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Storyline and ZebraZapps: seriously powerful, seriously simple

Here at DevLearn 2011 in Las Vegas I’ve got authoring tools on my mind. Why? Because I have been able to take a look at two new tools today, which I’m sure are going to have a major impact. The have one thing in common and lots of differences.

First up is Storyline from Articulate. What I saw was still in beta and with no definite launch date, but it looked in good shape to me and so it’s probably only a few months away. Storyline is a desktop authoring tool which Articulate would probably position alongside their current Studio suite of Presenter, QuizMaker and Engage, but for me this is definitely a replacement.

The Articulate Studio has been incredibly popular and some developers have achieved impressive results. But for me the PowerPoint add-in approach to authoring is an uncomfortable compromise. Yes, you have the familiar PowerPoint interface but all the interactive elements are completely separate and never quite integrate as you’d like. Storyline addresses this shortcoming with remarkable success. It borrows much of the Microsoft Office look and feel, including the ribbon interface, so it’s easy to learn, but inherits none of the limitations. Looks to me like you could do some really nice work with it, without being frustrated by lack of functionality.

A few highlights:

  • The demo I saw was running on a Mac, so that’s a plus for me.
  • Screen recording is built right in, which makes this a promising tool for software training.
  • You can import from PowerPoint or Articulate Studio tools if you need to.
  • Looks like you can manipulate every object on the screen in all sorts of flexible ways, without the need for a scripting language.
  • You can build templates and themes and share these between projects and developers.
  • The tool includes a library of cartoon characters which you can manipulate using different expressions and gestures for use in scenarios. This demonstrates really well, although this style will definitely not suit all audiences. I think there are photo-based characters as well.
  • It exports to HTML 5 as well as Flash, although I’m not sure they’ve perfected this yet. This is a big deal, because iPads and iPhones don’t support Flash. Given that every other delegate here is using an iPad rather than a laptop, you can see how important it is to get this right. It is about time to move on from Flash anyway, because you hardly see it on everyday websites anymore. Apart from games, e-learning is one of its last remaining niches.

No announcements yet, but I guess Storyline will cost something similar to Articulate Studio, so that’s over $1000.

Next up is ZebraZapps from Allen Communications. I managed to have a quick chat with Michael Allen and he explained just what a major undertaking the development of this tool has been. Michael was, of course, the creator of Authorware, a highly powerful tool from the CD-ROM era, which Adobe eventually gave up on after they inherited it from Macromedia. Authorware was a serious tool that you could use for serious projects, but with a friendly interface. Since its demise, the market has been filled almost entirely with rapid tools. Anyone who wanted to do top-end development had to do serious coding in Flash.

So what’s special?

  • This is a cloud-based tool, not a desktop app, and that means design and development can be truly collaborative. Enterprise users will have the option to work offline and then synch to the cloud.
  • You can storyboard and prototype directly in the tool, as you iterate towards a launchable product.
  • You can incorporate as much interactive logic as you like without programming.
  • There is huge potential for dynamic and personalised feedback.
  • Animation tools includes.
  • Supports the creation multi-player games and interactions that you can share on social media sites.
  • Publish your work to ZapShopps.

There is a low-cost, $8.99 a month option already available with limited functionality. I’ve no idea what the professional and enterprise versions will cost. It runs on PCs and Macs. Will it output to HTML 5/mobile? It’s not mentioned anywhere in the literature, so I guess not. That’s a shame.

What’s in common between these two tools is that they are both trying to significantly up the ante when it comes to sophisticated interactivity. In effect, to give us back what we had with tools in the 1980s and 90s. They both achieve this with an elegance which definitely surpasses anything I’ve seen before.

At first sight, Allen’s tool has more power than Storyline and is really trying to break the mould with its crossover to social media. It also wins for me by operating in the cloud. On the other hand, Storyline looks like it will be more than powerful enough for the majority of projects, will be straightforward to learn and will export to mobile.

I’d like both please this Christmas.

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