RE. AVI files in Winhelp?

Subject: RE. AVI files in Winhelp?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 4 Oct 2001 08:59:49 -0400

Michelle asked: <<Is it a good idea to place buttons in help topics to
trigger AVI files ?>>

It can be. The trick is to use multimedia where sound and moving images are
the most effective way to communicate; for example, it's impossible to talk
about the glory of Beethoven's "Pastorale" unless you actually include a
sound clip, and equally impossible to describe the amazing convolutions a
plant goes through as it bursts from its seed without showing a time-lapse
animation. One of my favorite anecdotes was a study reported by Jared Spool,
in which the software developer used "talking heads" video in the online
help to explain various concepts. Although users loved the new interface and
rated it much more helpful than conventional help systems, they also
performed much worse than users who only had access to the conventional help
files. A sobering finding to my way of looking at things.

<<What problems may be encountered if I do ?>>

File size is a particular problem if you also plan to put the Help files on
the Web at some future date. Hardware incompatibilities are another biggie;
not everyone has speakers, or a graphics card fast enough to make the video
play smoothly and clearly. Worse, if they set their monitor to a resolution
(pixels or color depth) different from the one you chose for your video, the
results can be appallingly bad unless you force them to switch to your
choice of resolution. You'll also have to ensure that the right video
software (e.g., Windows Media Player) is present on the computer; forcing
users to install such software is generally a bad idea, particularly if
they're working in a corporate environment in which the computer staff
forbid you to install new software. Last but not least, picking AVI means
that you're confining yourself to Windows; that may be appropriate for some
products, but most really important products run on multiple platforms.

<<How do other people include multimedia materal in their help files ? >>

I don't. <g> Why? Mostly because I haven't yet found a situation in which it
added enough value to justify the time spent creating it. Where I do need to
display the equivalent of animation, I use "sequential animation": a series
of illustrations showing enough of the various stages in a process that the
overall flow becomes clear.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
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