Online tutorials and demonstrations have become increasingly popular tools for bringing beginners up to speed on applications and related tasks and in teaching those old application dogs some new tricks. They are also great for teaching administrative concepts and tasks to IT staff.

One of the reasons for the surge in popularity of online tutorials is the expanded set of tools that are available for creating the tutorials. Bernard D&G’s latest product, Turbo Demo 4, includes features that simplify tutorial creation and offer a nice range of output formats. This broad output support provides considerable flexibility for tutorial delivery.

Building your tutorial
Unlike some tutorial authoring software, Turbo Demo doesn’t capture a screen cam of your tutorial. Instead, you capture a series of screen shots as you move through the tutorial. After you capture the screen shots, you add other elements such as message balloons and notes, images, animated objects, pause buttons, rollovers, graphics, and so on. Turbo Demo keeps track of mouse actions as you capture screens and adds those actions to the tutorial.

When you start a Turbo Demo project, the program first prompts you for the screen size. You can choose from the standard 640 x 480, 800 x 600, or 1024 x 768, or you can specify a custom size.

After you set a few options for screen capturing (see Figure A), Turbo Demo displays a red rectangle on the display, which represents the capture area (see Figure B).

Figure A

Figure B

You then start the application to be captured and press a Turbo Demo shortcut key combination to resize the application into the capture square. Alternatively, you can resize the capture area to fit the current application size.

As you move through the tutorial, you can use mouse buttons to perform the captures or use the [Pause] key to capture slides. Because you have control of when the captures happen, you can perform setup and other tasks that you don’t need to show in the final tutorial even while you are building the tutorial. You can simply remove these slides when you finish capturing.

When you have captured all of the slides for the tutorial, click the Turbo Demo icon in the taskbar to stop the capture process and display the captured slides, as shown in Figure C. If you forget a step, you can restart the screen capture process to insert one or more additional slides. Turbo Demo also lets you insert a blank slide, copy and paste slides, and delete them.

Figure C

Once you’ve laid out your slides, you’re ready to start adding the dynamic pieces of the tutorial. You do this one slide at a time. The mouse and cursor actions are already a part of the tutorial, so you don’t need to add those. Turbo Demo shows the starting and ending cursor locations and cursor types. You can easily drag a cursor from one point to another to reposition it for the tutorial.

At this point you add such items as balloons to identify menus or other application elements, images, graphics to highlight application elements, or a Pause button to pause the tutorial. You can configure a Pause button to take the user to the next slide, a specific slide by name or number, a slide offset, or a URL.

You an easily add other dynamic elements as well. Attractors are animated arrow elements that help you draw attention to a particular area in the tutorial. You control the color, line width, direction, and placement of the attractors. Rubbers serve much the same function as attractors, but rubbers are circles or rectangles that expand and contract over a particular location in the tutorial to draw attention to that area. Rollovers are balloons that appear over an object when the user runs the mouse over the object. Figure D shows an example of an attractor, rubber, and balloon.

Figure D

You control the color, font, text, size, density, and position of the rollover. Other elements include hyperlinks, drawing objects, click areas, hot-key areas, and text areas. You can also easily add sound clips to a slide to provide verbal explanation and instructions or include sound effects.

The elements you insert in the tutorial are sequenced based on their insertion order. As you work with a tutorial you will likely need to adjust the sequence of elements. You can simply right-click an element, choose Order from the context menu, and then move the element forward, back one slot, or to the front or back of the sequence.

Time to choose a format
One of the advantages offered by Turbo Demo is its support for multiple output formats. You can create the tutorial as a Flash animation, a Java applet, a stand-alone executable, or uncompressed AVI without sound. The option you choose depends on how you intend to deliver the tutorial. For example, you would likely choose Flash or Java for tutorials delivered over the Internet or from your corporate intranet. EXE files are a good choice when the tutorial needs to be delivered by download or e-mail.

The Flash and EXE options both give you the choice of including a control panel with the tutorial that enables the user to move forward and backward through the tutorial as needed. The Java option gives you the most control over the interface, providing a handful of skins that use various button styles and colors for the control panel. The Java format also lets you specify a time limitation for the tutorial after which the tutorial expires.

Features I would like to see in later versions
There are a few areas in which I’d like to see some additions to Turbo Demo. For example, the program lacks an undo feature, which increases to some degree the difficulty of editing a tutorial. Elements such as balloons and attractors could use some additional shapes and options to provide more flexibility in creating a certain look and feel for the tutorial. Additional skins for the control panel and tutorial interface would also be useful.

Get a copy of Turbo Demo
Turbo Demo comes in two versions: Standard and Professional. The Standard version is limited to Flash output and lacks several other features offered in the Professional version. Click here for complete list of features and a comparison of the two products. A single user license for the Standard version costs $490 and a single user license for the Professional version costs $790. Multiple license discounts are available on both products. Click here for up-to-date pricing. The company offers a free trial download so you can check it out before you buy it.