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4.0 has now been released and it is chock full of new features. It also
contains somewhat of an updated look and feel, though it still retains
its icon-based, flowline approach that has proven so popular among developers
for the last 10 years. Among all the authoring systems available, it continues
to be one of the easiest to learn, allowing nonprogrammers in many cases
to quickly come up to speed and start producing real multimedia-based applications.
However, its new features are helping it retain its reputation as one of
the more powerful software packages for creating sophisticated applications,
especially in the training arena.
new version of Authorware contains some very cool new features.
is this important in today's world of CD-ROMs and soon-to-be-widely-used
DVDs (Digital Versatile Disks)? Believe it or not, there are still a lot
of times when small files are necessary. For example, one of our clients
asked us to design and develop a series of training lessons on software
that they have developed in-house. This software and the training application
is installed on laptops used by field personnel. Unfortunately, the laptops
do not have CD-ROMs or large hard drives. Our client. s software already
takes up much of the hard drive, so our client told us we had to limit
our training application to 20 megabytes. We scrimped and saved wherever
we could in the code, using every space-saving technique we knew. We managed
to limit our application to 20 Mb in Authorware 3.5 without sacrificing
its instructional effectiveness. However, when our client recently asked
us to add more lessons, we started wondering if we would have to turn to
supernatural powers to find more ways to save room. Imagine our delight
when we saw that the Authorware 4.0 Beta we received a few months ago reduced
the size of our files down to 4.5 megabytes! Now we have more room to add
lessons, all without having to sell our souls.
files: Take a file created in Authorware 3.x and open it in version
4.0 and you'll receive a pleasant surprise: your file will shrink to ¼
to ¾ of its original size. Macromedia has learned some lessons in
compression from its work with Shockwave. This means you can now cram more
Authorware code on a CD-ROM or other media. It also means quicker downloads
if you're distributing your applications over an intranet or over the Internet.
makes this external linking ability even more powerful is the ability to
use a variable to link to the external file, which means you can dynamically
link a Display icon, for instance, to any external media file at run time
without knowing ahead of time what the file name will be. For instance,
you can read a directory of external graphics provided to you by the client
by using Authorware's Catalog function, then show each graphic one
by one by loading each file name into a variable.
linking: It used to be that importing a graphic or sound meant that
it would become part of your Authorware file. Your file would become bigger
not only because the media object was imported, but also because Authorware.
s internal format was not a grand example of efficiency. Now, when importing
a media object, you can choose to internalize it or to link it to the external
file. When internalizing a graphic file, Authorware now retains the file.
s original format. Hence, a JPG or GIF graphic file retains its original
compression advantages. Since you can choose whether to internalize a media
object or link to its file, you can choose to keep some of your media external
when you know that it will need to change often while internalizing the
more permanent graphics and sounds. You can also resize, scale, and crop
displayed objects, all good features to have incorporated into an authoring
system. An integrated Media Browser helps you keep track of all linked
media. Good thing, too, because in a large file, you could easily lose
track of which external objects you. ve used. This is important because
you. ll need to remember to include those files with the packaged Authorware
files you give to your client.
on this issue, because you have the ability to link to external files and
even graphics you load internally retain their original compression, some
media will load quickly, others more slowly, depending on how much they
are compressed. This means you now can more finely tune your application
to take advantage of compression when speed is less of a factor than size,
or to make all your graphics and sounds uncompressed when speed is more
important than the size of your application.
What Else Do We Need?
and Drop: You now have the ability to drag and drop media files and
Web URLs onto the flowline. Authorware will automatically create the appropriate
icons to accommodate the new file objects. This is very convenient when
you have been given a batch of new media files to incorporate into your
application by your graphic artist or sound editor. Instead of having to
take the time to create a new icon, open it, and import the external object
(or link to it) for every new media file, you can now simply highlight
all the files you wish to import, then drag them onto the Authorware flow
line. What if you wish to have the icons not internalize the objects, but
instead link to them? No problem, just hold down the Ctrl key while dragging
Macromedia now allows third-party vendors to add new options to Authorware
to let you incorporate and manipulate sprites, scripts, and screen transitions.
These show up as a new icon on the flowline called an Xtra:
. You won't see it on the icon palette - it automatically gets placed on
the flowline when you choose to insert an external control. Among the immediate
applications of Xtras that come with this new version are QuickDraw 3D
and VRML support.
Using an Xtra, you can now incorporate any ActiveX control and be able
to fully communicate with it. This gives you the full power of Microsoft.
s application building blocks. You. ll be able to seamlessly integrate
capabilities into Authorware never before possible. Want an idea as to
the kind of power this will give you? Navigate to www.activex.com and you.
ll see the power this new control can give you.
Links: Not the least of ActiveX's controls is the ability to show web
pages directly in your Authorware application, in any size you wish, with
no browser evident, and with full interactivity. This means that you now
have at your disposal the full resources of the World Wide Web (of course,
it. s up to you to ensure you. re not infringing on copyrighted materials).
Powerful Scripting : Authorware's scripting abilities have become even
more powerful, with the addition of multidimensional arrays and the adoption
of symbols, lists and property lists, long a mainstay of Director. This
gives Authorware an even greater speed boost. Macromedia engineers have
managed to speed up Authorware with every new version.
Dialog Boxes: Authorware has adopted an approach used by other authoring
systems in that now icons, media objects, and your source files have properties
, basically a collection of options you can set. This means that all options
pertaining to a Display icon, for instance, can all now be found through
one tabbed dialog box, rather than in several different places. While experienced
Authorware users will find themselves hunting for options in unfamiliar
places, it doesn't take long to appreciate the logic of the new approach.
Compatibility : Authorware's files are now identically formatted in
both the Windows and Macintosh versions. This means you now can create
an Authorware file on one platform and run it immediately on the other.
Macromedia now provides both run-time applications on the CD-ROM and has
improved its font mapping abilities.
On-line Help: Macromedia has been expanding the on-line resources they
provide for Authorware users on their web site (www.macromedia.com). Already,
there is quite a bit more than there used to be, and it seems they are
adding new materials every week. This is important because the new Authorware
manuals seem even slimmer than their predecessors.
has been much more dedicated in the last few years to listening to its
clients, the users of its tools. Many of the features that have been added
in version 4.0 came as a direct result of listening to user requests. Macromedia
has even implemented a "wish-list" feature on its web site to let users
send their requests directly to the company. I have no idea how long the
list is at this point, but I have to guess that it is rather lengthy. A
basic fact of life is that every user wants something different. I can.
t imagine what everyone wants. However, there are several features
I would love to have in Authorware right now that are not included
at the moment. Here are but six:
to Macromedia for a fine new version. Now get back to work on version 5!
Database Connectivity: Authorware is capable of connecting to external
databases through your system. s Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) connections.
While this does work, it requires that you script lengthy and cryptic SQL
commands through ODBC function calls. Databases have become extremely important
in today. s world. Data warehousing and mining have become almost as important
to multimedia delivery as it has to more traditional software applications.
So why not make it easier to talk to databases? This would be a very good
Property Manipulation : Authorware is now using the term "property"
liberally in its implementation. As mentioned, everything now has a property
dialog box. That. s a good start. Now what we need is the ability to change
any property at run-time through a script. To be sure, some properties,
such as whether an object is movable or not, have always been modifiable
through scripting. However, many still are not. For instance, we recently
implemented a long course in which the client wanted question distracters
to change color when students click them. The color of text should be considered
a property and it should be easily modifiable through a script. However,
this is not possible, so we had to implement an inefficient method to make
the text appear to have changed color. Several of Authorware's more script-heavy
competitors allow properties to be changed more easily. It. s time Authorware
Files : It's great that icons can now contain links to external media
files. But why must we open the icon and bring up an object's property
dialog box to see whether it's linked or not? It would be very nice if
we could see on the icon flow line whether an icon contains external links
or not. In Authorware 3.0, we were introduced to hypertext, and we can
see whether a Display icon contains hypertext because of a small symbol
that appears on top of the Display icon. A similar approach to tell us
whether an icon contains external links would be similarly appreciated.
Importing: While you can import Rich-Text Format (RTF) files while
you author, it would be very nice if you could import and export these
files at run-time. This would allow you to store formatted text files externally,
as you can graphics, sounds and movies. This is a feature long requested
in Authorware. Being able to format and edit text externally to Authorware
would be very cool.
Icon Enhancements : Director has several advantages over Authorware
when scripting, such as quickly commenting and uncommenting script lines,
automatic tabbing and so on. Of course, Director requires a lot more scripting
than Authorware, but that's no excuse. Let's get some controls that increase
productivity while scripting.
Fonts: One of the biggest problems with distributing files in Authorware
is the inability to control how your text will appear on different machines.
Even when you choose standard fonts, such as Arial or Geneva, your text
may not appear correctly because of different metrics used for the same
fonts on different platforms. Converting your text into graphics to avoid
this problem is not a solution since it doesn't allow you to easily edit
the text and it makes your files very large.