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SIMA Report on Multimedia Toolbook


down Rationale for Report
down Relevance to Multimedia ToolBook 4.0
down Scope and Structure of Report

Rational for Report

Asymetrix Multimedia ToolBook 3.0 has been around for more than two years now and has been used as the main authoring tool in numerous multimedia and computer based training projects around the World. It is a mature product, having undergone a pre-release beta phase of approximately a year and having been quietly upgraded to version 3.0a (the so called "service release" or, more simply, bug fix release) shortly after its general release. It is also a well understood product with known strengths and weaknesses which have been discovered by the now substantial user and developer base over the life of the product.

Despite this, the current "best" source of published information for developers considering ToolBook for a multimedia application is Asymetrix's own product information and a few brief reviews in magazines and journals. Faced with this lack of information developers are forced to take a high risk gamble in their choice of authoring tool. The consequences of choosing the wrong tool can range from complicating the development process unnecessarily through to making the project goals unattainable within the given resources. In either of these cases, there is a very real chance that problems resulting from an inappropriate choice of authoring tool will cause the project to fail. The authoring tool is deeply entwined in almost every aspect of a multimedia project and once development is under way it is usually prohibitively expensive to switch tools. This makes it of pivotal importance that a project makes the correct choice of tool before development begins.

Choosing an authoring tool is too important to trust to the manufacturer's product information or to brief reviews and product comparisons; developers require detailed information and evaluations of a tool's suitability for different problem domains. A report, giving a detailed description and evaluation of ToolBook for different types of multimedia development would meet this need. This report sets out to provide that information and to assist developers in making the important decision of whether ToolBook is appropriate for their project. Despite the authors' own enthusiasm for ToolBook it is clear that it has both strengths and weaknesses and we will be equally satisfied if a reader decides not to adopt ToolBook because the weaknesses outweigh the strengths for their project. Indeed, if this report were to stop just one project from choosing the wrong authoring tool then the outlay by the JISC would, in all likelihood, be recouped. Furthermore, by making developers more able to make an informed assessment of a candidate tool the quality of projects, which otherwise might have wasted most of their effort in bending an inappropriate tool to their needs, will be raised.

Relevance to Multimedia Tooolbook 4.0

At the time of writing this report, Multimedia ToolBook 4.0 has just been released and there is already discussion on the Internet of the forthcoming Multimedia ToolBook 5.0. The wealth of knowledge and experience which is currently available for 3.0 does not yet exist for 4.0. However, in many respects, 4.0 is actually closer to a version 3.1; it is not substantially different from 3.0 and consequently, the majority of this report applies equally well to both ToolBook 3.0 and 4.0; it is only in the finer points of tools, reliability and timing that real differences emerge. Appendix F - ToolBook 3.0 Product Information of this report lists the key features of the new release and highlights the differences to version 3.0.

Over the coming months, ToolBook 4.0 will start to be used in anger on real world projects and the knowledge base and experience required to produce a "A Critical Evaluation of Multimedia ToolBook 4.0" report will be developed. It is anticipated that such a report will be produced later this year and will compare and contrast the capabilities of the two versions in addition to presenting case studies of its use.

Scope and Structure of Report

This report, "A Critical Evaluation of Multimedia ToolBook 3.0", as its title suggests, presents an evaluation of Multimedia ToolBook 3.0. However, this implicitly involves evaluating another Asymetrix product - ToolBook 3.0 (non-multimedia, or "vanilla" ToolBook 3.0) which is a subset of the full Multimedia ToolBook 3.0. For this reason, the report begins by looking at the system requirements for each of these two programs and the skills required by prospective developers. Then, the core functionality common to both ToolBook 3.0 and Multimedia ToolBook 3.0 is examined before moving on to look at those features unique to the multimedia version. From there the report goes on to look briefly at other members of the ToolBook 3.0 product family and at how ToolBook performs in real world applications.

Reflecting this approach, the report is divided into the following chapters:

Supplementary information is included in the appendices at the end of the report.

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