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Comparing TutorAuthor and Captivate

Two of the authoring applications used most frequently in law firms are TutorAuthor, from TutorPro, and Captivate, from Adobe.

It’s a little tricky to compare TutorAuthor and Captivate, because, though at first glance they are alike, in many ways they are actually very different.  Before I start, I should specify that I am comparing Captivate 3 with TutorAuthor 8.  Captivate 3 is a new version; TutorAuthor is also beta-testing a new, very different version with an "timeline" interface similar to Captivate and other authoring programs. In that sense, my comparison is not entirely fair, since I'm comparing the latest version of one with an older version of the other.

Captivate definitely has a "bells and whistles" interface.  You can do all kinds of fancy stuff with it.  Adobe seems to have a broader audience in mind, so they throw in everything but the kitchen sink. TutorAuthor is more specific; it focuses on creating the software simulations and tests that law firms need for training, and on allowing you to customize TutorPro's own courseware.

Is it a true simulation?

The most important difference is that TutorAuthor is designed to produce a true simulation.  For example, when you move a mouse up and down a menu, each option is highlighted. When you move the mouse across buttons on a toolbar, tooltips appear, as they do in the actual application. You can also insert "insertion points" - the blinking cursor, whenever it's appropriate.

Captivate also creates what it calls a simulation, but it does not have the same features.  Menus are not simulated - you just get a graphic of the menu - and tooltips are not created.  (You could create them yourself, with rollover text boxes, but that would be a lot of work.) An insertion point appears in a text box, but there is no option to add it, for example, after newly typed text.

There's also one area where Captivate is not a true simulation.  If you enter text (more than one keystroke), Captivate seems to require you to press the 'Enter' key before the text is accepted.  In a dialog box in the actual application, pressing 'Enter' would probably be the equivalent of pressing 'OK,' which could lead to confusion for learners.  In a TutorAuthor skill, typing in the correct text immediately jumps you to the next frame, to allow you to continue naturally.

There is another fundamental difference.  Captivate captures screenshots as “slides”  in the project – they are not available outside Captivate. They can be exported, but you can't just edit screenshots, for example, in a Windows directory.  There is an option to edit an image from within Captivate, but it allows only for your primary graphics editor.  In my case, that means Paint Shop Pro. However, I prefer to use Snag-It's editor and catalog applications to make minor edits, and I can't do that in Captivate. Selecting the Edit button for a graphic opens a new session of the graphics editor (which, with Paint Shop Pro, is a slow process).

Currently, TutorAuthor captures the screenshots as .gif or .jpg graphics, stored in the same source directory as the .tpl file – so you can touch up the individual screenshots in any paint/graphics program, or replace them with new ones if the look of the application changes.  This is an important element of the customizability that is a major selling point of TutorPro. You can also use the same screenshots, in the same source directory, as the basis for documentation, etc.

Which is easier to use?

On one level, Captivate makes it very easy to capture a “movie.”  It automatically captures a screenshot every time you click the mouse or type, and you can manually capture screenshots as well by pressing PrintScrn.  (Note: Captivate does not automatically capture a mouse move, for example, when a mouse moving over a menu makes the menu drop down, though they have a "rollover" feature to pop up a text box, for example, when you move the mouse over an icon on the screen.)

TutorAuthor also has an automatic capture. It asks you to press a key (you can decide which one) when you want a screen capture, and then it captures the changes from the preceding screenshot. This takes a little practice - you have to be careful to remember all the captures.

The marketing folks for Captivate sell it as being very quick and easy, but the instructor for my class in Captivate (David Locke, of www.Wordsmith.net – excellent instructor) said it’s not that simple.  You really need to “touch” every slide before you can be satisfied to publish your movie. If you want to include more than just the instruction - an explanation of why you would press a key, for example, you have to add that for each slide.

TutorAuthor has more elements to its simulations, so you have to check menus and tooltips as well, and adjust them when necessary.   When I author courseware, I have a checklist of things to check.

But it’s not a matter of one being easy and the other hard.  Both can record a procedure, and both need touching up.

Can you switch between demo and simulation?

TutorPro includes a “slideshow” feature, which plays the lesson without user input.  You can make that choice when creating the lesson, or leave it up to the user to switch back and forth.

Captivate treats demos and simulations completely separately.  You make the decision when you start the project.  If you want one recorded procedure to serve as both a demo and a simulation, you need two movies.  When you record the procedure, Captivate makes two copies, one for the demo and one for the simulation. Then you add or subject items like instruction captions, hints, click boxes, etc., separately in each "movie."

Can you include alternate methods?

One of the complaints people have about e-learning is that it sometimes locks you into one method of doing something.  If, for example, the lesson insists that you click the Print button, but you always use Ctrl-P, the lesson has lost credibility with you, and you may just get irritated and not bother to finish.

TutorAuthor includes alternate events for each frame, and TutorPro’s own courseware always includes those alternate events. Adding them during authoring is easy – provided you can think of all the possible alternate methods!

Captivate starts with the assumption that you will provide one method, and the user is expected to follow that method.  However, you can add the alternate methods by copying a slide, adding the extra method, and using Branching to skip to the appropriate next slide.  It takes more work, but it’s doable.

Can you export the screenshots?

As mentioned above, Captivate incorporates the screenshots into the project.  You can edit them individually, using your primary graphics editor, or export them individually or as a multiple selection. TutorAuthor captures the screenshots as individual graphics (.gif or .jpg), stored in a source directory. Using Windows Explorer, graphics in that directory can be opened in any graphics/paint program, and edited. This has the advantage of using a single directory to store all graphics used in e-learning, documentation, etc.

Can you import/export the text?

TutorAuthor has buttons to export and import the instruction box text, allowing you to send the script to someone for approval/editing, then re-import it.  (You need to make the rules clear – limit each item to four lines, there may be duplicates, etc.)  The script can include events, etc., but only some of these can be re-imported.  I often create the Quick Reference Guide first, then use that text to create the script for TutorAuthor.

When you author courseware for TutorPro, you write the script first, have that approved by the client (if it's custom courseware) and use that as the basis of creating the skills. You can import an approved script directly into the "skill" - TutorPro's term for a lesson - but you need to make sure the captured graphics match the script exactly.

Captivate also has the ability to publish to Word, to create reference guides and storyboards, but the results cannot be re-imported into the project. The resulting reference guides are useful, but need editing to add more text.  I have to say, though, that in my new Captivate 3, I have been unable to do this due to a problem with the Word integration. However, the ability to "publish" to different media is one of Captivate's greatest strengths.

I also find that using entire screenshots in documentation is not particularly effective - you're usually better off showing only part of the screenshot - and that reduces the benefit of creating the documentation automatically.

Are the captured instructions accurate?

Both programs have the same limitations.  It’s easy, for example, for the program to record a menu click and translate it to “Click the File menu.”  It’s not so easy, if you click in a text window, to translate that.  TutorAuthor will pick up a generic term for the window, and Captivate may pick up the nearest text.  Neither is likely to be what you want.

In general, you will want to edit every “caption” (Captivate’s term) and “Instruction box text” (TutorAuthor’s term).  At the very least, you will want to check them.

The accuracy of the automatic captioning also depends on how well the captured application was designed.  If, for example, the tooltip wasn't stored in the right place in the application code, neither application would be able to capture it.  (Actually, TutorAuthor is the only one that picks up tooltips - so that may not be the best example, but it's one I came across in the real world.  I reported it to the application designer, so they may have corrected it.)

If you want to click the drop-down arrow for a field, both applications will pick up the entire field, and you need to edit both the click area and the instructions.  This is presumably a limitation of Windows, not of either application.

Voice and video

Both applications can add graphics and link to videos and other media.  Captivate has a more intuitive interface, I think - its right-click context menus are great.

Captivate also has a good built-in audio editor for recording voice-overs. Is this important?  If you need a voice-over, yes.  But it's difficult for a non-professional to record well.  And if you use an employee, what do you do in five years, when you need to update the lesson, and the speaker has left the firm?  But if you want to go in this direction, Captivate is probably the better choice.

What about the extras?

Both programs have ways to call attention to items on the screen.  Captivate has a little more - it allows for Flash animations, for example, since the resulting movie is a Flash movie, and Adobe owns Flash.

Both programs have a Magnify option.  I would say that Captivate has an edge here - their Zoom tool is really nice.  There is also a Magnify option in TutorAuthor, though it's simpler than the one in Captivate.

Both programs have a Highlight option.  Captivate has more options to configure the color, size of border, etc.  However, TutorPro is currently beta-testing their new TutorAuthor NG, which has these options and more.

One of the most important aspects of authoring is to set a window size and stick to it.  Captivate does this by setting a capture size and selecting an option that resizes the capture window to that size.  TutorPro has separate little stand-alone programs that apply a size and screen location to a window.  Which is better? Both are good, but I find TutorPro's little programs handy in other circumstances too.  It's strictly a matter of preference, though.


Both programs have the ability to branch - for example, if you want to include a "how to" section that the user only accesses if he/she clicks on a link that says "Show me how to do this."

As I mentioned above, Captivate requires you to use branching if you want to include alternate methods of doing something, while TutorAuthor includes it in the "events" screen.  Both applications allow you to branch to a prior point in the lesson, which can be important sometimes.

TutorAuthor has one great plus when it comes to branching.  You can branch to a separate TutorPro lesson, and when you exit that one, you are returned to the same point in the original lesson.  At one firm, I used this for newcomers - the first screen of every lesson (skill) asked "Have you used TutorPro before?" with a button labeled "Click here for a quick tutorial on TutorPro."  When the user completed it, TutorPro came back to the initial screen so he/she could continue the lesson.  When we decided to make a change in the quick tutorial, we simply edited one "lesson", and all the skills in the library pointed to the new version.

Captivate will run another Captivate movie, but it won't return you to the same point.

Captivate's advantage in Branching is that it has a graphic display of the branching, which I find very useful.

Storing source material

As I mentioned above, TutorAuthor stores the individual graphics in a folder with the .tpl file (the "project" file that pulls everything together).  Captivate has just one file - the project file - that contains everything.  However, within that file is a "Library" - a list of all items used in a project - and individual items, including graphics, can be exported, edited, and imported again. 

As part of creating a true simulation, TutorAuthor includes the option to store sets of events (mouse clicks, etc.), mouse pointers (if you wish to use them), button and menu effects, etc., and re-use them, either in the same project or a new one.

TutorAuthor also includes a Repository option - a central storage directory that different projects can access.  This is very useful if, for example, you are doing one or more entire "skillsets" that use the same screen and menus. Captivate has no Repository, but it can import objects like graphics from the "library" of another Captivate project.

Which is best?

TutorAuthor creates a full simulation, Captivate a partial simulation. The question becomes, is a partial simulation satisfactory for your users, if it comes at a lower price?

Honestly, it depends on your needs.  My preference is to develop e-learning that does more than just tell you what to do - I like to tell you why, to do in e-learning some of what a live instructor would do (at least, a good one would).  I also think a full simulation makes it easier to learn.  For both of these, I think TutorAuthor does a better job. 

If what you need is to provide quick tips - to include, perhaps, a short demo as part of a "tip of the week" program, Captivate, with its automatic capture, makes it easy to do that.

I like to maintain expertise in both, but as a consultant, I probably have different needs than you; I want to be able to provide authoring in both products.  If you need to make a choice, I hope this article has given you some help.


Table of Contents

Is it a true simulation?

Which is easier to use?

Can you switch between demo and simulation?

Can you include alternate methods?

Can you export screenshots?

Can you import/export text?

Are the captures accurate?

Can voice and video be included?

Extras like highlights and zoom

Can you branch to another part of the lesson?

Last modified: 04/28/08