It's a little-known trade secret that many issues reported by Adobe Captivate users can be avoided or minimized simply by judicious configuration of Captivate’s Preference options. While some of the modifications recommended below can prevent file corruption or loss of work, other suggested settings just make using Captivate easier and more reliable to work with. Captivate has hundreds of preference options you can configure. But in this article I'm only mentioning those preferences that need to be changed to avoid issues, improve performance, or maintain reliability.
Global vs. project preferences
Once you know your PC is set up correctly to work with Captivate and the application itself has been installed correctly without issue, the temptation is to just dive in and start work. But before embarking on serious e-learning development you should set your Preference options. But…here’s where it gets tricky. Take a look at the screenshots below of the same section of the Preferences dialog.
Unless you look carefully at the wording of the heading in your Preferences dialog you could easily miss the fact that some preferences are Global (applying across all projects) while others are limited to the Project file currently open in Captivate. The trick here is that you can only set up Global Preferences when no Captivate project is open. If a project file is open, any changes to preference settings will only apply to that specific file and no others open at the same time, or in the future.
This section contains Global preferences. So make sure you set or change them without any project files open at the time, otherwise they will only apply to the CPTX or CPTL file currently being edited.
Generate project backups
Fortunately, it’s rare for a Captivate project file to become corrupted to the point where it becomes impossible to open or use. For more information, check the topic on my website about recovering Captivate projects from backup.
Perhaps the easiest way to protect your project is just to set the Global Preference > General Settings > Generate Project Backup option (it’s deselected by default), and then make sure you save and close your project often. This will at least allow you to get back to that last saved state to avoid disaster.
One thing to remember here though is that once you turn on the Generate Project Backup option, the backup file is not created until you save your project for the second time. So it’s a good idea not to wait too long before doing save-and-close to ensure your backup file exists at all times from then on.
|About backing up to a LAN or external drive
On the subject of backups…By all means back up your project files to a network or external drive if available so as to ensure you do not lose work if for some reason your development machine goes belly up, gets stolen, or suffers some other serious fate. But to avoid potential project file corruption, you need to perform this backup AFTER first saving your work in Cp and closing down the project file. Additionally, never use Save As from within Captivate to back up the project file to the network. Use copy/paste in Windows Explorer to copy the project file over to your preferred backup location.
Set Default Locations to point to local drive folders
When Captivate is first installed, the Preferences > General Settings > Default Locations > Publish At and Project Cache locations default to special folders inside the My Documents folder of your user profile. If you work in a corporate networked environment you may be well advised to change these default settings to point to new folders on your C: drive, as shown below.
Why would this be necessary? It’s because, more and more corporate IT departments are employing virtualization technologies and roaming user profiles , which means the user’s profile and My Documents folder may actually reside on a LAN server instead of on their PC hard drive. This practice is usually adopted to make it easier for the IT department to manage and protect company information assets. However, while these techniques do not bother most software applications, they will eventually land you in trouble with Adobe Captivate.
Turn off autosize and calculate options
These options are found under Preferences > Default and are usually on by default. Quite frankly they’re a nuisance. They automatically change the size or timing of screen objects such as buttons or captions after editing. If they are on, you can never relax when editing because you have to go back and check the the size of objects as well as their timeline duration anytime you make a change.
These preferences mostly relate directly to how Captivate behaves when capturing simulations. You can save yourself a lot of time and angst by changing a few of these settings.
Full Motion Recording (FMR)
Anytime you use Video Demo Recording (also known as Full Motion Recording or FMR in Cp versions prior to Cp 6), Captivate stores temporary files in a special folder buried several layers down inside your user profile. Unless you know this location and periodically clean it out, these files can build up over time to become a significant drain on your hard drive space. So set your Working Folder to a location you can easily find and clean out without having to worry about affecting any other part of your system.
By default the Video Colour Mode is set to 16 bit colour as an attempt to keep capture file sizes smaller. This limits your captured graphics to 256 colours, which might have been fine when software interfaces had lots of flat colour, but is too low to smoothly render the typical gentle gradients used on most modern software interfaces. You should change this to 32 bit for most situations. Additionally, if you start with 32 bit, and find file sizes are an issue, you can always set quality settings lower when publishing. However, if you start out at 16 bit there’s really no way to improve it after that.
This one is just a personal preference of mine but you might like to try it too. I find that Captivate doesn’t pick up every on screen event during automated capture (especially for certain types of ERP software) and you still need to hit the capture key sometimes to ensure you capture everything you need. Since I’m right-handed, I use the mouse with my right hand and like to capture manual screens with my left hand. Captivate’s default manual capture key is the PrintScreen key, which is usually on the right side of the keyboard. forces right-handed users to reach across the keyboard every time we want to do a manual capture. So, I change the default manual capture key to F2 because it’s closer to my left hand. Most of the other default recording keys are fine.
Default recording objects
Another personal preference of mine…In practice I end up deleting 90% of the automatically added text captions and highlight boxes in a typical Demonstration mode screen capture session. So, I find it quicker overall to turn off both of these options and just add in the objects I want later.
|Tip: Take care of corporate branding with preferences set in your template
While we’re on the subject of default objects…If you work in corporate e-learning where branding is an issue, I recommend you set up a project template with your logos, look and feel, color swatches, custom Object Styles etc. Then, in that template you can also select your preferred text captions and highlight boxes to be used during screen capture sessions. Doing this saves a lot of time later because you don’t need to go through and reformat everything to conform to branding.
Tip: Customising the text in added text captions
C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe Captivate 6 x64
You can open this file in Notepad (be sure to back it up first) and edit object definitions.
This makes it possible to gain greater control over object inserted during capture. But it won’t remove the necessity to still delete all the extra objects Captivate tends to add.
Now that we’ve taken care of global-level preferences, it’s time to look at preferences that only apply to the specific project file currently open in Captivate. It’s best to set these preferences in any Captivate template file on which you base your projects, otherwise you’ll need to set them up each time you begin a new file.
WARNING! Don’t use punctuation marks in Project Information fields
Whatever text you add into these Project Information fields should NOT contain illegal characters, which can include certain punctuation characters that form part of programming languages. If you DO happen to inadvertently add these characters, you may find your project corrupts or refuses to publish. The error message will not indicate the cause of the issue as being anything related to Project Information, but it might mention something about using reserved keywords. I’ve never been able to get a definitive list of words or characters that can cause problems, so it’s just safer to avoid punctuation altogether.
Tip: Try High Quality (24 bit), you may be surprised!
In Cp6 and previous versions the default slide quality setting is Low (8bit). But from Cp7 onward the default is now set as Optimized. Some authors recommend the Optimized quality setting because it supposedly allows Captivate to choose the best quality. I recommend you test both. Publish with all slides set to Optimized against all slides set to High (24bit) to see which one gives you the best results and smallest overall file size. I’ve often been surprised to find High quality beats Optimized for both clarity and file size.
These affect results in your published file output. Here are my recommendations for each option:
Frames per second
Unless you have a specific requirement for a lower frame rate, leave this set to 30. Increasing it to 60 or whatever to try and make your published content run more smoothly is unlikely to be successful.
You’ll need this on to see any recorded mouse movements.
Publish Adobe Connect Metadata
Turning it on will increase published file size. If you don’t use Adobe Connect and you don’t believe your content is ever likely to be uploaded to Connect, leave this option deselected.
Leave this turned on by default. But it will need to be deselected if you ever want to use a Right Mouse Click in a captured simulation for SWF/HTM output.
Restrict Keyboard Tabbing to Slide Items Only
This is a new option added in Cp7. I haven’t had a chance to play with it yet, and documentation on the Adobe help site is almost non-existent. It appears to be related to restricting keyboard tab actions from affecting anything other than objects added to the slide itself. In previous versions of Captivate some users complained that use of the TAB key would jump learners to controls on the player skin and there was no way for them to tab back to the slide content. Perhaps this option allows at least some limited control over tabbing behaviour.
Hide Selection Rectangle for Slide Items in HTML5
Also new in Cp7, this option removes the default border that appears around selected items in HTML5 output, which some users can find helpful but others find distracting. Use your best judgment depending on your audience.
Leave this turned on otherwise your sound files will not be published out.
Publish audio as mono
Leave this turned on otherwise audio will be published as stereo and file size will jump. For most e-learning projects there is no benefit with stereo.
Play tap audio for recorded typing
Some people turn this off because they find the typewriter key sounds to be cheesy or annoying. It’s a personal preference thing.
You may also notice from the screenshot below that I prefer NOT to externalize resources. This is because having everything encapsulated in a single SWF file tends to assist smoother playback as well as removing the possibility that some essential file doesn’t make it onto the server. However, there may be occasions where it becomes advantageous to externalize resources in order to improve download playback times. In such cases you need to test whether externalizing resources improves performance or not. Personally, I’ve not found it worth worrying about.
Where’s the option to externalize video?
Start and end
These options control launch and termination behavior of a project, but only to a limited extent. As you will find in the comments below, when working with web-based technologies some things are simply outside your control and there is little or nothing you can often do about it.
You should normally select the Auto Play checkbox for SWF/HTM content. But please note that this option has no effect for PDF output, which ALWAYS requires the user to explicitly start play by clicking the button Captivate supplies in the middle of the first slide. The same applies to HTML5.
A preloader is intended to delay start of playback until a specified percentage of the content file has already been downloaded. If you publish to HTM/SWF for web or LMS delivery, you should select the preloader option by default. However, if your output is destined for PDF or EXE format, preloaders are unnecessary because you cannot initiate playback until the file has fully downloaded.
Preloader not working?
As mentioned, preloaders are only really applicable for HTM/SWF output. But what you may not realize is that they will only work if the content is served from a web server over HTTP. Conversely, the preloaders will NOT work if the same content is served up from a LAN server drive over TCP/IP. This is due to the fact that SWF preloaders need to communicate with the server to calculate and show the percentage of file currently loaded. This communication works with web servers, but not with LAN servers.
This is a setting you should pay VERY careful attention to in every project where you use any kind of preloader. It can be responsible for all manner of issues, but the causes are quite tricky. If the preloader path is empty, but you have the Preloader option selected, Captivate will just use the default preloader found in the Gallery. But there are several other preloader designs available in the folder inside the Captivate install directory where preloaders are stored. You can choose between preloaders created in AS3 or animated GIF. Remember that AS3 preloaders will not work in HTML5 output.
So where exactly is this folder full of preloaders? Well that depends on your exact Cp version and what language you have it set to. It turns out that preloaders are not stored in side the Cp install directory > Gallery folder but inside another folder the install directory folder that relates to the language you specified when you installed Cp.
So here are the possible paths to preloaders:
- Cp6 32bit - C:\Program Files (x86)\Adobe\Adobe Captivate 6 (32 Bit)\en_US\Gallery\Preloaders
- Cp6 64bit - C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe Captivate 6 x64\en_US\Gallery\Preloaders
- Cp7 32bit - C:\Program Files (x86)\Adobe\Adobe Captivate 7 (32 Bit)\en_US\Gallery\Preloaders
- Cp7 64bit - C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe Captivate 7 x64\en_US\Gallery\Preloaders
To set your preloader path, just click the Browse button on the right end of the field, then navigate down to the relevant folder (as listed above) and select the one you want.
Updating computer or Cp version? Verify the preloader path is still valid!
If you created the project file from scratch on your current computer, and you set the default preloader path in the project template or the project file, you can pretty much forget about it after that…UNTIL you update to a newer version of Captivate OR you open the same project on a different computer. Unfortunately, when you change computers or change Captivate version, the path to the preloader shown in Preferences does not update automatically to locate the same preloader (or even any preloader). This means you can easily get caught out by a preloader path that no longer points to the correct location.
Many issues with preloaders not working can be traced back to the path being invalid after upgrading computers to a newer operating system such as from WinXP to Win7, or from a 32bit OS to a 64bit OS (where the Program Files directory name may change). But issues can also occur where a project file is upgraded to a newer Captivate version but the developer still has the older version residing on their computer, which means the path to the preloader is still pointing to the older version. In some cases the older preloaders are not compatible with the newer Cp file format. So the bottom line here is that you need to keep an eye on this preloader path in order to ensure continuing functionality of the preloader.
If you set the preloader percentage to 100%, Captivate will download everything before initiating playback, which sort of defeats the whole purpose of having a preloader in the first place. So how do you work out the right percentage for your preloader? To be honest, this really depends on your end-user’s actual bandwidth and how quickly you want the content to begin playing.
In my experience, a preloader value of 25-35% is more than adequate for most projects that contain text, graphics, some animation, and voiceover audio. However, if your project contains even a modest amount of video, or your bandwidth is somewhat limited, then all bets are off and your preloader may need to be set higher. You can usually tell if your preloader percentage is not high enough because your project will periodically ‘stall’ or ‘buffer’ (stop and start) while it tries to download more content. Bottom line: test, test, test, test!
Project end options
If you are simply loading your content to a web server or LAN server, there is little impact in selecting any of these options. It’s largely a matter of personal preference whether the project fades out, closes the window, or simply stops playing. However, if you happen to be uploading your content to an LMS, it may be a requirement that you DO NOT use Close Project as your ending option.
The reason for this is that many LMSs use a proprietary SCORM player application that runs in the web browser to play and track user interaction with your content. This usually means the content is playing in a nested frameset. With such an arrangement the player may not allow the window to self-close, because if it did, then the SCORM API connection with the LMS may be broken before all scoring data has been transferred. The result of this would inevitably be incomplete reporting and unhappy clients. So, if Captivate content is delivered from LMS servers, I recommend leaving the Project End option set to Stop Project, not Close Project
If you’re not serving content from an LMS and you opt to use the Close Project option, your end-user’s browser may still prompt them to allow the window to close, and there’s nothing you can do to over-ride this behavior because it’s controlled by the browser’s current security settings.
What about ‘daisy-chaining’ to the next course module?
Keen-eyed developers often note the Project End options to Open URL or File and Open Another Project. It therefore naturally occurs to them to use these options to call the next module in a course. This practice is known as ‘daisy-chaining’, however, it comes with a number of caveats. Firstly, it requires Flash Global Security to be on your side otherwise the links won’t work. Secondly, it’s not a viable solution if you are delivering the course via an LMS as the server itself must launch each separate module in order to correctly track the user’s interaction, scoring, and completion data. Trying to sidestep the LMS via daisy-chaining the modules almost always fails.
Project Expiry Date is Disabled
This is now by design for Cp trial versions. From Cp6 onward there is a 30 day limit, not only on use of a trial version, but also on any project created by that trial version. If you look at the Project Expiry Date field in a trial version of Cp now, it will be set to a date 30 days from today.
Unfortunately, most Cp developers don’t go searching through the preference options looking for random gotchas. So they are totally unaware of Adobe’s 30 day trial project expiry policy, and many have created, published, and deployed courses into production with a trial version before obtaining their full Captivate license. This always used to be a valid strategy, especially for contract developers like myself, because often you would need to begin work on a project weeks before the IT department got around to purchasing and installing your Cp license on the corporate PC you were using. Unfortunately, with this new 30 day expiry issue, if you deploy projects created on a trial version of Cp to your client’s LMS, then those projects will cease to function on the expiry date, and your client will not be amused.
Solution 1: Republish your project with a fully-licensed Captivate version
Once you purchase and install your fully-licensed Captivate version, open all projects created during your trial period, check carefully in Preferences > Project > Start and End to ensure the Project Expiry Date field is empty, and then republish the project. To add to their dismay, even once they DID purchase the fully licensed version of Captivate, some authors found that they could not remove the expiry date from projects created with the trial version. See the next solution for that issue…
Solution 2: Rename or delete Preferences folder
The reason for this inability to change the expiry date on trial projects turns out to be related to our old nemesis, the Preferences folder. When you uninstall and reinstall or update Captivate it is always good practice to rename or delete the preferences folder, since Adobe often makes changes to the way preferences are configured in each new version. This also applies now to Captivate trial versions that are converted over to fully-licensed versions. You must reset the preferences otherwise limitations of the trial version will persist in your licensed version.
Quiz preferences - Reporting
The final section in the Preferences dialog deals with setting up your project’s quiz. We’ll only deal with the basic settings here and some general recommendations that would apply to all projects regardless of whether or not you were publishing for an LMS.
|Tip: Set up reporting, but leave it turned off during development
If your content will be delivered or tracked via a SCORM-compliant LMS, by all means set up your reporting options when you first set up the project file, but my recommendation is that you should then turn off Enable Reporting from then on until you actually need to upload your content to the LMS for integration testing. The reason here is that if you publish for SCORM, then when you try to view the published output on your local hard drive, the course will try to find the LMS SCORM API but won’t be able and will throw an error message. You can just click the Cancel button to view the content, but I guarantee you’ll soon get sick of doing so. By turning off Enable Reporting, you can still keep your settings, but you won’t be wasting development time with these annoying message boxes.
In reality, the choices in this section are very dependent on the specific output format you have chosen, and in the case of SCORM/AICC output, it’s dependent to a large extent on the quirks of the specific LMS you happen to be using.
There are some differences between Cp6 and Cp7 in the way this dialog screen appears because Cp7 has introduced support for the new TinCan API, also known as Experience API.
Enable reporting for this project
Unless you tick this box you cannot configure anything that will allow you to integrate your published content with an LMS or reporting mechanism of any kind. As mentioned above, leave it off while developing content because otherwise each time you test publish it will go looking for the SCORM API and that will just slow things down in your development workflow.
In Cp6, once you turn on reporting, the options in your first drop-down menu are an odd mixture of LMSs and LMS integration standards, just as it has been for many Captivate versions now. You’re expected to choose your LMS or standard, and then click Configure to fine tune relevant settings.
However, Adobe must have finally realized this approach didn’t allow enough flexibility, and in Cp7 your selected LMS technology now filters further configuration options offered underneath.
Moodle must be selected as an LMS option
Unless your LMS only supports SCORM 1.2, I recommend you use SCORM 2004. It uses separate variables for tracking completion and pass/fail status, which makes it more flexible, and it also offers the ability to specify sequencing of course modules.
After selecting SCORM as an option, cick the Configure button on the Publish dialog to open the Manifest dialog and fine tune the settings further.
There are actually three different sub-versions (or ‘editions’) of SCORM 2004, but Captivate always initially chooses 3rd Edition. ADL, the organization responsible for SCORM, recommends using 4rth edition, but you’re likely to find most LMSs still don’t support that option.
Course and SCO Identifiers
These are both required fields. If creating multi-SCORM packages, make sure you configure the manifest settings so that all SCOs (modules) use the same Course Identifier, but have separate SCO Identifiers, as shown above. As you can see from the screenshot above, I recommend using the Course ID as a prefix of the SCO ID. In many cases this will make your LMS reporting a lot easier to decipher as you can easily tell from the SCO IDs which courses they belong to.
According to Adobe’s help this is a required field, but it’s turned off by default. The version specifies a number that the LMS can use to differentiate between manifests with the same Course Identifier. For example, if you are uploading the same project to your LMS after making edits or regular revisions, use a different version number in this field so that the LMS doesn’t balk (hopefully) and think you must be trying to upload a different course.
This is an optional field. One nice new feature of Cp6 and Cp7 is that the Duration field values are now automatically populated by calculating the total duration of all slides. However, this may not be a good guide in all cases because some courses take a lot longer to complete. So you may need to modify the values if your LMS is displaying this as a guide for learners.
One reporting option that many people don’t pay enough attention to is the ability to select a template to use for your SCORM LMS. The default template is usually fine, but it’s worth noting that you can also modify the default SCORM templates located in the Cp install directory under Templates > Publish > LMS > Standard > SCORM > Default and then save the modified template into the Custom folder at the same location. You may want to consider this if your LMS has special requirements and you have someone that can program these custom modifications for you.
Some LMS servers tend to bog down or even crash when too many users are accessing e-learning courses. If you experience slow-running courses due to server latency, then consider using the SendTrackingDataAtEnd template. It delays sending tracking data to the server until the end of the quiz, which can significantly reduce load on a stressed system.
This configures how the LMS will determine whether the user completed your course module. This is really dependent on the structure of your content, but I personally prefer to have it determined by passing a quiz, even if that only amounts to the user clicking a button at the end of the module.
Again, this is dependent on your specific circumstances, but I usually go with Quiz is Passed. If your module doesn’t have quiz questions, add a scored button that the user can click at some point. Some LMSs will not terminate the course unless they get some kind of a score, even if it is just 1 point.
Data to Report
I generally deselect Interaction Data as this also reduces LMS load.
LMS Advanced Settings
This dialog is reached via the Advanced button at the bottom of the Quiz Reporting screen. Again, there is a small difference here between the Cp6 and the Cp7 dialog options.
Send Data On Every Slide
Captivate has always had a reputation in the LMS community for being very ‘verbose’, meaning that it tended to throw large amounts of data at the LMS, and in many cases this proved to be enough to make many slow to a crawl when a certain number of users climbed on board to view courses. This new option in Cp7 gives you the ability to specify whether or not Captivate will ping the LMS with interaction data every time a user visits a slide. I recommend you leave this off as it just adds more load to the LMS and in most cases is totally unnecessary.
Never Send Resume Data
This box controls whether or not your course will support LMS bookmarking. In a somewhat counter-intuitive interface design, you select this box to turn off bookmarking. I recommend you do so, because in most cases I’ve found giving users the ability to leave course modules and return at a later date caused more problems than it solved. If you do decide to use LMS Resume Data bookmarking (by deselecting the box), you should do extensive testing to make sure your LMS supports it reliably, and your course participants won’t suffer any adverse experiences. Issues with this kind of bookmarking account for a huge number of posts on the Adobe Captivate Forum.
Set exit to normal after completion
I recommend you first try having this one set to on. In theory it should mean that once your users have successfully completed a course module they would be allowed to view it from the beginning again should they open it another time. Without this setting, a user re-entering the module after completion might be taken immediately to the final slide of the published file.
Escape Version and Session ID
This setting really only applies if you happen to be using the older AICC LMS integration standard and not SCORM. In the case of AICC, a lot of interaction data is transferred via the URL query strings and there are sometimes characters that get passed along in the URL which need to be escaped in order for reporting to work. Since I'm always using SCORM (and AICC is almost never used nowadays) I have never had to configure this option for any LMS I’ve worked with. But your mileage might vary.
About LMS bookmarking
So what do we mean by LMS bookmarking and why would anyone choose not to use it?
The SCORM standard specified a way for LMSs to know at what specific point in a course the user decided to bail out and do something else more interesting. This mechanism is called Suspend Data (also known as Resume Data). By default, Captivate sends resume data several times during the user’s interaction with the content and when the user terminates their session without completing the content. IF your LMS can correctly interpret this data, then Captivate’s default settings may work fine for you. However, this is a BIG IF because many LMSs have proven unreliable in this area.
Adobe experienced many issues with LMS bookmarking in Cp5 versions, including the infamous “endless loading screen” issue. For Cp6 they decided to entirely revamp the SCORM output from Captivate and opted to do what Articulate had done years ago…they got Rustici Software to supply their SCORM drivers. Rustici are the acknowledged world experts in SCORM and the company behind the SCORM Cloud online LMS as well as the new Tin Can API that is expected to replace SCORM. It’s been known for a long time that if you want to test your content on the most SCORM-compliant LMS on the planet, you upload it to Rustici’s SCORM Cloud.
Since moving to Rustici’s solution Captivate has enjoyed fewer complaints about SCORM compatibility issues. It now seems to come down to a matter of finding the right combination of settings for your particular LMS. If you simply cannot get your LMS to work with Captivate, the usual suggestion is to upload the same course to SCORM Cloud and test. If it works fine there, go back to your LMS vendor and ask them why their LMS is not like SCORM Cloud. They hate it when you do this, but it usually gets you further.