Paul Johns, Kineo's senior developer and resident Captivate guru tears the wrapping off Captivate 5 to see what's new.
It only seemed like yesterday I was using Captivate 2 and now suddenly version 5 is here. We're getting older, or review cycles are getting shorter...
I have to declare a bias – I'm a huge fan of Captivate, I've been using the tool for many years non-stop on many different projects. What's more, Kineo has been using Captivate for Adobe to show what the tool can do in a range of demos on the Adobe website – so we've got some inside track here. That certainly doesn't stop us having our own view of the tool, though.
There have been several things on my wish list that I hoped the latest version of Captivate would have. I'm happy to say many have been answered – but there's still more that could be in there.
The first thing you will notice with Captivate 5 is that it has a whole new look and feel. It now looks like the other CS products, with different tools to select on the left; on the right several different dockable panels just like the rest of the Adobe suite. Positives are that it brings it in line with the rest of the CS products – good if you're switching between them. Long-time Captivate users may find it takes a bit of getting used to, but that's no bad thing.
Captivate 5 does seem much more stable. Some of the screen-freeze / slow processing issues we're used to from Captivate 4 seem to be gone. Adobe have apparently built Captivate 5 from scratch instead of adding new code onto existing code time and time again, so the overall experience is much smoother.
So how about the new features? Let's go through some of the main ones:
Effects – We like. In the past you had a graphic, onto which you could only add a fade effect. It would just appear and fade in, which wasn't very exciting. You could use Flash to have some graphic animating, but doing it 30 times got a little tedious.
Now you can select text or a graphic and choose from over 50 different effects. You can also change the alpha of a graphic so that it fades in slowly, or flies and fades in. You can add various filters (such as emboss) and also set a motion path, should 'fly in from left' be just a bit too predictable for you. You can also use multiple effects and layer or sequence them. All in all, Effects are an excellent addition to Captivate 5 and can really enhance a course.
Master slides – This is really going to save you some effort. Borrowing the basic PowerPoint concept, you can now control the background without having to edit each screen. You might have a master slide per section, a different title, or graphic. Have 90 slides in your course and need to change the background or title? Just edit the master slide you've created and the change is quickly applied to all slides associated with it. A powerful feature which you should use for sure.
Object Style Manager – Another very useful new feature. You can set up certain styles, buttons, highlights and quiz objects, then apply and change these to different slides or export your styles to import into another course. Great for efficient development.
Slide video – Previously in Captivate you could import a video and play it in a single slide. Now you can stretch the video over several slides, so you might have a 2-minute video placed over 8 slides. The user can click forward to jump to the next part of the video, or you could perhaps have text/graphics appear at certain times when the video is playing. It just makes it much easier to do this by spreading out the video over several slides. So this can really enhance your video and media screens.
Advanced actions – A major step forward here. Adding advanced actions was a bit tricky to do this in Captivate 4. It's much simpler with the latest version. Using advanced actions makes Captivate a very powerful tool. You can create some excellent, advanced pieces of code. I still wish however, that you could have multiple actions on a click; currently you can either choose a standard action or a conditional one. I would like to choose several – but there are ways round this (yes, I've spent a lot of time with this tool).
Round-tripping – Want to edit a graphic, Flash animation, or Photoshop PSD file? Instantly go into Photoshop or Flash to make a change and you can import whatever layers you want back into Captivate. It works much smoother than before.
What's still on the wish list?
So, there's a range of new features that definitely increase efficiency, design options, and control with Captivate. Could there be more? Of course! We're greedy like that. Here are some items on our Christmas wish list for the next version of Captivate (not that we're expecting it by Christmas – we understand that sometimes you need to leave more than a month between releases!).
More widgets – I would have loved to have a whole set of widgets to enhance any non-systems training courses I create. I'm not a Flash developer so I would love a widget with which I can select, add some text/graphics, and then create some sort of animated interactive object on the stage. Worth adding some more of these, especially for non-systems interactions.
More questions – The quiz questions in Captivate 5 are the same as previous releases. I was so hoping Santa would bring me a proper click-and-drag interaction (there is apparently a third-party widget you can download), but sadly all the interactions seem to be the same. Would be good to pep these up in a future release.
File sizes – There is still the problem of ever-expanding file sizes, which can get quite large. Already I have some code which is 20–30 MB or more. Would be good to have a longer-term solution on the development plan for this.
Flash publishing – Not so much a request for a change, but one important thing to remember with Captivate 5 is that you can now only publish to Flash player 9 or 10. In Captivate 4 you could publish to Flash player 7–10. This could cause issues for organisations who might still be using an earlier Flash player, for them to update would take a major decision as it'll impact the whole company. Before you start any work always make sure what Flash player your target audience is using, as you'll then decide whether to use Captivate 4 or 5.
Captivate 5 is a great step forward from the previous version, with real positives in terms of new features, efficiency, and stability. Avid users will welcome these new features and they'll ensure it continues to dominate the systems training space.
There's more that can be done, especially if Captivate is to move closer to occupying the 'one tool for everything' territory and convincing its large user base that it should be their tool of choice for non-systems training as well.
We've developed a range of non-systems training soft skills examples using Captivate and shared the results on the Adobe website so that you can see what's possible – albeit with some tweaking and use of Flash in places. So we're currently stretching beyond the native Captivate features right now to get there. More of these features need to come into the tool itself.
So overall, a significant improvement on previous releases. With a few additional features and more of an eye to soft skills e-learning development needs, the next release could well be that elusive 'one tool for everything'...