Tuesday, March 5, 2013

An Overview Look at MadCap Mimic 7

Mimic is a visual help or software simulation authoring tool from MadCap Software (www.madcapsoftware.com), maker of Flare. Mimic is available alone or as part of the MadPak suite, which includes Flare, Contributor, Analyzer, Capture, and Lingo. In this post, I’ll discuss what visual help/software simulation authoring tools in general and Mimic in particular do overall, then look at some specifics in Mimic and changes in v.7.

Visual help/software simulation authoring tools let you create visual training by recording tasks that you perform on the PC and saving them as “movies” that viewers can play.
For example, let’s say you have to train new users on how to add a client to a billing system. You can just write a textual description illustrated with screen shots; this is essentially what Flare does – create text-based help. But with Mimic, you can actually perform the steps for adding a client to the billing system and record each step on each screen. The resulting “movie” is essentially a slide chain or filmstrip that you can give to the viewers as is, or make more useful by adding explanatory text captions or voice narration on some slides, highlighting areas of screens that you want to emphasize, and more. The result is like having a guide who can “walk you through” each step in the task.

Creating these movies seems complex at first because of the need to plan the flow and sort through the many recording, editing, and output options, but the work can actually be surprisingly simple, quick, and flexible. You can create movies in days, hours, even minutes depending on your needs, and the resulting movies can be presented to users in various ways, such as:
·         As individual standalone movies presented on a training portal web page.

·         Integrated into topics in an online help system created using Flare.

·         Distributed via YouTube, making YouTube a free distribution mechanism.
And Mimic is inexpensive, $299 for new or starting from $149 for an upgrade. It’s an inexpensive way to add a visual dimension to online help, training, reference, or marketing materials.

Now for a closer look at Mimic 7.
There are six ways to create a new movie, as shown in the New dialog box below.

The simplest option is the Record Movie option. To use it, set up the software to record, set some Mimic recording options, and start recording. Mimic will record everything you do. (Including mis-clicks, so plan before you start recording to avoid having to edit the slides for errors or discard a movie and reshoot it correctly.)

Once you’ve recorded the slides, you can edit them. Much of that work is on a slide-by-slide basis using the interface shown below.
On the left is a palette of re-usable graphic objects that you can create. On the right is a list of frames in the movie, one way to navigate from frame to frame. The center of the screen is showing slide/frame 18. At the top of the slide is an initial text caption box “Click…” that Mimic added automatically during the recording. You can edit the text in this caption box as needed or just delete it. The red line below the text caption shows the path of the mouse pointer during recording. Viewers won’t see that line; they’ll see the actual mouse pointer move along that path.
In addition to the text caption boxes, you can add highlight boxes in various shapes, audio clips of sound effects or voiceover narration, simulated fields in which viewers can make simulated entries, animation that moves graphics along a trajectory on a slide, and more. Mimic movies can also use conditions and targets, as in Flare, and can be integrated into a Flare project programmatically so that the projects can share conditions, for example, and update automatically.

After recording and editing the slides, you have to generate the final output for distribution to viewers. Mimic 7 supports industry-standard outputs like Adobe Flash, plus Adobe AIR, Microsoft Silverlight, PDF, MadCap’s proprietary Movie Player output, and, new in Mimic 7, HTML5. Each of these outputs has its own options and it’s easy to create a movie, try one output, then switch options or output to multiple options as your needs change.
Should you buy Mimic or, if you have an earlier version, should you upgrade to 7?

Do you want to quickly create visual training movies or software simulations for use in online help, informal training, or web-side marketing or demos? Integrate the movies with online help projects in Flare? Then Mimic is an excellent choice – inexpensive, quick to learn and use, and tightly integrated with Flare.
If you already have an earlier version of Mimic, should you upgrade? The most obvious change in 7 is the interface’s shift from a toolbar to the ribbon. It’s a more up-to-date look and aligns Mimic with Flare 8. It also makes features like annotation object options easier to use. There are also added conveniences, like the ability to pick an output type to view or generate directly from the development pane. The video playback skin has been redesigned to be easier to use, and the redesigned timeline interface makes it easy for authors to navigate to any point in the movie. And, because Mimic comes from the same design base as Flare, it shares many concepts and features in common with Flare and other components of the MadPak suite, such as conditional build tags, variables, and targets. In other words, if you’re familiar with Flare, you’re already inherently familiar with some of Mimic’s most useful features.

However, I consider HTML5 output to be the main reason to upgrade. HTML5 is important if you plan to create movies to run on iOS devices like the iPhone, or be bundled into Flare projects output to Flare’s Windows Mobile output to run on iOS, or run on YouTube. You may not be planning to do any of these in the near future, but check with your management before writing off HTML5 and Mimic 7. Mobile is slowly but steadily pervading the world of tech comm, training, and marketing, and Mimic 7 supports it now, integrated into a familiar interface.
Neil Perlin is a MadCap-certified consultant and trainer for Flare and Mimic. Neil is an independent consultant based outside Boston, MA, operating as Hyper/Word Services (www.hyperword.com, nperlin@nperlin.cnc.net). He is the author of “Essentials of MadCap Mimic 6” (and the forthcoming “Essentials of MadCap Mimic 7”) and “Advanced and Unfamiliar Features in MadCap Flare”, both available at Amazon.