Project Management

A Viewlet is worth a thousand words on your help desk's Web page

Looking for a way to add animated demonstrations to your support site without using up too much bandwidth? Check out this description of Viewlets and learn how easy it can be to add these demos to your support Web site.


Some users refuse to read any written material, no matter how helpful it is. They simply want to see how to do something. To enhance my help desk’s online support documentation, and move beyond mere words and pictures, we’ve begun implementing Viewlets. Here’s how you can too.

What are Viewlets?
Viewletsare created using ViewletBuilder2, an authoring tool from Qarbon. The authoring tool creates animated demos in the form of a Java Applet. The authoring tool is simple to learn and can be mastered in just a couple of hours. Viewlets will run, with no plug-in required, on any JVM 1.1-compliant browser and are relatively small (200-250 KB for a five-minute clip).

ViewletBuilder2 comes with two licensing options. The Freeware Edition is a complete piece of Viewlet-creation software. Whenever a Viewlet is played, a banner ad at the top of the window displays ads from sponsors through Qarbon. If you prefer your own ad, or an ad-free version, the Professional Edition retails for $999 for a one-seat license. Significant discounts for multiple seats are available. The Professional version offers the additional feature of allowing a customized “skin” or background surrounding your animated demo.

How do you create a Viewlet?
Viewletsare amazingly simple to create. Learning the software takes no time, and within a couple of hours you can develop ready-to-publish content. Qarbon provides great tutorials (using Viewlets, of course) on their Web site to teach you about the process and to show tips on fine-tuning.

Let’s pretend we want to demonstrate a new piece of software. The Viewlet creation process would look like this:
  1. With ViewletBuilder set up to take screenshots, the program minimizes to an icon in your system tray while you work in the software you are demonstrating with the Viewlet.
  2. (This is probably the trickiest part of the process. The program is sensitive to the placement of the mouse in each screen shot. It automatically “animates” the series to create the demonstration. Carefully planning the placement of the mouse and the frequency of your screenshots is critical to getting a smooth picture of the software in action.)
  3. After the screenshots are completed, return to the ViewletBuilder program to add captions and callouts, modify timings, and more. (See Figure A.) Viewlets also allow you to add sound, interactive links to other Web sites or e-mail, or create user interaction.

Figure A
This is ViewletBuilder2’s work area for adding callouts, etc.

  1. After adding the other desired components, you can preview and edit your Viewlet.
  2. Finally, profile information about the Viewlet is added, including a title and description, and the Viewlet is compiled for uploading to a Web site.
  3. After compiling the Viewlet, you can use built-in tools to automatically FTP the needed files to a Web site or manually place them later. The Web pages from which Viewlets are launched need to have special JavaScript inserted in between the <HEAD> tags. Links will launch the applets on your Web page. (See Figure B.)

Figure B
This is a section of a Web page listing available Viewlets.

  1. When the user clicks the link, a new window pops up and the user can pause, restart, or advance the Viewlet using built in controls. (See Figure C.)

Figure C
This is a shot of the Viewlet window while it’s playing.


How can I use Viewlets?
It doesn’t take long after first seeing Viewlets to realize their potential. Qarbon markets their tool for use by sales and marketing teams, enterprise support, documentation supplements, internal support, training supplements, and many other applications.

Here are just a few ways that Viewlets can enhance support. They can:
  • Answer “How To” support questions.
  • Demonstrate download and installation procedures right next to the download.
  • Demonstrate key points from instructor-led training, which students can access for review.
  • Provide new tips and tricks to users in a “tech corner.”
  • Be packaged on CD-ROMs with the software to answer FAQs.
  • Be used by IT experts to train other support consultants.

Viewletscan now be found on over 6,000 sites, featuring more than 80,000 Viewlets, according to Qarbon. Some of the more prominent users of Viewlets include professional online help sites like Tech24.Com, Expertcity.com, and CNET’s Help.com. CNET’s Help.com has implemented Viewlets as demonstrations in its how-to documents, like one on upgrading to Windows Me (click See A Demonstration).

StarOffice, a free Office Suite product from Sun Microsystems, has created tips and tricks using Viewlets on their support site (look under Top Seven Tips And Tricks). Home Depot, one of the world’s largest home improvement stores, recently introduced Viewlets as a support tool for all of their employees on the company’s intranet. Their Viewlets cover everything from their inventory management system to procedures for reversing credit-card transactions.

Viewletsare also emerging in the PDA market to demonstrate software before downloading or to demonstrate the PDA itself. Sony is offering Viewlets on the Clie handheld device on its tutorial site.

Try Viewlets today
You can download the freeware version of ViewletBuilder2 at Qarbon. The software is available for Windows 95/98/Me/NT/2000, Solaris, and Linux and is available in a variety of languages. You can check out Viewlets from other authors in the ViewletLibrary. Freeware users can use the free ViewletFarm service from Qarbon to host their Viewlets.

I think that if you try Viewlets, you’ll agree that they are an easy-to-use enhancement to your support offerings.

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Now it’s your turn to tell us how we’re doing. Did you find Janice’s review of Viewlets helpful? Post a comment or write to Janice Ward and let us know.


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