Tag Archives: Suite

InDesign CS5 First Impressions


InDesign CS5, announced today with the rest of Adobe’s Creative Suite 5 (CS5) applications, has already proven to be a solid and dependable product in my toolkit. InDesign is actually not one of the products I beta-test for Adobe so I haven’t used InDesign CS5 for more than a couple months, but in that time I’ve played with many new features and have enjoyed the experience.

InDesign CS5 is included with the Design Standard and Design Premium suites as well as the Master Collection.

“Not about the new stuff”

“Not about the new stuff” is written in my notes from my visit to Adobe headquarters in January, and this is a good way to classify the differences between InDesign CS4 and CS5. As with Illustrator CS5, InDesign CS5 doesn’t have many radically new features: several features augment basic functions like creating text frames and organizing page elements. However, some of those simple additions constitute radical departures from InDesign conventions—can you imagine text flowing outside of its frame?! You can now with InDesign CS5.

Now a multimedia publishing tool

id_mediapanelInDesign CS5 previews and controls video with the new Media panel.

InDesign has been a Flash-publishing application since CS3 and CS4, but InDesign CS5 sports several panels designed to handle video, animation and multimedia functions, making Flash publishing a larger aspect of the application. In the past this print/media combined strategy has not performed too well—QuarkXPress’s HTML publishing capabilities come to mind—but the InDesign team believes multimedia and Flash will be most valuable to publishers as they look for multiple revenue streams and try to embrace the Internet to do it. I was at Adobe the day Apple announced the iPad and the synergy between the iPad device and InDesign-built eBooks (exportable to the widely-supported EPUB format) and Flash was apparent. But Adobe has a near-impossible task in convincing Apple to put Flash on the iPad and its other devices, and my experience as a print designer is that many of my customers still consider print and electronic publishing to be separate things.

InDesign CS5 introduces five new panels in the Interactive category:

  • Animation, for building animations with the same motion presets in Flash Professional CS5,
  • Object States, which can build multi-state objects such as slideshows and text that responds to simple mouse input,
  • Timing to control timing and playback for interactive and animated elements on the page,
  • Media, a video monitor and playback interface for tweaking video in InDesign, and
  • Preview, which will show all multimedia on the page in real-time.

id_interactiveThe five new Interactive panels in InDesign CS5. Click the image for a better view.

The panels are easy enough to understand and use, though there are quite a few interactive panels now—nine total—and you have to move back and forth between them to produce multimedia in InDesign CS5. Some streamlining of the interface would be a good feature to add in the next version of InDesign. The other advancement for multimedia in InDesign CS5 is the ability to export files as Interactive PDFs or FLA files for further editing in Flash Professional CS5. The Interactive PDF export dialog box is a simplified version of the standardized PDF Export dialog box, and I don’t understand why it is different from that interface (now called Print PDF). I thought a exporting preset for interactive PDFs would have been less confusing. As for the export to FLA, the new text engine in Flash Professional CS5 makes it easier to work with FLAs produced in InDesign CS5. I haven’t tested this feature extensively so I can’t report on any difficulties or benefits, but I will do so in my full review.

id_flashA layout shown (left to right) in InDesign CS5’s Preview panel, layout view and in Flash Player. Click the image for a better view.

As with Word, track your changes

Oddly enough, the feature I use most in Microsoft Word is for tracking changes. InDesign CS5 now does the same thing, tracking changes and giving the user a way to accept or reject changes later. The Story Editor and the new Track Changes panel facilitate this new feature. This is a very useful addition and I’m already experimenting with adding it to my workflow. The major problem is Track Changes cannot be turned on by default and it works on a per-story basis, so it doesn’t seem efficient to use it on all stories in all publications. The other downside is changes are tracked and shown only in the Story Editor, a text-based editor that InDesign has had for a long time. Changes aren’t shown in InDesign CS5’s Layout View, unlike Word.

Improve your organization with Layers and Mini Bridge

There are two major additions to InDesign CS5 designed to assist with organizing assets both inside and outside the InDesign file:

  • The Layers panel has been rebuilt and now functions much like Illustrator’s Layers panel. Elements can be individually selected from the panel and layers can be nested and drilled down all the way to individual objects. This is an example of one Adobe product looking to another for ways to improve.
  • Photoshop CS5 may have Mini Bridge as an extension, but it was developed by the InDesign team and InDesign CS5 sports it as well. In InDesign CS5, Mini Bridge can not only navigate external files but can also show linked files for a particular document, making it something of an internal “File Browser.”

id_layersThe new Layers panel.

One more new feature indirectly related to organizing assets will appeal to users who hate to handle all the fonts associated with projects. Document-Installed Fonts is a feature new to InDesign CS5 that makes the application basically serve as a font management program for the fonts in a particular project—the user manually creates a font folder and InDesign CS5 will move the needed fonts to that folder and install and uninstall them on demand. Printers won’t have to copy and install designers’ fonts anymore—InDesign CS5 will do all the work without a need for other font management applications. The InDesign CS5 press documentation says the Fonts folder generated during packaging will also work as Document-Installed Fonts, but I’ve not tested this particular method yet. In any case, this is a novel way to attack the problem of moving fonts from client to vendor without fouling up typography or copying fonts.

My favorite: multiple page sizes and column spanning/splitting

A new Page tool now lets you resize and modify individual pages in a document, something that previously required a third-party plug-in to accomplish. Magazine designers who often work with gatefolds and other folded pages are going to be thrilled. The tool works great and settings can be changed in the tool’s Options bar. Unfortunately you can’t do the same modifications from the Pages panel, which would have been a smart place to also include this feature.

My favorite feature in InDesign CS5 is something very radical and at the same time very simple: modifying column layouts for text selections. For example, a bulleted list of several items can split into two columns without requiring a two-column text box like before. Conversely, a headline can span two or more columns and break through the column bounds. I love this feature because it really makes multi-column layouts easier to work with and the improvement in typography is beautiful. I used to do this work by nesting text frames into other text, but it’s all unnecessary now.

id_splitspanA bulleted list (left) split into two columns and a subheading (right) spanning two columns. Click the image for a better view.

My other favorite: object grids and the Gap tool

The InDesign team must have had grids and frame boundaries on their minds in the last year because, along with breaking column frames with text spanning, InDesign CS5 has two beautiful features for creating and spacing objects. When dragging the mouse to create a text frame or object, you can use the keyboard’s arrows to build grids of multiple objects. For example, you can use File > Place and select six images, then drag a single image box and use the Up and Right arrows to make the one box into a 2×3 grid of six boxes. The images will then place into all the boxes and your work is done. Frame Fitting Options and the new Auto Fit feature will let you fill all the frames as you like and keep them that way even if you resize your boxes.

The other new feature is the Gap tool, which lets you adjust the gaps between objects and page boundaries. Position the Gap tool between any two objects and you can then “position” the gap itself by dragging. Aligned gaps—such as those found in large grids as described above—can be moved as a group or independently. If you have Auto Fit turned on for your boxes, images within the frames will resize to fit or fill as directed. This feature doesn’t excite me too much because I don’t often build large grids of images, but I know many publication designers do and the productivity improvements possible with this set of new tools is worth trying out.

My first impression

There are more features in InDesign CS5 that I am saving for my full review, such as the Content Grabber and live captions, but I wanted to convey the out-of-the-box thinking that went behind some of InDesign CS5’s new features. I never would have expected to see text flow right out of its box or such a large suite of multimedia tools in what is really a page layout tool. Industry changes are making InDesign a very different product than what it was ten years ago, and I will be very curious to see how the print community welcomes it.

Illustrator CS5 First Impressions


Adobe Illustrator CS5, a part of all Creative Suite 5 (CS5) suites announced today, was the first beta application I tested for Adobe several months ago and I’ve used it all this time in my professional workflow. The application is stable and has some nice new features and improvements to existing features, but I’m not sure if it is an essential upgrade.

Some new features are extensions of old features

CS4 was a notable release because many product teams focused on productivity enhancements and “making things easier” for users. Adobe began to promote this approach about halfway through CS4’s product cycle. I think the Illustrator CS5 product team has maintained this approach, because several new features in Illustrator CS5 are improvements to old features or provide new ways of doing things.

One example is the addition of Drawing Modes, which allow you to draw behind or inside objects. There are three modes:

  • Draw Normal, which is default behavior,
  • Draw Behind, which draws behind a selected object, and
  • Draw Inside, which will put strokes and placed objects inside an object.

Draw Behind is not particularly useful, and I tend to go back to my usual behavior of moving objects to the back if needed. Draw Inside is a lot more useful but you can do the same thing with clipping masks or opacity masks. I happen to not like working with clipping masks so Draw Inside is a positive addition to Illustrator, and I think others will agree, but it’s not one of those jaw-dropping features we have come to expect from Adobe. It’s really a productivity enhancement.

ai_rearrangeartboardsThe Rearrange Artboards dialog box makes it much easier to organize artboards without precise dragging and numeric inputs.

Another example are the enhancements made to artboards, which was the killer feature introduced in Illustrator CS4. I use artboards regularly as an organization tool for my work but Illustrator CS4 does not make it easy to align or organize artboards. Illustrator CS5 has improved the artboard feature with an Artboards panel where you can rename, reorder and rearrange artboards pretty easily with just a panel menu command or a dialog box. You can also rename artboards in the Artboard tool’s Options bar. These are all welcome improvements to an existing feature, and it makes handling artboards easier without changing artboards’ basic functions.

Probably the most dramatic tool designed to improve an existing feature is the Shape Builder tool, which duplicates what one can do with the Pathfinder’s Add and Subtract buttons. The Pathfinder panel is powerful but disappointingly complicated. The Shape Builder tool will combine or exclude shapes with a simple drag, and it’s fast and intuitive. It can take a little time to master but it’s worth learning, and it will also lessen the need for clipping masks to hide objects.

New perspective drawing

ai_perspectiveIllustrator CS5’s perspective grids make three-dimensional drawing much easier, and two-dimensional objects snap to the 3D space when dragged onto it.

Perspective drawing might be the most dazzling new feature in Illustrator CS5. 1-, 2- and 3-point linear perspective grids can be produced and drawn upon for building three-dimensional drawings. You can drag and drop two-dimensional shapes and drawings onto grids and they’ll conform to the right perspective, and it’s fun to build three-dimensional drawings so easily with perspective grids. Everything remains live so you can edit shapes and even text, but you have to be careful: if you use the regular Selection tool to resize perspective-enhanced text it will be expanded and you’ll lose edibility. A Perspective Grid tool and Perspective Selection tool are available to handle perspective-enhanced objects.

Stroke shaping

It blows my mind that Illustrator can now widen and narrow specific points in a stroke! The new Width tool can change the width of points on a stroke so multi-width shapes can be built with just one stroke. I really like this feature because I often draw organic shapes that can’t be produced with the Pathfinder panel and can be comprised of just one multi-width stroke. A good example is a stroke that’s pointed on one end: in Illustrator CS4, a combination of stroke outlining and point manipulation is needed to produce this. The Width tool can do the same thing with just one drag.

ai_strokesThe maroon stroke (top) demonstrates multiple widths while the star (above) has new dash controls that keep the points sharp.

There’s also some improvements to arrowheads and dashed line control in the Stroke panel that help users fine-tune the positioning of arrowheads and dashes around endpoints and corners. This is another example of a feature that is helpful but is really an extension of long-standing features.

The Bristle Brush: Beautiful art done quickly

Photoshop CS5 has introduced brush tips to its painting engine, making it a better application for fine art painting. Illustrator CS5, being a vector art application, doesn’t handle painting the same way but it tries to mimic the look of painting with a new Bristle Brush brush type. A variety of round, pointed and fan brushes are available with settings for brush length, density, paint load and opacity. Illustrator CS5 recreates the look of paint by overlaying multiple strokes of various opacities to create a blended and shaded strokes of color.

ai_bristlebrushBristle Brush controls are easy to work with, but you can get good results with the defaults as well—even if you “get creative” and just start brushing.

I like the Bristle Brushes, not really because they recreate a painterly look (Painter and Photoshop are superior in that regard) but because the results are very pretty. Illustrator graphics tend to be flat and blocky, but the Bristle Brush can make very nuanced and shaded artwork quickly. I will be curious to see how easy it is to actually print Bristle Brush art in the final version, because I fear so much transparency and overlaying strokes may make it hard for a RIP or a printer to handle, but on the screen the results are striking.

ai_drawmodesThere are two Bristle Brush strokes in the artwork above, one drawn above and one with the new Draw Inside feature. Nesting elements inside shapes will be easier and more intuitive.

My first impression

Illustrator CS5 might be an exciting upgrade for some and not worth the money for others. I was surprised how many features are enhancements to existing features or rely on other applications like Flash Catalyst CS5. My favorite new features are the Shape Builder and the Width tools, with the perspective drawing features a close second. I will be writing a full review of Illustrator CS5 when the final product is shipped.

REVIEW: Maya Entertainment Creation Suite 2010 Is A Wonderful Package


This fall Autodesk began offering some of its popular 3D modeling and animation products in suites, similar to what Adobe does with its series of Creative Suite applications. I’ve never been an Autodesk user but have always been curious about adding 3D and CGI to my repertoire, so I requested a review copy of the Maya Entertainment Creation Suite (ECS) 2010. This suite contains:

  • Autodesk Maya 2010, for 3D modeling, animation, visual effects, rendering, and compositing,
  • Autodesk Mudbox 2010, for digital sculpting and 3D texture painting, and
  • Autodesk MotionBuilder 2010, for high-volume game animation pipelines, director-driven virtual cinematography and real-time character simulations.

Experienced Autodesk users should temper my review with the fact that I’m a newbie in the field and don’t have previous experience with Maya and other apps. That being said, I was blown away by the power and complexity of the Maya ECS 2010 applications—no wonder they are so highly regarded in the industry.

Autodesk Maya 2010: More tools in the same package


I have noodled with Maya in the past, thanks to the free Maya Personal Learning Editions (PLEs) Autodesk used to provide for students. Autodesk has since discontinued the Maya PLE in favor of 30-day trials (60 days for students). Maya 2010 represents a major shift in Autodesk’s product line because it combines the Maya Complete 2009 and Maya Unlimited 2009 products in one application. This means that the full set of features is now available to all Maya users from now on. This strikes me as ironic: while Adobe segments its applications for various market groups, Autodesk is consolidating Maya for a more streamlined product line. I think it’s a good move.


Maya 2010 is also the first Maya release that can serve as a start-to-finish computer graphics workflow. Maya Unlimited tools are included as described above, and so are Maya Composite (for compositing), Autodesk MatchMover (camera tracking) and Autodesk Backburner (a queue manager for multiple computers). Note that Maya Composite is available in a companion application based on Toxik technology, which will be familiar to experienced Maya users.


It was evident years ago, when I was working with the Maya PLEs, that Maya was a complicated application in a complicated field. Maya 2010 is still a complicated application, and the user interface can be overwhelming. Fortunately, Autodesk provides good tutorials and directions for novice users, but Maya’s plethora of menus and buttons is still daunting. It makes After Effects look like Stunt Copter. Normally I harp on software manufacturers to improve user interfaces, and I think there is room for improvement for Maya 2010’s interface, but the tools needed for this kind of work are many and there’s not many interface elements that can simply be removed. I think a redesigned, unified set of icons would improve usability a lot, as well as more keyboard shortcuts.


Some designers might be disappointed that the Maya 2010 application itself has not changed much from the previous version. I could only find a couple new features: an updated mental ray core for rendering and the ability to add constraints to animation layers. Five more mental ray rendering nodes are also included but multiple computers are needed to take advantage of the extra rendering power. This isn’t much to celebrate, but I think the new strategy of bundling Maya 2010 with Toxik and other Maya Unlimited applications makes it a game-changing upgrade anyway. If you have wanted to jump into the 3D and CGI field with Maya, now is an ideal time to do it: the learning curve is high and will always be high, but Autodesk is offering a more comprehensive product now.


Autodesk Mudbox 2010: Beautiful sculpting interface


Mudbox 2010 is a more enjoyable product for me, probably because my training is in the fine arts and Mudbox software’s creative sculpting interface captures the feel of moving paint and clay. The only other application that captures this kind of fine art realism is Corel Painter, which I’ve always enjoyed using. Mudbox 2010 is no different and I think designers with a strong creative streak will want to try it out.


Mudbox 2010 obviously doesn’t have the comprehensive set of applications the new Maya 2010 has, but it has more changes under the hood.

  • New support for the FBX and PSD file types means that it’s easier for users to move 3D materials to and from Mudbox with FBX or to and from Photoshop with PSD. I happen to use Photoshop a lot more than Mudbox so it’s handy to paint layers in Photoshop and take them back to Mudbox. Mudbox 2010 doesn’t have the range of effects Photoshop does.
  • Mudbox 2010 is extendable with a new application programming interface (API) and software development kit (SDK). I didn’t test this since I’m not a C++ programmer, but the SDK is extensive with many built-in classes, importers and exporters for plug-in development.
  • Two new brushes, the Clone Brush and Dry Brush, can paint a copy of one area to another (Clone) or paint on the raised parts of a surface (Dry). The brushes work very well and the best thing is they help recreate the realism of working with paint and clay. This is what sets Mudbox 2010 apart from similar products.
  • New viewport filters let you view artwork in ways beyond normal mapping. You can choose to add non-photorealistic effects to your viewport, for example. These filters can be helpful but be careful—I found that my Mac Pro had to work to process these filters. You can now also render directly from the viewport, which I thought was very handy when producing proofs and otherwise rendering parts of the whole.
  • It’s getting easier to stencil and paint complex objects. Mudbox 2010 allows paint layers to be combined for improved performance. Stencils now support transparency and alpha channels so you have more control when painting details and decals on meshes, and general improvements in 3D painting makes painting models with multiple parts easier and faster.


All this makes Mudbox 2010 a nice upgrade and a great addition for creative professionals. The application makes beautiful work and it’s easier to use than Maya, and offers a more creative experience. It’s not for everyone—it really does need a strong computer to handle the processing—but I encourage you to try the trial version if you like the idea of working with digital mud.


Autodesk MotionBuilder 2010: Better physics


MotionBuilder is a time-tested application, and I could tell that MotionBuilder 2010 is quite mature. The application itself runs smoothly, though I had real difficulty learning the software—it’s my first time using it—and the controls were difficult to grasp. I had the same trouble with Maya 2010 and Mudbox 2010, so I’m sure I would have an easier time if I was more experienced.


One new feature I really like is the new Physical Joints, which can be added as constraints to animated objects to create hinge and swinging effects. Effects like these that can create realistic animations and are still easy to apply are highly regarded, and Physical Joints are anything if not easy. Adobe has been experimenting with physics engines for Flash (see my video from the Adobe MAX Sneak Peeks) but Autodesk already has physics happening here in MotionBuilder 2010.


The other new feature that looks really impressive is pose control and matching. Poses can be stored from objects and groups as well as characters, and they can be applied to other objects. This is a production improvement, but the pose matching is more striking: characters can match poses and also be set to do specific things when interacting with environments. So if a character happens to be falling or moving in a certain way, aspects of the pose can be manipulated and MotionBuilder 2010 will match the pose with the character as you like. Working with pose matching can be a little tricky but not too much, and the results are impressive.


The rest of the enhancements in MotionBuilder 2010 are mostly integration and production improvements, such as better support for Autodesk 3ds Max Biped character rigs, Autodesk HumanIK plug-in, Maya and Autodesk Softimage software. The Actor tool is also now more efficient at working with finger and marker data. My one complaint is, as a Mac user, I’m disappointed this version of MotionBuilder is not available for the Mac. Maya and Mudbox both are Mac-compatible so it’s an annoyance to have to run MotionBuilder on my virtualized Windows environment. Previous versions of MotionBuilder were released for the Mac, and I hope Autodesk brings it back soon.

MotionBuilder 2010 is an impressive product based on its physics alone, and even though the price is high I think it’s a good buy for those animating 3D characters and scenes. If you are already using MotionBuilder 2009, definitely check out the upgrade for the physics benefits alone.


The Maya Entertainment Creation Suite 2010 is a powerful combination of applications, and I am happy to see Autodesk bundling these together for the first time. I think you get a lot more for your money when purchasing the suite instead of the separate applications, and there is also an Autodesk 3ds Max Entertainment Creation Suite 2010 where 3ds Max replaces Maya. Both would be solid investments in some top-notch technology.

Maya Entertainment Creation Suite 2010
US $4,995
Rating: 9/10

Maya 2010
US $3,495
Rating: 9/10

Mudbox 2010
US $750 / $375 upgrade
Rating: 10/10

MotionBuilder 2010
US $3,995 / $995 upgrade
Rating: 9/10

Reviewing the training guides


I wanted to also give a review of the official Autodesk Maya training guides, because a monumental application like Maya (let alone a monumental suite) requires extensive training and guides like these are vital to the user community. Autodesk used to publish three Maya training books but this year scaled it down to two, Learning Autodesk Maya 2010 (Foundation) and The Modeling & Animation Handbook (Intermediate).

The first impression was a good one. Adobe’s Classroom In A Book training guides are usually small and relatively thin, but these books by Autodesk are thick (over 600 pages each) and look great. The graphics are also top-notch, taken from the 2008 Bollywood film Roadside Romeo—the first CGI feature film to come from India. The movie may not be Pixar-level material but it’s high-grade material for a training book and very inspirational.

The writing is clear and the lessons are fairly easy to follow but the authors don’t explain complex concepts thoroughly. Most of the writing consists of short instructions and relatively short paragraphs explaining the thinking behind the exercises. Compare this with the Classroom In A Book series, which is also exercise-based but devotes more pages that explain how these exercises illustrate larger concepts. This is the major failing of the Autodesk training guides, and it’s a direct cause of the one gripe I hear over and over again about these books.


“Too hard.” Learning Autodesk Maya 2010 and The Modeling & Animation Handbook really require a strong grasp of 3D fundamentals, and the guides aren’t really accessible to beginners. I am a beginner too and I could go through the lessons easy enough but sometimes felt like I was in a fog, going through the motions. Mistakes were not easy to track down and resolve, and it was sometimes unclear for this beginner to tie the instructions to larger concepts. I felt like I was making headway but wasn’t sure how or if I would be able to apply my training to other projects.

These two Autodesk training guides are good but can irritate beginners who want to learn a new application like Maya. Maybe there’s no good way for a beginner to learn Maya outside of a classroom with a trained instructor. I think Learning Autodesk Maya 2010 and The Modeling & Animation Handbook are good tools for those wanting a hands-on experience with Maya without much general overview or explanations of key concepts.

Learning Autodesk Maya 2010 (Foundation)
Published by Autodesk
Rating: 7/10

The Modeling & Animation Handbook
Published by Autodesk
Rating: 7/10

REVIEW: Adobe Captivate Fills The eLearning Niche


I am sometimes hired to produce electronic learning (eLearning) products such as demonstrations, quizzes and “textbooks on a screen.” In the past I have used Flash and the other Creative Suite applications to create these products, mostly because there’s no other good application for building eLearning tools such as these. I’ve always thought Director would be a good choice for this, but Adobe has only updated the application twice since acquiring it from Macromedia and eLearning is not its primary focus.

I was naturally surprised when I stumbled upon news that Adobe had an application called Captivate and a suite called the eLearning Suite that did focus on eLearning, and just a few months ago Captivate was upgraded to version four (the eLearning Suite is a new product). I’ve been covering Adobe Creative Suite apps for years now and this was one suite that had escaped my attention! This is because it’s targeted to PC-using eLearning professionals and not available for Mac users, which I really can’t understand: Mac-loving designers are often called to produce eLearning products, and unfortunately most of them aren’t aware of the great capabilities the eLearning Suite offers. Fortunately, Adobe tells me a version of Captivate for Mac is already in the beta testing stages, so I hope to see a Mac version released in the future.

The sum of its parts

What struck me about the eLearning Suite was how similar it is to the Creative Suite 4: other than Captivate 4 and some other features, the eLearning Suite consists of CS4 applications including Flash, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Soundbooth, Bridge and other supporting applications, including Device Central for developing eLearning products for mobile devices. Acrobat 9 Pro and Presenter 7 (normally available in Acrobat 9 Pro Extended) are also included.

The eLearning Suite distinguishes itself from CS4 by a few unique applications and features:

  • Captivate 4,
  • A “Learning Interactions” library available in Flash CS4 Professional. This library includes movie clips for drag-and-drop questions including multiple choice, interactive, true/false, sequential, yes/no and several other formats. Each movie clip comes with detailed instructions so any intermediate Flash user should be able to handle them, but total novices may find them difficult.
  • CourseBuilder Extensions available in Dreamweaver CS4. The extension adds a “CourseBuilder Interaction” item to the Insert panel, which can create the same types of questions produced by Flash’s Learning Interactions but built with HTML and JavaScript. CourseBuilder Extensions is more robust and shows a gallery of question formats to choose from (and some formats have more than one layout and button design). CourseBuilder Extensions produces a lot of code for what it does but it works well for drag-and-drop functionality.

These features, along with the integration inherent between the CS4 products, help optimize the eLearning Suite for eLearning productions.

Adobe is assuming that eLearning producers are not web designers or Flash programmers, and drag-and-drop tools are needed for them to produce successful projects. I would agree with this if their assumption is true that the eLearning community is a separate market from the creative professional market. However, I believe the eLearning and creative professional markets are much closer than that. Designers and multimedia producers using CS4 now will be very comfortable with the eLearning Suite. It’s likely Captivate 5 will be developed for both Mac and Windows, and I hope Adobe Presenter will be as well—if so, it would be great to see the eLearning Suite become a part of the Creative Suite product family. I think it will happen—you heard it here first!

Two workflows

The eLearning Suite is a full complement of applications, so Adobe wisely emphasizes workflow as the key to successful eLearning production. There are two ways to do it:

  • Rapid authoring workflow revolves around Captivate 4 as the primary authoring tool (with Presenter 7 as an auxiliary tool) while the CS4 applications produce content such as graphics, audio and interactivity.
  • Traditional authoring workflow revolves around Flash CS4 Professional and Dreamweaver CS4 as the authoring tools for interactive and online eLearning products, complemented by their Learning Interactions and CourseBuilder Extensions. Captivate and the other CS4 apps are relegated to content production roles.

Both workflows deploy content through a variety of methods, and I think deployment is the killer feature of the eLearning Suite. It supports all the best formats for eLearning deployment, including SWF, HTML and interactive PDF (made possible by Acrobat 9’s SWF support). eLearning products can be deployed via CD-ROM, the World Wide Web, e-mail, mobile devices or local network. Even better, the eLearning Suite can aggregate and package content so it complies with the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM), the standards for web-based eLearning. All this can be delivered with a learning management system (LMS) or an online presentation tool like Acrobat Connect Pro.

Adobe’s holistic approach to content deployment aligns well with today’s technology: companies and employees use many different kinds of devices to receive and send content. If the eLearning Suite focused on CD-ROM or online deployment I don’t think it would be as successful, but the convergence of Flash, PDF and online technologies makes it possible for learning to take place anywhere, on one homogenous platform, and in adherence to the industry standards represented by SCORM.

Captivate 4: Powerful application with familiar features


Working with Captivate 4 was an enjoyable experience, which is not always the case with applications designed only for Windows. Captivate 4 is a power application thanks to elements borrowed from several familiar applications:

  • PowerPoint: The slide-based structure and video/audio support makes Captivate a smart choice for presentation design as well as eLearning production.
  • Flash: Each slide has a timeline so elements can be interactive (and should be if successful learning is the goal).
  • Presenter: Presenter is basically a PowerPoint-to-Flash application anyway, and Captivate imports PowerPoint in the same way.
  • Acrobat: The interface design is mostly influenced by PowerPoint and Flash, but the main toolbar has the same look and feel as that in Acrobat 9.


The round-trip PowerPoint functionality is excellent: users can import PowerPoint presentations and add content and interactivity not available in the PowerPoint application. I expected a method to export back to PowerPoint, but it seems this is not the case. The next best thing is a dynamic link between Captivate and PowerPoint projects, so elements of the project design can remain in PowerPoint and be updated as needed. However, I’m not sure why anyone would do this because Captivate’s functionality and ease of use is superior.

The coolest feature in Captivate 4 is on-the-fly converting of slide notes to speech! Only two voice are available (“Kate” and “Paul”) and they must be downloaded separately from the Adobe website, but it is a thrill to hear your notes read aloud. The voices are electronic, much better than MacInTalk’s monotone but not up to par with a real human voice—but it’s a helpful feature nonetheless. Paul’s voice seems a little more natural than Kate’s, which is ironic because my clients tend to want female voices in their presentations and eLearning materials.


Captivate 4 includes a Send For Review feature to make it easier for instructional designers and subject matter experts to collaborate on eLearning products. This is facilitated by an AIR-based Captivate Reviewer app so collaborators can view Captivate projects and comment as needed. Adobe has really focused on big-picture improvements over the last few years, such as collaboration and productivity improvements, and the good news is that such improvements are applicable to a wide range of products including Captivate 4.


Audio and video is very important to Captivate and the eLearning Suite. Soundbooth CS4 ships with the eLearning Suite and helps produce audio, while video can be recorded on-screen within Captivate. Movie clips, including FLV and QuickTime, can be imported easily and Flash CS4 Professional’s video skins are available. I had no problems importing audio and video, which is to be expected. The one thing I did miss was a video application comparable to Soundbooth CS4.

The other major feature in Captivate 4 is the Table of Contents and Aggregator tools, which are handy for larger eLearning projects. These two tools create a table of contents for easier navigation and/or combine modular projects into one whole. Most of my eLearning projects are not large enough for the Aggregator but the Table of Contents is awesome—in a few clicks I can do what takes me an hour or two in Flash! I wish I could preview the table of contents within Captivate—the project must be published before the table of contents can be seen.

Widgets, mice, questions, interactivity

Captivate 4 comes with a bunch of widgets and other interactive elements, so an interactive eLearning experience can be produced even if a user doesn’t want to monkey with audio and video. The Insert > Mouse command inserts a mouse cursor on screen and can be animated to show movement and clicks. The Quiz menu can create and customize several types of questions, and it pretty much offers the same questions as the Learning Interactions and CourseBuilder Extensions. I prefer to add questions here since I adopted the rapid authoring workflow and most of my eLearning work is done in Captivate. However, I’m not thrilled by the default question designs—part of this is because I’m not thrilled by the way designs look in PC-only apps in general.

The other interactive feature available in Captivate 4 is Flash-based widgets, and they really make a Captivate project look good. Widgets include buttons, check boxes and radio buttons, combo and list boxes, a dynamic certificate and even a jumbled word puzzle. Some of these widgets will not please designers who want a really slick design, but drag-and-drop users will really love them. My big complaint is that widgets don’t seem to preview properly within Captivate: I had to publish my projects in order to test them. A “Live View” feature similar to that in Dreamweaver CS4 would be a great feature for Captivate 5.


Captivate 4 is an anomaly in the Adobe product universe—an application that employs technology from several CS4 applications but doesn’t exist in the Creative Suite family. Adobe had to build an eLearning Suite around Captivate and populate it with CS4 apps. I believe this is the wrong thinking: even though eLearning professionals may not be creative professionals, there are many creative professionals who build eLearning products and can benefit from Captivate’s broad toolset and ease of use. I think the release of Captivate for Mac will draw a lot of these creative professionals toward the eLearning Suite.

If you produce eLearning products as part of your job, Captivate 4 is a strong recommendation. Designers who know their way around CS4 should also consider the eLearning Suite, though for most designers and agencies it doesn’t make sense to carry CS4 and the eLearning Suite—most of the applications overlap. I’ll be watching this new suite closely and will be very interested to see how it evolves in the next few years.

Adobe Captivate 4
Adobe Systems
US$799/299 upgrade
Rating: 9/10

Adobe eLearning Suite
Adobe Systems
US$1,799/599 upgrade
Rating: 9/10