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SIMA Report on Multimedia Toolbook


down ToolBook's Strengths and Weaknesses
down Other Authoring Tools
down General Purpose Programming Tools

The focus of this report is on an in depth evaluation of ToolBook and not on a comparison with alternative systems. However, this section presents a brief, high level comparison of ToolBook against other tools simply to raise the awareness of the reader as to possible alternatives.

ToolBook's Strengths and Weaknesses

The principle strengths of ToolBook are:

  • non-prescriptive application structure;
  • powerful and extensible high level programming language;
  • fine control of high and low level interface features;
  • customisable development environment;
  • large user base with active email lists and user groups;
  • comparatively low cost of purchase;
  • availability of third-party consultancy and training.

The principle weaknesses are:

  • when demonstrated or examined briefly authoring seems deceptively easy to use;
  • non-trivial development requires programming skills;
  • runtime ToolBook required to run application;
  • proprietory system subject to changes dictated by manufacturer;
  • lack of compatible development support tools (e.g. code analysers, version control, cost estimation);
  • Windows PC only.

Other Authoring Tools

Other currently popular authoring tools are (in alphabetical order):

Authorware	PC, Mac
Director	PC, Mac
Hypercard	Mac
Icon Author	PC, Mac, UNIX

Of these, Hypercard on the Mac bears the most resemblance to ToolBook and it seems likely that, as it pre-dates ToolBook, it was the inspiration for ToolBook's design. Unfortunately direct conversion between the two is not possible despite their similarities; an application must be re-implemented from scratch to convert between the two.

The remaining three systems all have the advantage of being multi-platform whereas ToolBook in its current form is unlikely ever to migrate beyond the PC Windows environment. The precise range of platforms supported and the relative compatibilities between applications authored on one platform and transferred to another varies. Versions and features are changing all the while and so up-to-date information should be sought when making a choice of authoring tool.

Put simply, Director is best suited to applications where timeline based animation, sound and video dominate. Icon Author and Authorware, again simply, are best suited to prescriptive structured applications dominated by flow chartable navigation and requiring limited interaction on each screen.

Of all these authoring tools, ToolBook and Hypercard require the most programming expertise and have the steepest learning curve. In exchange for this, developers using these tools gain flexibility closer to that of general purpose programming tools.

General Purpose Programming Tools

The authoring tools listed above are not the only possible tools for implementing multimedia and computer based learning software. Another option is to use visual programming tools like Visual C++, Visual Basic and Delphi or even to adopt a hybrid solution like HTML and Java.

In general purpose programming tools everything is possible - eventually. A much greater level of detail has to be specified in these programming systems and this takes time, expertise and a lot of debugging. In return for this developers are able to achieve exactly the result they require. The trade-off in adopting an authoring tools is that the developer has to accept a framework for their application pre-specified by someone else. In some cases, bending an authoring tool to meet requirements can take more effort than implementing the application from scratch in a general purpose programming tool provided the necessary expertise is available.

One advantage general purpose tools tend to have over authoring tools is much better support and integration with configuration management, static and dynamic analysis, cost estimation, measurement and debugging tools. On large scale projects this should be a serious consideration when choosing any authoring tool; the anticipated productivity gains from using an authoring tool should be weighed against potential risks resulting from the lack of these development support tools.

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