Developer Product Briefs

Produce Multimedia Documentation

Review of the MadPak bundle.

MadCap Software Inc. calls its MadPak bundle "the ultimate authoring suite." That might be embellishing things some, but the MadPak suite works hard to live up to the hyperbole by providing technical writers with a solid set of tools. The suite's anchor is Flare, a professional development environment for online Help using XML as the base for multiple outputs. I reviewed Flare in the October 2007 issue, so this time I'll take a closer look at other members of the package, which help you create screen captures, interactive tutorials, videos, and audio files.

MadCap's Mimic is a full-blown e-tutorial authoring tool, and the company actually uses Mimic to create the Mimic tutorial. This leads to some "play within a play" disorientation, but the content is definitely worthwhile. To engage tutorial viewers more viscerally with interactivity, youcan record a screen sequence and then overlay text boxes that accept input. At runtime, you can evaluate responses and take an appropriate action, such as displaying text in balloons or jumping to another frame of the capture.

I find it takes too many rehearsals and retakes to ensure a hesitation-free motion screen capture and fluid cursor movements. With Mimic, removing unintended pauses from a recording is easy; simply select the frame and shorten its time span using the Timeline toolbar. Mimic's ability to revise the mouse path (called a trajectory) after the recording sounds like a fabulous idea for erasing jerkiness and miscues. However, the onscreen trajectory editor was difficult to manipulate.

You can distribute MadCap's proprietary movie player for free, but you probably want to ship in a more ubiquitous format such as Flash. I was pleasantly surprised to see Silverlight as an added build option.

Another part of the bundle, Capture, snaps whole windows, regions of the screen, or individual UI elements. A handy feature remembers captured areas, so you can re-shoot after a tweak. On the downside, there's no sign of a timer where you give yourself a few seconds to dress the set before the screenshot fires.

Figure 1
[Click on image for larger view.]
MadCap Mimic records motion-screen captures and includes visual cues for invisible actions such as mouse clicks. After saving the screencam, you can revise any frame, add interactive hotspots, and overlay text.

Echo, MadCap's simple audio-capture and editing offering, is well designed for embedding sound into Web pages and Help files. Your output choices are limited to MadCap's XML-based format and Flash audio -- no Silverlight option this time.

The MadPak components share a common look and feel, which cuts down on the learning curve as you shift from writing text, to capturing screens, to recording audio. That tight integration doesn't extend to the installation, however. A coordinated MadPak installer on DVD would be preferable to five CDs, five setups, and five license codes that run 68-characters (case-sensitive) each.

Tip: Before you go nuts (mis)typing license codes from the box stickers, contact MadCap sales. They'll send you electronic unlock codes that you can copy and paste. VSM

At A Glance
MadCap Software Inc.

Phone: 888-623-2271
Price: $1,299
Quick Facts: Bundled suite to help technical writers and information developers produce, manage, and debug online documentation, tutorials, screen captures, and audio excerpts.
Pros: Covers most authoring needs in one suite; components integrate well and share their look and feel; motion-capture outputs to Flash and Silverlight; includes good examples of user assistance.
Cons: Separate installers and license codes; lacks a timed screen-capture option; mouse movement editor needs refinement.

About the Author

Ken Cox is a Canadian .NET programming writer and the author of "ASP.NET 3.5 for Dummies" (Wiley).

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