the selected object unmovable.

I also found that you can copy and paste sections from the training samples
into your CBT and just change the content. This actually works great.

-- Authorware supports gifs, jpegs, bitmaps and other standard formats. You
simply import and position the grapic on the page.

-- Adding sound and video is a breeze. You simply enter the file in a dialog
box (similar to PowerPoint).

-- A single copy of Authorware is about $2600. A week of training about
$1300.

-- Whether Authorware really supports Web based training is the million
dollar question. I still hear doubts. According to the Macromedia website,
putting Authorware on the web is no problem, and they have plenty of
samples. However, I've heard that using HTML is better. But Authorware can
generate quiz questions, interactions and transtions that HTML will never be
able to do without extensive programming using Java or some other language.
*******************************************************
Thanks, again, to everyone who responded. I'm sure the responses will
continue to trickle in, and if so, I'll post an addendum.
Tom Beverly
Technical Communications
Creative Solutions
tbeverly -at- CreativeSolutions -dot- com




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