In the article “Talking Shop: Create software tutorials with RoboDemo 4.0,” I showed you how to create animated software tutorials with RoboDemo from eHelp Corporation. However, what if you lack the time, resources, and budget to invest in a full-featured commercial tutorial creation product? You investigate the world of freeware, of course!

In the case of software tutorials, you would turn to Screenbook Maker from NYCircuits. While Screenbook Maker lacks many of the advanced features that make RoboDemo such an awesome package and creates static rather than animated tutorials, this easy-to-use program allows you to quickly create simple yet efficient software tutorials in no time at all. Once you complete a tutorial, it’s saved in an HTML format that can be viewed in any standard browser.

In this article, I’ll introduce you to Screenbook Maker and explain how it works. As I do, I’ll show you how easy it is to create a tutorial.

Getting and installing Screenbook Maker
Screenbook Maker is freeware and is compatible with Windows 98/Me/NT/2000/XP. Once you download the program, just double-click the executable installation file and then follow the online instructions. The installation requires just a little over 15 MB and takes a few moments to complete.

Browser requirements

In order to create a tutorial with Screenbook Maker, you must have Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher installed on your system. However, the tutorials that you create with Screenbook Maker are viewable in any standard browser, including Netscape and Opera.

Creating tutorials in Screenbook Maker is pretty straightforward. Basically, it involves typing in text-based instructions and taking screen captures of each screen in the procedure that you want to illustrate.

To make creating the tutorial as easy as possible, you’ll want to begin by developing an outline detailing the instructions for each step in the procedure that you want to illustrate. You’ll want your instructions to be clear and detailed, yet you need to be as concise as possible. As you create your instructions, keep in mind that they should be more like bullet points than a lengthy description.

You can create this outline in your favorite word processor or even in Notepad. You’ll copy and paste the instructions for each step into Screenbook Maker as you create the tutorial.

Creating a tutorial: An example
Let’s set up a sample tutorial that shows people how to manually map a network drive. Suppose you’ve created the step-by-step outline shown in Figure A.

Figure A
Creating a step-by-step outline for the procedure that you want to illustrate is a good first step.

Once you’ve saved your outline, minimize the window and launch Screenbook Maker. You’ll see its main screen, shown in Figure B, which provides access to several sample tutorials. You’ll also discover that Screenbook Maker’s Help system is provided as a Screenbook.

Figure B
Screenbook Maker’s main window provides access to several sample tutorials.

To get started, pull down the Screenbook menu and select the New Screenbook command. When you see the New Book dialog box, select My Bookshelf from the Bookshelf drop-down list and fill in the fields with the appropriate information. For example, for the Mapping A Network Drive tutorial, I filled in the dialog box as shown in Figure C.

Figure C
You’ll need to fill in the New Book dialog box in order to get started.

By default, Screenbook Maker is configured to temporarily switch the screen resolution to 640 x 480 as you create the tutorial. This setting will result in the best-looking screen captures. To continue, just click OK. You’ll see a confirmation dialog box that prompts you to confirm the screen resolution change.

Next, you’ll see the Create Book window, which will guide you through the process of creating the tutorial. At this point, switch to your set of instructions and copy and paste the first one to the Create Book window, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D
You’ll paste your instructions in the Create Book window.

You’re now ready to take your first screen shot. In most cases, you can use the Screenshot button on the toolbar. However, when taking screen shots of menu items, you’ll need to minimize the Create Book window and take the screen shot using the [Print Scrn] key on your keyboard. You’ll then restore the Create Book window and click the Screenshot button on the toolbar to paste the image into your Screenbook. Click the Next button to move to the second page.

You’ll repeat this process to add the instructions for each step and take the accompanying screen shot. When you’re finished, pull down the Action menu and select the Finish Edit command.

When the Create Book window closes, the screen resolution changes back, and you’ll see your tutorial appear in the main Screenbook Maker window, as shown in Figure E. At this point, you can preview your tutorial by using the Next button in the header at the top-right of your tutorial.

Figure E
Once you finish creating your tutorial, you can preview it in the Screenbook Maker window.

Distributing a Screenbook Maker tutorial
Once you complete your tutorial, you can use Screenbook Maker’s built-in FTP client to upload the tutorial to a Web server, or you can manually copy the tutorial and all of its support files to any location you want, such as an intranet or a CD.

To do so, right-click on the My Bookshelf item in Screenbook Maker’s tree list, and select the View In Windows Explorer command. When Windows Explorer opens the folder containing the bookshelf, you’ll see that it’s called sbooks and is composed of a group of files and folders, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F
When you open the My Bookshelf item in Windows Explorer, you’ll see a folder containing a group of files and folders.

The majority of the files that you’ll see are the resource files that make up the tutorial interface. The actual tutorial is found nested in the folder with the same name as you gave your topic in the New Book dialog box. In this case, the tutorial is nested in the Windows XP folder.

As such, you’ll need to copy the entire sbooks folder to whatever location you want to post your tutorial. The good news is that once you do, any subsequent tutorials that you create can use all existing support files. This means that you can just add the folder containing the tutorial to the existing folder structure.

Viewing a tutorial
Viewing the tutorial is easy. Open the folder containing your tutorial and then locate and double-click the Slide01.htm file. You’ll see your tutorial in a browser window, as shown in Figure G, and you can use the built-in navigation bar to view the tutorial in a number of ways. For instance, you can view it as a standard slide show with multiple slides, or you can view it as one large scrollable file. You can even view it in a thumbnail format.

Figure G
Once you launch your tutorial, you can use the built-in navigation system to view the tutorial in your browser.