Talking Shop: Create software tutorials with RoboDemo 4.0

Use this utility to make tutorials more effective

One of the best ways to teach end users how to use a new piece of software or to perform some task in an existing software or operating system is by actually showing them how it's done. But when you're talking about training a large group of people, taking the time to physically provide hands-on tutorials to each user really isn't feasible. Wouldn't it be nice if you could easily create animated tutorials that could demonstrate the procedure for you?

Well, you can do just that with RoboDemo 4.0 from eHelp Corporation. This easy-to-use tool will allow you to create software tutorials simply by recording the steps you take as you're using the software. Once you finish recording the steps, you can enhance your tutorials with all sorts of special features to add a professional touch. The end result is saved as a high-resolution compressed movie in Flash format that can be played back in any version of the Windows operating system with a standard browser.

Experimentation is encouraged
If you want to experiment with RoboDemo, you can download a free 15-day Evaluation Edition. The demo will allow you to create fully functional tutorials, but these tutorials will have a watermark displayed in the middle of the screen that identifies them as having been created by the Evaluation Edition. Once the 15 days are up, the Evaluation Edition won't load.

What's new?
The company, eHelp, has been around for some time, and their flagship product, RoboHelp, a help authoring system, is a recognized standard in the technical documentation industry. With RoboDemo, eHelp carries on the tradition of quality products with a very easy-to-use tool for creating Macromedia Flash-based training tutorials.

In the article "RoboDemo: Flexible e-learning and online product demos," William Kelly provides a brief overview of RoboDemo 3.0. However, the newest version, RoboDemo 4.0, has many new features that make this product even easier to use. Furthermore, there are now two versions of RoboDemo to choose from—the tutorial creation edition and the eLearning Edition, which allows you to create training presentations that are SCORM/AICC compliant for use in a technical education setting.

Some of the new features found in version 4.0 include a new task-oriented interface that features a film strip view; the AutoText Captions feature, which automatically annotates your tutorial; the MenuBuilder feature, which allows you to create menus for multiple tutorials; new animation features that allow you to create animated introductions and transitions; and you can now set expiration dates for time-sensitive tutorials to prevent the circulation of outdated material. And for those folks who collaborate with others while creating tutorials, you can e-mail project files to other team members for editing. Furthermore, RoboDemo 4.0 can export tutorials in the Macintosh-based projector file format.

RoboDemo 4.0 runs on all versions of Windows operating systems running Internet Explorer 5.0 or higher and has the following system requirements:
  • 32/64 MB memory (64/128 MB recommended)
  • 15 MB available disk space
  • Pentium II 200 MHz or faster processor
  • Microphone for recording sound
  • Speakers and sound card

To run a tutorial created with RoboDemo, end user software requirements are:
  • Flash-enabled browser (e.g., Internet Explorer 5.0 or higher, Netscape Navigator 4.06, or Netscape Navigator 6.0 or later) or Shockwave Flash player (version 5.0 or later)
  • Windows 95/98/Me/NT/2000/XP, Macintosh, Linux, Sun Solaris, other UNIX platforms (HP/UX or IBM AIX), Pocket PC or Web TV

RoboDemo version 5.0
As this article went to press, eHelp released version 5.0 of RoboDemo and RoboDemo eLearning Edition. This new version has all the features introduced in version 4.0 and adds the following enhancements to the product’s feature set:
  • A new Flash Import feature allows users to leverage existing Flash content, meaning that anything that can be done in Flash can now be part of a RoboDemo simulation. Users can import Flash files into RoboDemo as an individual frame or as an object within an existing frame. In addition, users can launch Macromedia Flash from within RoboDemo to make quick content changes.
  • A new video Import feature will allow users to import AVI videos directly into their RoboDemo projects. This makes it simple for users to create simulations with fully animated “talking head” videos that maintain an extremely small file size due to Flash compression. Adding video clips to RoboDemo simulations makes the content more engaging and increases learner retention.
  • The Full-Motion Recording feature lets users record on-screen rich media and animation, such as dragging and dropping, 3D animation, and applications with drawing features. This allows users to create even more realistic simulations that reflect the full capability of the application.
  • The Complete LMS Integration feature enables RoboDemo to export SCORM and AICC-compliant content that lets authors easily track the scoring data from RoboDemo simulations in a learning management system (LMS). RoboDemo 5.0 saves users time by automatically generating the manifest file—an XML file containing the data necessary for the LMS to communicate with content created by RoboDemo.
  • The Advanced Interactivity feature gives users the ability to create text-entry field questions with multiple correct answers, create keyboard interactions, and choose the type of mouse click required by the learner—whether it's a left-click or double-click.
  • The Project Templates feature enables users to create consistent simulations by using templates within RoboDemo. Templates can contain elements such as background and caption styles, playback controls, and movie preferences. Users can create and save templates to build simulations that match their corporate identity, or maintain a personal look and feel.
  • The FLA Module feature is an add-on that allows users to easily import RoboDemo projects into Flash MX (and future versions of Flash), add additional effects and Action Script, and save projects in FLA format to integrate with other Flash projects. This lets users combine the screen recording power of RoboDemo with the design capability of Flash MX.

Creating a tutorial
Let's take a look at how you go about creating a tutorial. For my example, I'll create a tutorial that shows people how to manually clean out Internet Explorer to keep everything running smoothly. More specifically, the tutorial will show users how to delete Temporary Internet Files, clear the History list, and clear the AutoComplete history.

Download my tutorial on cleaning out Internet Explorer
You can download my sample RoboDemo presentation on manually cleaning out IE here or by clicking the Downloads link in the navigation bar on the left of this page. TechRepublic has many useful documents, templates, and applications available for download, so be sure to check out our other offerings.
My sample presentation consists of two files: ClearIETutorial.swf and ClearIETutorial.htm. To increase download speed, we've zipped these two files together into one file named You will need an unzip utility such as WinZip or PKZIP to expand the zipped file. To use the sample presentation, place both files in the same directory and double-click the ClearIETutorial.htm file.

Of course, you should perform the procedure several times to make sure that you have all the steps down pat. After you feel confident that you've got all the steps covered, you can begin recording your tutorial.

Once you have RoboDemo installed on your system, you find its icon on the desktop as well as on the Start menu. When you launch RoboDemo, you'll see its main window, shown in Figure A, which has an interface that resembles the task-oriented interface in Windows XP.

Figure A
RoboDemo's main window resembles Windows XP's task-oriented interface.

To get started, you'll click the New Movie icon. When you do, you'll see the Record Movie dialog box, shown in Figure B. You'll notice that there are four self-explanatory recording sizes to choose from. For my example, I'll be using the Full Screen recording size. I'm also leaving the Recoding Keys set at the defaults for now.

Figure B
You start the tutorial creation process by making a few selections in the Record Movie dialog box.

The Auto Recording setting configures RoboDemo to automatically record the steps that you perform and automatically annotates your tutorial with text captions that describe the steps being taken. There are a few other settings related to the Auto Recording feature that you can alter, but, for now, the defaults are fine, so just click the Start button.

When you do, you'll see the dialog box shown in Figure C at the top of your screen. Click the Start button to begin. RoboDemo will go into record mode, and you can begin performing the steps in the procedure for which you're creating a tutorial. Once you finish the procedure, press the [End] key.

Figure C
Click the Start button to begin recording.

Emulating real-world mouse clicks
As you record your tutorial, keep in mind that RoboDemo takes a snapshot of the procedure each time a new window appears and each time you click a button. To get a smooth flowing tutorial, you'll need to emulate the real-world clicking operation. To do so, click right next to a button before you actually click the button. That way, you'll get before and after click images.

When you end the recording session, RoboDemo will compile the screens you've recorded and display them as frames within its window, as shown in Figure D. You can then preview the tutorial by clicking the Preview button on the toolbar.

Figure D
Once you finish recording your tutorial, RoboDemo displays each step as a frame within its window.

Fine-tuning the tutorial
As you watch the preview, you may find some things you want to change. For instance, when I previewed my example tutorial for the first time, I discovered that the default text in the captions needed to be a bit more detailed, some of the captions needed to be moved to other frames, new captions had to be added, and some of the mouse movements had to be altered.

Keep in mind that actually recording the tutorial in RoboDemo, as I explained above, is the easy part. The fine-tuning phase is a lot more time-consuming, because you must adjust each slide individually, and you may need to perform the adjustments multiple times to get the tutorial to run like you want.

RoboDemo is packed with features for fine-tuning. To get started, you can edit each individual frame in the tutorial simply by clicking the frame. When you do, RoboDemo's window changes its configuration and displays a full-sized view of the selected frame in the main section of its window. You can then right-click any frame to reveal a menu full of commands that will allow you to alter various aspects of the selected frame, such as timing and the transition effect, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E
Right-clicking on any frame reveals a menu full of commands.

Editing the captions is as easy as double-clicking the caption, which reveals the Caption Properties dialog box, as shown in Figure F. As you can see, you can alter the text and adjust the transitions and timing of the captions as well.

Figure F
Adjusting the captions is a snap in the Caption Properties dialog box.

Exporting your tutorial
Once you're satisfied with the way your tutorial appears in the preview mode, you can export it to a stand-alone file. Just click the Export button on the toolbar. You'll see the Export Options dialog box, shown in Figure G. There, you can select one of the available formats. When you click Next, you'll be prompted to select a name and a location for the file.

Figure G
RoboDemo can export a tutorial in several different formats.

I chose the Flash Movie format for my example, which created an SWF file and an HTML file. Of course, you then launch the HTML file to play the SWF file.

About Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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