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Review: RoboDemo 5.0

Review: RoboDemo 5.0

A few months ago Macromedia bought eHelp Corporation. We thought we'd take a look at RoboDemo 5.0 - eHelp's best selling desktop recording software to see what it can do and get some clues as to what the mothership might do next.

What does it do? Simulation and demo software
Platforms: Windows
Manufacturer: eHelp Corporation
Price: RoboDemo 5.0 $299 +
Price: FLA module $199

There are number of parallels between eHelp and Macromedia but the first one that hits you is when you have install RoboDemo 5.0. If you're working with any of Macromedia's MX2004 products you'll know that online activation is now mandatory. RoboDemo 5.0 is the same. Installation requires a release code and online activation within 7 days. As a sweetener though, if you agree to register online you'll receive a key that allows you to install RoboDemo 5.0 on a second computer.

Getting started
One of the nice things about software written by a company that claims to be the 'worldwide leader in automated user assistance software' is that there is a wealth of help files, examples and supporting documentation. All this documentation is available online and offline, so you've got no excuses for not finding your way around.

RoboDemo 5.0 lets you record elements of desktop activity and transform these into movies that can be played back. The movies can then be edited and annotated before being output to .SWF files. Other output options include PC, Mac and Linux executable files, Microsoft Word files (.DOC) and interestingly .FLA files (through an optional plug-in).

When you first record a movie you have a number of pre-set capture options available to you: Applications (which offers you a list of the currently running applications), Custom, Full screen, Pocket PC, Blank and Template. In the end they all do much the same thing. They specify the exact size and position of your capture window.

In the next step you can opt to capture a single screenshot or record full motion. If you choose 'Full motion' you'll have a mountain of other options available to you including recording mouse movement, keystrokes and camera sounds.

When you start to record there can be a bit of a lag on slower machines. This can be off putting at first but you just have to slow the pace down a little. You shouldn't be rushing an instructional video anyway!

Now comes the fun bit. When you look at what you've recorded you'll see thumbnails of all the action. Super-imposed upon these captures are motion arrows showing mouse movement through the frames, and pop up annotations of which buttons were pressed and what was dragged where. If you're intending to do a lot of instructional video work then having all of this in place right after capture is going to be a massive time saver.

Once you've got your frames they can moved around, deleted or added to and each gesture, transition, timing and sound can be moved, stretched, tweaked and polished to your hearts content. The options available to you can be a little overwhelming at first but it's nice to know you can do pretty much what you want to do.

In addition to the movies you captured you can import and add .SWFs, .GIFs, AVIs and even Powerpoint files. There's also an import FLA option that will fire up Flash, generate a .SWF from it and insert that into your timeline. Nice.

If you're a programmer and can't animate to save yourself then you can add Swish style text effects using the built in text animator. If you're a designer and can't spell to save yourself then RoboDemo 5.0 will fire up Word, dump your annotations into it, then run them through the spell checker for you. Nice.

FLA module
One add-on for RoboDemo 5.0 that will be of interest to Flash developers is the FLA export module. This module has it's own installer, requires its own key and online activation. Once installed though you'll have the option of taking your whole RoboDemo project and exporting it to a Flash MX .FLA file. When you hit export it fires up Flash MX, exports an FLA then loads it in for you - nice. Well, nice if you're running MX but it doesn't play too well with MX2004. It'll still export the file but MX2004 can't find it - you'll have to do that yourself. Still pretty cool though.

This little app helps you compose a menu page to bundle together your movies prior to deployment on the web or CD. Most of the editing tools you've used before are available to you here. To start you off you can use eHelp templates or your own corporate Powerpoint templates if you have them.

RoboDemo 5.0 is very powerful and does what it sets out to do with power and style. As with all video editors though it pays to have a chunky machine to run it on, especially during export, bandwidth analysis and preview. The optional ability to export to .FLA is a massive bonus for Flash developers. Macromedia's e-learning arm now has a major new tool in its armoury.
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About John Dalziel

John Dalziel is a founding member of FlashMagazine and regularly reports from community events in the UK. He has also written for Macromedia, New Riders, and

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