But today it seems like Gates and Jobs have sold out to the centralized controlling authority of the Internet. Today, instead of talking about empowering the individual, they talk about empowering the "workgroup" or empowering the "enterprise." Today, those guys who once opposed Big Brother have become that self-same Stalin-like sibling. So, who's looking out for the little guy now? Who's making tools to empower individuals? Where are our champions today?
Well, to find companies interested in catering to the individual by supplying powerful low-priced software tools, you have to look outside the U.S. Cast your eyes eastward to Taiwan and you'll find at least one company—CyberLink—that is still joining the struggle against the established powers.
Founded in 1995, CyberLink (www.gocyberlink.com) has gained a reputation for providing high-quality low-cost tools for digital video and audio, including such products as PowerDVD, PowerDirector, and PowerVCR. These tools are usually sold to OEMs, who then bundle them with their hardware systems. In this way, consumers get their foot in the door of a new technology like video editing without having to pay an arm and a leg for a software tool like Adobe Premiere. One could argue that in this way, renegade vendors like CyberLink are providing a public service by giving the big guns like Adobe some competition—keeping them honest, keeping them on their toes, and keeping their prices down.
The latest software tool from CyberLink is an interesting elearning product called StreamAuthor 2.0. It's not exactly a full-featured authoring tool like Macromedia Director, but it's much less expensive and easier to learn. In comparing the two products, CyberLink vice president of marketing Manal Ma says, "Macromedia Director is used by a specialist to make CD titles. StreamAuthor is intended for the trainer himself. It is well-suited to someone who is not a content creator, but a trainer. And it's easy to use," she says. "You don't need to know a programming language like Director's Lingo."
It's as easy to use as PowerPoint, but it isn't exactly a presentation tool, adds CyberLink U.S. director of sales and marketing Michael Demeyer. "StreamAuthor is an assembly tool, not a presentation tool," he says, though he also admits that it is "targeted at capturing the live presentation."
Demeyer continues, "StreamAuthor is video-centric. Video is the primary thread onto which you can hang other media elements." A StreamAuthor application usually has as its centerpiece video footage of a teacher standing up and lecturing. Onto this central thread one then hangs the slides the teacher is showing, and possibly a music track, animation clips, or a quiz. One hangs this media to the central video thread using StreamAuthor's timeline-based GUI. You sync up your various media to the central video track by dragging and dropping and lining up timelines. One does not have to use video as the central thread, by the way—any media can be central—this is just the way the tool is conventionally used.
StreamAuthor comes with 39 different presentation design templates and offers over 100 different transitional effects that can be inserted between clips. Or if the user wants to incorporate PowerPoint slides into his or her application, those slides can be easily synchronized with the live video of the speaker, while maintaining all the slide transitions and effects from the PowerPoint presentation. It is also easy to synchronize video files to other media types, such as Word files, Excel files, Adobe PDF files, and the like.
Users can also attach reference materials and URLs to a StreamAuthor presentation so that the learner can easily and instantly access more information.
StreamAuthor also has a screen capture function that allows users to capture mouse movements and screen images from running software applications. CyberLink expects trainers with software teaching needs to find this feature invaluable.
Using StreamAuthor's survey/polling feature, trainers can include quizzes in their presentations, but the mechanism for doing this is rather clunky and anemic. Students send their answers back to the teacher via email—not the easiest method from the teachers' point of view, since they must then print out and manually correct all those quizzes and respond to each student.
Ironically, StreamAuthor's biggest drawback is also its biggest asset. Content created using StreamAuthor is not SCORM-compatible, which means it can't be incorporated into a centralized Learning Management System. To centralists, this is a major drawback. To individualists, it is a liberating advantage.
CyberLink sees this as an advantage and is marketing StreamAuthor accordingly. Manal Ma explains that CyberLink's marketing is "trying to go beyond corporate central training. We think StreamAuthor will give trainers access at the department level. The authoring can be done by the teachers and trainers. A department doesn't have to get permission from central IS or hire a professional content creator. They can do it all there themselves and be their own content creators." These departmental personnel, she says, "may have training requirements that they may not want to hand off to the IT people. With StreamAuthor, you don't have to outsource your authoring," she concludes. "Your subject matter experts can do it in-house, and it gives organizations the ability to develop quickly."
So if you want to crank out some training lessons fast and don't want to worry about being under the thumb of some higher-level corporate numskull or tyrant (like the Boss in the Dilbert cartoons), StreamAuthor could be the perfect multimedia elearning authoring tool for you.