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Adobe Captivate Basic Troubleshooting Techniques

In a previous (teenage) life I worked as a technician repairing and servicing domestic electrical appliances. It was there I first learned how to troubleshoot technical issues. Most of the time it just boils down to eliminating all possible causes until you find the one/s causing the issue.  It’s not rocket science; just a process of elimination.  After a while the diagnostic process speeds up because you learn to look for the most of the common causes first and eventually you will even know instantly what the problem will be as soon as you hear the telltale symptoms.

Similarly, some basic troubleshooting tips apply to just about any Captivate issue you need to debug. In the thousands of posts I’ve logged on the Adobe Captivate Forum I often find myself following the same diagnostic process of elimination I used when fixing washing machines and refrigerators back in my teens. This section gives you a quick apprenticeship in Captivate troubleshooting techniques that every Captivate user should know about.

Easy Troubleshooting Techniques

These tips cost nothing to implement, in most cases take moments to perform, and have “saved my bacon” more times than I can count.

1. Start with the most likely causes

Of all the possible causes for an issue, there is usually one that stands out as most likely. Start with this one and work down through the list of possible causes from most likely to the most unlikely ones.  Don’t waste time initially exploring things that rarely turn out to be the cause if you know of more likely reasons that can be checked first.

2. Try to replicate the issue in a new project file

If you’ve been working on an issue that defies explanation, try creating a brand new Captivate project file and see if you can replicate the issue there.  Sometimes you’ll find that a new project does NOT suffer the same issue.  You can then stop blaming Captivate itself and start scrutinising the specific project file, which may have become corrupted in some way. If the project has become corrupted, the following two headings suggest ways to locate and eliminate possible causes of the corruption.

3. Simplify the project to isolate the issue

Very often a user will be unable to debug some baffling issue in a big complex project…simply because it is a big complex project. The larger the number of slides and components, the harder it becomes to know where an issue might be lurking. If you cut out the complexity, the issue may be easier to discern and thereby become easier to debug.

For example, when you publish a project, any hidden slides and their associated objects do not get published in the final output.

So a common debugging trick is to make a copy of a problematic project (thus keeping the original in case you make unforeseen changes to the project file that render it unusable) and then hide or delete half the slides to see if this resolves the issue. If hiding half the slides resolves the issue, then the cause of the issue was likely to be located somewhere in that hidden half of the project. Then you concentrate on that suspect half of the project and hide or delete half of it again. 

Using this simple process of elimination you can often narrow down the problem to a specific slide. Once you have isolated the problem slide, the next step is to find which object (or objects) on that slide cause the problem. So, you can either just start deleting objects from the slide, or drag objects out into the scrap area so that they are still available but don’t get published in final output.  In this way you can locate any object or group of objects that might be causing the issue. It’s the same process of elimination, but at the object level instead of the slide level.

4. Copy and paste slides to reset object IDs

Each object in a Captivate CPTX file is supposed to have a unique identifier. If for any reason multiple objects end up with the same identifier this can cause corruption.  

One way to resolve the issue is by copying entire slides from one project to another. This forces Captivate to assign new unique Item Names to all copied objects.  If the corruption was caused by conflicting identifiers, this will sometimes fix the issue, and it takes only a few moments to test.

5. Don’t just partial Preview. Publish completely!

I wish I had a dollar for every question where someone on the forum has been expressing frustration with Captivate because something is not working as expected and it turned out they were hitting F10 and previewing only the next few slides, and not publishing the entire project. 

Similarly, the basic Play Slide (or F3) preview will only play the slide timeline of the slide you are currently viewing in EDIT mode.  And this won’t show you how everything will look at runtime, especially if you have Effects on any objects.  The issue here is that some functionality will ONLY work properly if you publish the project completely. 

For example, click boxes or buttons set to Jump to Slide will ONLY work if you publish completely or use F12 to Preview In Web Browser.  So if something isn’t working, but you’re only partially previewing, try publishing completely.

6. Clear out your project cache

The Adobe Captivate CPTX file format makes heavy use of XML technologies and dynamic caching. In fact the CPTX file itself is actually a renamed ZIP archive that takes all the graphics, text and data that make up your project and packages it into a conveniently compressed format.  If you don’t believe me, just take a copy of one of your CPTX files, rename it to a ZIP file, and then extract it to somewhere on your computer so that you can inspect the files and folders inside.

But there’s also another benefit of this approach. When Captivate is first installed on a computer, a special folder called Adobe Captivate Cached Projects is created inside the user’s My Documents folder. Captivate uses this Project Cache to store data while working on project files.  The cache is essentially a ‘working folder’ that holds any changes to objects in the project until everything can be packaged up again in the compressed CPTX file when the project is finally saved and closed. The cache also helps to speed up publishing times for Captivate projects. 

The default location of the cache folder can be changed in the Captivate Preference settings.  It is actually highly recommended to change the location from your My Documents folder to another folder specially created for this purpose so as to avoid performance issues on systems where user profiles are virtualized and stored on LAN drives rather than on the user’s local hard drive.  (See this page regarding recommended Preference setup.)

However, the Captivate project cache is not without potential problems. If after working on several projects you happen to take a look inside the cache folder, you’ll find that it maintains separate folders for each Captivate project edited, and inside these folders are zillions of small files that control every aspect of every object in each project.

Where this becomes a problem is that the cache folder can eventually accumulate several gigabytes of files and cause Captivate to become unstable.  The solution is to do some ‘housekeeping’ and clean out the cache from time to time. There’s a Clear Cache button in the Preferences screen for this purpose.

Adobe recommends you clear your cache folder after completing each project and before you begin the next one.  I tend to feel that it’s not necessarily a good idea to jump in too early and delete all folders in the cache because the cache folders can also be used to resurrect entire CPTX project files if for any reason your main project file is lost or becomes corrupted.  So, I prefer to clean out the cache once I am sure there is no chance I might need those folders as a backup.

Never use Windows Explorer or the MAC Finder tool to delete the files in the cache folder while Captivate is still open or you may crash the program. The recommended method is to always use the Clear Cache button under Edit > Preferences > General section.  

7. Reset Captivate preferences

One of the most common ‘fixes’ for a wide array of issues entails renaming or deleting a specific hidden folder buried deep within your user profile.  This folder happens to be the one that stores all of the Captivate data relevant to the options you select under Preferences and Workspaces.  Unfortunately, if for any reason you are forced (or choose) to ignore recommendations about Captivate’s setup, then this preference data can end up becoming corrupted, leading to a wide variety of issues. When that happens, the quickest solution is to either reset or delete the Preference folder, forcing Captivate to create a new default set of preferences the next time the app is launched.

The Preferences folder is not named ‘Preferences’!

It would be wonderful if the Captivate preferences folder was easy to find on your computer, but it is not. In fact, it is buried deep down inside your user profile and that means it is deliberately hidden by default so that it cannot be accidentally deleted. Even when you do finally locate the folder, it’s not named ‘Preferences’, but instead is named after the specific installed version of Captivate (because each separate version needs to be able to maintain different preference settings).

Do it the easy way: Use the CleanPreferences files

All current Captivate versions provides a very simple and effective way to reset preferences via special files buried in the Utils folder of your Captivate install directory under Program Files.

For example, on a 64bit Windows 10 system with Captivate 2019 installed, the files you need to use are found here:

C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe Captivate 2019 x64\utils

  • CleanPreferencesWin.bat (for PCs), and
  • CleanPreferencesMac (for Apple Mac computers).

All you have to do is close down Captivate and execute (i.e. double-click) the relevant CleanPreference file at this location to reset your preferences folder in a matter of a second or two. 

Some users that experience preference corruption issues often even set up a custom shortcut on their desktop so that they can execute a reset at any time without even navigating down to the Utils directory.

Do it the hard way: Find and Delete the Preference folder

As noted above, the easy way to reset Preferences is by using the CleanPreferences files Adobe provides.  However, if you happen to be working in a corporate office environment with a ‘locked-down’ operating system, you may not have the necessary Administrator permissions required to enter the Program Files directory and execute the reset.  If this is the case, and your IT department is also unwilling to even set up the convenient desktop shortcut that would give you the ability to do this yourself, then your only solution for a corrupted Preference issue might be to find and delete the preference folder itsel.

To find the elusive Preferences folder, here’s what you need to do:

Show all hidden files and folders – Files in your PC user profile are normally hidden from view to prevent you from inadvertently deleting something essential, thus rendering you incapable of logging into your own computer.  So, in order to locate the Captivate Preferences folder you need to make a change to default system settings and show these hidden files or folders.  If your PC is not already set up this way, we cover this step in more detail in the section elsewhere on this website that discusses how to set up your computer to work with Captivate.

Close down Captivate – You cannot rename or delete the Preferences folder while Captivate is currently open.  So, close down Captivate before performing the next steps.

Navigate to the Preferences folder in your user profile – Your user profile path to the folder will vary depending on your specific computer operating system. (In paths shown below for Captivate 2019, replace [user] with your own profile name.)

  • Win10: C:\Users\[user]\AppData\Local\Adobe\Captivate [version#]
  • Apple MAC: /Users/[user]/Library/Preferences/Captivate [version#]

Rename or delete the preferences folder – As mentioned above, the preferences folder is not conveniently named ‘preferences’. In the example paths above, the Captivate [version#] folder is the preferences folder.

Once you’ve found the correct folder, all you need to do now is delete it, or just rename it to something else (e.g. add OLD to the end of the name).

Then, when you re-launch Captivate, it will detect that the preferences folder is missing and create a nice fresh (uncorrupted) new one for you.  If your original issue was due to corrupted preferences, then it should now be resolved.  (If it’s not resolved, at least you’re one step closer to finding the real reason.)

Please be aware that killing the preferences file, as described above, will mean you lose any customizations you may have made to preferences or workspaces when Captivate defaults back to original installation settings.  But that’s usually a small price to pay for getting back a fully functional working app that enables you to meet that looming deadline.

8. Step away from the issue!

If you’ve been banging your head against some issue for hours without success, sometimes the best thing you can do is to walk away from it and do something else for a while.  You may have become so close to the issue that you cannot see the solution staring you in the face. When I get stuck on a problem, I like to play my guitar, go for a walk, go for a coffee, or go to the toilet. (You’d be amazed how many times I’ve found sudden inspiration in the ‘smallest room of the house’.)

9. Ask someone else for advice

Again, if you’re too close to the issue to see the solution, ask another person unrelated to the problem for their input.  Many times they will hit on the reason because they don’t share your perspective. If you don’t have another developer in your team, log a question on the Adobe Captivate User Forum.  In most cases you’ll get a reply within hours, sometimes within minutes. However, if you DO expect someone else to help you, please note the next suggestion…

10. Give detailed info about the issue

  • Effective troubleshooting is based on accurate information, otherwise it’s just guesswork.  So, if you expect someone else to help you debug an issue for, you need to give them everything you know about the issue and its context.  It’s often just some minor detail that reveals the underlying cause or causes.  So, if you ever log an issue on the Captivate forum, it will greatly increase your chances of finding a solution if you provide the helpful people there with the kind of basic information outlined here below.

Provide this information:

  • Your Captivate major and minor version numbers, and whether or not all recent patches or updates have been installed.
  • Computer operating system. E.g. whether the computer is PC or MAC and the OS version.
  • Web browser version (if published content is playing in browser).
  • If content is delivered from an LMS, which one and which version.
  • If using an LMS, which integration technology standard (AICC, SCORM, or xAPI / Tin Can) and version (e.g. SCORM 1.2).

Sadly, Captivate developers often post questions on the forum without providing any of this information, which then requires the person offering help to go to the extra trouble of asking all the same questions I have listed above. The more information you supply, the more likely someone can help resolve your issue.

11. Read the user help doco!

And last but not least….when all else has failed and you’ve wasted far too much time searching for answers, do what you should have done when you first installed the application: Read the user help file documentation!

As someone who spent a number of years working in the software industry as a Technical Writer (before becoming an e-learning developer) I can tell you that most people neglect this basic step in learning about the application they just purchased, or where told by their boss to use.  

Large companies never expect their employees to just ‘pick up’ a new business application by playing around with it.  But many newbie Captivate developers somehow expect that they will have no issues by doing exactly that.  They don’t invest in any training (beyond watching a few YouTube videos) and they neglect to look up or download the Adobe Captivate HELP documentation.  The inevitable result is that they strike issues and then label Captivate as not being ‘user-friendly’.

Captivate does have some areas where its usability could certainly be improved.  But it’s never going to be completely idiot-proof.