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Review: Adobe Captivate 2
Captivate 2 is a "must download" for anyone creating application-based screen cams, online quizzes, or simulations, and—despite some significant flaws—don’t be surprised if you quickly find it invaluable as a standalone tool or a way to supplement video training materials.

Adobe Captivate 2 is generally competent and frequently brilliant, but like all programs, has some potholes you need to avoid on the path to high-quality and efficient production. OK, I’ll admit there were some features I felt were way off the mark, and some grumbles Adobe needs to address. Overall, however, it’s at least a "must download" for anyone creating application-based screen cams, online quizzes, or simulations, And don’t be surprised if you quickly find it invaluable as a standalone tool or a way to supplement video training materials.

Captivate performs two distinct functions married by a logical and intuitive interface and feature set. The first is to capture screens from a software application to create training or demonstrations; the second is to create digital quizzes and simulations. I’ll discuss each in turn.

Screen Capture-Based Projects
In screen-capture operations, Captivate works in one of three modes: Demonstration, Training Simulation, or Assessment Simulation, or you can customize the settings to your own liking. In Training Simulation mode, your goal is to simulate the operation of the program that you’re capturing, so the viewer can click and type as if actually running the program.

So you choose to add click boxes and text-entry boxes to track viewer input, and decline to show mouse location and movements, or text captions, since these would provide unwanted hints to the viewers. In contrast, in a presentation that demonstrates the software to the viewer, click boxes and text-entry boxes are irrelevant, but you definitely want mouse movements and text captions.

Once you choose your options, you choose the application to record, and whether to record narration while capturing your screens. Unlike the first version of Captivate, which couldn’t capture narration on my HP XW4300 test system (or any other computer using the same on-board audio chipset), Captivate 2 captured narration with no problem. To test screen-capture operation, I created a three-minute demonstration of Pinnacle Studio, a consumer-software nonlinear video editor.

Object Orientation
Unlike other screen-capture programs, like Camtasia, that capture a single large file with video, audio, mouse clicks, and motion, Captivate captures multiple slides, each containing a new snapshot of the application. For example, open a menu, and Captivate captures a new screen. My Studio project required 53 separate slides. In addition, each slide contains "objects" that encapsulate mouse movements, clicks, and audio, to which Captivate automatically adds other elements taken from the program itself, like menu commands and tool tips.

On the timeline atop the interface, you see tracks for the mouse movement, a text caption, a highlight box (showing the control about to be clicked), and audio, all of which you can edit separately. Note that Captivate captures or creates many text messages like "Select Project Preferences Menu" automatically, saving gobs of time compared to programs that make you add them manually.

This object orientation enables Captivate to easily create complex training and simulation assessments that are beyond screen-capture programs like Camtasia Studio. Also, if you add or delete a slide, Captivate will automatically adjust mouse movements so that they always appear smooth, which is almost impossible to achieve when editing Camtasia-based videos.

Note that while Captivate "understands" menu operations, and can "force" users to click menus during simulations, it doesn’t understand drag and drop. Specifically, even though it captures the motion perfectly during screen recording, it can’t monitor this activity during a simulation. For example, in Studio, I could create a simulation that forces the student to click File then Open to import a video file, but couldn’t monitor if a viewer drags that video to the timeline. If you have a program that relies heavily on drag-and-drop operation, this deficit will limit your ability to create training or assessment simulations.