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Delivering Captivate Content on the Web

Jesse Warden´s utility: CaptivatePlayer

With Macromedia Captivate, you can create interactive tutorials with recorded narration, built-in testing, with an easy, painless, and quick process. But now that authors can so easily create tutorials, they have time to think about the best way to deliver their content to end users, and to think about what works well with the Captivate workflow.

When I started using Macromedia Captivate early last year, I quickly learned that Captivate authors did not have a clear deployment path for Captivate content they wanted to make available on the web. This problem does not stem from Captivate - the tool has a plethora of publishing options. Captivate can publish to SWF file format, optionally wrapped in HTML, to Macromedia Breeze, a stand-alone executable with an auto-run option for CD-ROM delivery, e-mail, Microsoft Word, and you can even send your content to a server through FTP functionality from within Captivate. While heavily testing Captivate for my own use and collaborating with others in the Captivate community, I quickly found many Captivate authors that are experienced, organized, and extremely talented in delivering documentation, tutorials, and other various e-learning content.

To support effective and easy-to-use delivery of Captivate content on the web, I developed a utility, called CaptivatePlayer. In this article, you will learn how to deploy Captivate content with CaptivatePlayer.

Introduction
Captivate content is most effective when you create many small, concise Captivate demonstrations or simulations. This is because Captivate has to manage all of the media it creates: the screen-capture images, the audio narration, the custom text, cursor movements, and so forth. That is a lot of activity and assets to track. Even with a fast computer, it is best if you create many small Captivate demonstrations and simulations because this affects your end user. If the Captivate content is smaller, it is easier for an end user to follow and understand. Moreover, the actual SWF file size is smaller and results in quicker downloads, which ensures a better playback experience for the end user.

Following this best practice creates a challenge, however: You suddenly have a bunch of SWF files, and you might not be sure what to do with them. If you are like most authors, you probably want your users to access your Captivate content in a web browser on the Internet, your local intranet, or as a companion executable. Since Captivate creates an HTML file or an executable for each Captivate demonstration or simulation, does this mean you have to create a website just to manage all of your content? Do your users need to keep track the content (which, by the way, isn't the best experience for them)? What about the executables? Will the user see each piece of Captivate content as a separate "program"?

Using CaptivatePlayer
I recognized the need for Captivate authors to have a simple way to play multiple Captivate SWF files and to make it easy for them to set up since there are a wide range of skill sets and backgrounds in the Captivate community. In addition to making CaptivatePlayer easy to implement for authors, it needed to be easy to access and use for the audience. Creating a new HTML page that loaded the Captivate SWF files into the HTML files, per project was unappealing; equally unappealing was having multiple EXE files grouped together in a folder. Linking to SWF files directly in a web browser does not take into account various player version checks, control over how your SWF displays in the browser, or provide your user with any sense of continuity and navigation between each SWF file. You might be able to use the Captivate MenuBuilder for creating the necessary web content, but doing this for each project could be time consuming and redundant work. Captivate is fun and easy to use for end users; I wanted an easy way to quickly deploy created content to the web.

Figure 1 shows an example of a Flash tutorial I wrote that displays in the CaptivatePlayer (highlighted in green), through the Firefox browser. As you can see, CaptivatePlayer frames the Captivate content unobtrusively, and takes up very little room.

Figure 1. CaptivatePlayer highlighted in green

How CaptivatePlayer Works
With CaptivatePlayer, your users can view many Captivate SWF files through one consistent interface. CaptivatePlayer provides navigation for users to access all Captivate SWF files. Users access SWF files through a pop-up menu that contains all of the Captivate SWF file names.

Figure 2. Clicking Sections displays the list of Captivate content available to the user.

Figure 3. After users select a demonstration or simulation, a green checkmark appears beside the content title, indicating that users have completed viewing the content. By using a menu, you maximize valuable screen real estate. CaptivatePlayer also has controls for scaling Captivate content in case your users have smaller viewing areas. It also includes a mute option for audio.

Figure 4. Users can scale the window or mute audio

Figure 5. CaptivatePlayer contains a global volume control.

CaptivatePlayer does not include playback controls because Captivate already provides these for you when you create Captivate content. CaptivatePlayer displays in 100% of the browser window, again maximizing screen real-estate. CaptivatePlayer is one SWF file that dynamically loads the SWF or EXE files published from Captivate.

You can deploy Captivate content easily in CaptivatePlayer with the following steps:

  1. Edit the captivate_playlist.xml file by adding your Captivate SWF file names to it.
  2. Edit the playback options in the captivate_playlist.xml or in the index.html file.
  3. Upload your Captivate SWF files, the captivate_playlist.xml, the index.html, and CaptivatePlayer.swf file to your web server or to the locally accessible folder that you're using. If you're using an executable, you just need your Captivate SWF files, the captivate_playlist.xml, and the CaptivatePlayer.exe. All files must be in the same folder to correctly operate.
If you change or update your Captivate projects, just upload the new SWF files. If you've added or deleted SWF files from your presentation, modify the new list of SWF files in the captivate_playlist.xml file and upload the updated XML file.

Configuration Options
There are two levels of configuration that you can specify for CaptivatePlayer. The web and EXE versions of CaptivatePlayer read captivate_playlist.xml (a required file), to know which Captivate content to play. This is due to the way security is implemented in Macromedia Flash Player. A SWF file cannot read the contents of a local folder; you must manually specify it in the captivate_playlist.xml file. To do so, type the names of your Captivate SWF files into the XML file.

The XML file has a few configuration options that you can edit. These options control the way CaptivatePlayer plays your Captivate content. The configuration options specify:

  • auto play
  • the starting sound volume
  • whether or not to scale the size of the Captivate content

More Stories By Jesse Randall Warden

Jesse R. Warden, a member of the Editorial Board of Web Developer's & Designer's Journal, is a Flex, Flash and Flash Lite consultant for Universal Mind. A professional multimedia developer, he maintains a Website at jessewarden.com where he writes about technical topics that relate to Flash and Flex.

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