We’re all in “the biz”, right?

As you all know, I do just wee a bit of public speaking every year. I rely heavily on software like Powerpoint, or if I’m doing webcasts, various things. For the past year or more, I’ve been using Adobe’s Captivate 3 to put together some demos/clickthroughs that really look like the real thing. This type of software (even if you don’t use Captivate) is pretty invaluable when you’ve got complex demos that may blow up (it’s your backup) or things you can’t get out of a data center.

Adobe recently released Captivate 4 which, in looking at the feature list, seemed like a good upgrade. Since I owned Creative Suite 3, I decided to upgrade to the eLearning Suite CS4 since I’m also going to be putting some of that training together. It comes with a few other things including Presentation 7 (similar to Camtasia … more on that in a minute).

Well, Captivate 4 so far has been a frustrating experience. It seems like the QA guys went to sleep on this one. It doesn’t seem as stable as 3, and I can’t get my microphone (the R0DE Podcaster, which is far from a cheap $10 deal) to be recognized. It still works fine in Captivate 3 and in every other program I have (including Presenter 7 and Soundbooth CS4). Now, I know more than anyone since I deal with SQL Server you can’t test every line of code or possible hardware combination, but this thing is about as generic as it comes (plug USB cable in, use built-in MS driver, go). I’m sure I could do silly stuff like record the audio outside and marry it to slides and demos, but that defeats the purpose. Standard response of course (check the driver, reinstall). What help.

Part of what I’m trying to do right now is capture me doing some presentations for later use. Captivate has a very nice feature where you can import Powerpoint slides (C4 supports Office 2007 .pptx files which was one of the main reasons to upgrade) and then do all of your editing, recording, etc. Well, another annoying thing about that process is the poor way it handles animated slides. It basically doesn’t work well.

I’m a bit bummed because last year when I did some seminars for Microsoft, I stumbled onto Captivate 3 and it really was a great piece of software – it helped immensely. Rarely do I just outright like something that quick. Maybe next version things will get better.

My experience with Camtasia is no better, really. It does what it advertises, but I find it a bit … klunky … for lack of a better term. You basically get to do your whole presentation in one shot, and then do some editing later. I didn’t really like it. It’s quick, down, and dirty, but I don’t find its editing very intuitive nor do I really like the interface. But it works as advertised, and you can figure it out quickly.

I like and hate Presenter 7 at the same time. Why? Well, it’s pretty easy to use and I like the way their record process works. Plus, it is fully integrated into PPT 2007 with a ribbon bar (Camtasia is a small little thing on the Add-Ins ribbon). Presenter 7’s output is fine, but you can’t convert it to anything else. You would have to reverse engineer it from the myriad of wrapped code (mainly HTML, XML, and SWFs). It’s a real shame because if you could use Presented to output a standard movie file, it’d be so much better. I don’t always need a wrapper.

The worst part about all of them? None can export to the FLV format (basically, an Adobe Flash video file) which is pretty standard for these types of things. Yes, Adobe’s own products can’t export directly to their own format. Luckily Flash comes with Media Encoder, so I’m set, but it’s a whole process to get something done. When you see any kind of final product, realize that it takes a lot of work to get it right and polished.

What I’d love for someone to do is something combining the best of Presenter, Camtasia, and Captivate with the ability to export to a myriad of formats. None of these programs are very cheap, yet none quite does what you really want or need – hence having to use multiple things to get the job done.

I’ll throw this out to you guys – what do YOU use for things like this and do you like it?

Now, on another topic – anyone who has ever seen me on an engagement or at a conference knows I tend to, er, go through laptops. I like ’em small and light. Actually, I need them to be. Carrying around 6lb bricks back in the day killed me. I’ve always tended to buy on the bleeding edge, sometimes getting burned, other times not. But I always buy the extended, accidental warranties. I’ve needed ’em. Good example: while writing the last book, I was working on a plane, the guy behind me put his seat back, and cracked my screen (which flexed like a U).

It’s also no secret I use VMWare. A lot. I like the MS stuff, too, but I’ve been using VMWare for nearly 10 years now and it’s just second hand. I’ve never really needed to worry about virtualization in my processors because up until now, I haven’t had a real need to install a 64-bit guest to take on the road. I do use 64-bit guests at home on a dedicated server/computer I have for testing. Anyway, as I blogged recently, with the release of Windows Server 2008 R2, it’s only going to be 64-bit.

Unfortunately, my laptop is crippled by its vendor in BIOS and I can’t install a 64-bit guest even though I can install a 64-bit OS for my desktop. I don’t know why hardware vendors cripple the technology in their laptops. The folks who make my laptop aren’t the only ones who do it, but it’s frustrating nonetheless.

I’m considering switching to another laptop at some point soon that supports VT, but there aren’t too many in the 3lb or under class that do.

Oh, and my laptop should hopefully be back from the shop (and by the shop, I mean Japan) soon. I sent it out at the beginning of February. Try writing a book on much less horsepower! Luckily, I’ve been off the road for the past little while or I’d really be in trouble because my backup laptop can’t do too much in the way of heavy lifting.

Guess it’s just been one of those couple of weeks … all this stuff is magnified when you have lots of deadlines looming!

UPDATE: The audio problem is potentially fixed. I had to replace a DLL which I would not have known about if I didn’t post on Adobe’s Captivate 4 board. I have heard varying things about worse audio quality in Captivate 4 vs. 3, so we’ll see. It still bothers me that if this is a known issue, why isn’t Adobe fixing it?

My laptop should be winging its way home soon … fingers crossed.