The icons have it. (IconAuthor multimedia software) (Software Review) (Column) (Evaluation)
by David English
This month, we'll look at one of the leading multimedia authoring programs, IconAuthor. We'll learn how Windows 3.1 makes it easy for multimedia programs to work with sound cards, CD-ROM drives, and full-motion video adapters. And best of all, we'll see how you can harness most of the power of IconAuthor--for one-tenth the price.
Who needs a multimedia authoring program? Traditionally, multimedia developers have created applications for education, training, and sales. Computer-based training (CBT) has been especially popular, as it lets a student or trainee work at his or her own pace. CBT also allows the computer to track a person's performance during the training (which is either a boon for efficiency or an Orwellian nightmare, depending on your point of view). In the wake of plummeting hardware costs, today's multimedia development has expanded to include MPC (Multimedia PC) titles and an even larger market for education, training, and sales.
On the software side, Windows 3.1 has added system wide support for multimedia hardware. In theory, a single Windows driver from a hardware manufacturer will work with any appropriate Windows application. As new drivers and variations of old drivers are developed, you can easily add them to your current applications. (Double click on the Control Panel icon in the Main group. Then double click on the Drivers icon. From there you can install, remove, or configure your multimedia drivers.)
IconAuthor (AimTech, 20 Trafalgar Square, Nashua, New Hampshire 03063; 800-289-2884) uses Windows' own drivers to support a variety of popular multimedia devices. It also directly supports many special-purpose devices, including computer-controlled videotape recorders and videodisc players. As a programming environment, it takes a visual approach, using icons as building blocks. Its flow chart metaphor is especially well suited to complex branching applications where the user chooses from a series of options.
With IconAuthor, each icon includes its own programming content. This makes it easy to create a basic multimedia program and quickly reorder its structure. You simply drag the appropriate icon and drop it onto the flow chart. For example, if you place an Input icon in front of another icon, the program will wait for a mouse click or keypress before advancing to the next icon. Double-click on an icon, and you can change its content.
The IconAuthor package includes six separate programs: IconAuthor, which lets you use content icons to define the overall structure of your application; Graphics Editor, which works as a basic paint program; Icon Animate, which lets you create simple frame animations by dragging an icon across the screen; Smart Text Editor, which lets you apply special effects to display text; RezSolutions, which lets you alter the size and resolution of bit-mapped graphics; and Video Editor, which lets you create complex video effects using video-overlay cards. Speaking of video, I tried IconAuthor with a Super VideoWindows card from New Media Graphics, and the results were very impressive.
That's the good news. The bad news is that IconAuthor isn't cheap by consumer standards. It's $4,995 for the entire package--though that does include four days of training from AimTech. There are also runtime fees if you plan to commercially distribute your application. While that is expensive for most users, it's not unreasonable for someone who does this kind of work professionally full-time.
I said earlier that I would show you how to get most of the functionality of IconAuthor for one-tenth the price. AimTech has recently released a consumer version of IconAuthor. It's called HSC Interactive (HSC Software, 1661 Lincoln Boulevard, Suite 101, Santa Monica, California 90404; 213-392-8441; $495). It doesn't include the Smart Text Editor or Video Editor programs, IconAuthor's extensive database capabilities, or the four days of training, but it has just about everything else. You can also freely distribute your applications without paying a runtime fee.
If you're a full-time multimedia developer, you owe it to yourself to check out IconAuthor. For the rest of us, HSC InterActive is a more suitable choice. Both programs make powerful multimedia development easier than ever before.