Friday, March 30, 2012

Adobe’s “Angry Bird Tax”

A quick note to clear up any potential confusion a recent Adobe announcement regarding Flash Player licensing

Adobe essentially said two things,
“Premium features will allow game publishers using native C/C++ console game engines to target Flash Player. Premium features is usage of both domain memory and Stage3D GPU hardware acceleration in combination. Domain memory allows cross-compiled C/C++ to run in Flash Player, including non-ActionScript game engines...”

This does not affect developers who:
  • create anything for the browser in Flash Player that use “domain memory
  • create anything for the browser in Flash Player that use Stage3D
  • create anything using Adobe AIR including the use of Stage3D and domain memory
  • create anything for mobile devices using Adobe AIR including the use of Stage3D and domain memory
The only reason to be concerned with this announcement is if, as a developer/company, you create browser-based applications that use domain memory in combination with hardware accelerated Stage3D in Flash Player AND the revenue for the application is $50,000 or higher.

However, many established frameworks which developers may integrate do use both these components of the Flash Player, so be aware of your development requirements and resources. If you have questions on your product development plans, contact Adobe.

Essentially, if your application (i.e. game) is so popular that Adobe takes notice, congratulations! Many folks would like to have that problem… Here at ICS, as we continue to develop Flash-based eLearning applications with Flash, and some of which will use the 3D API, we’re watching the development of this licensing update closely, but it seems unlikely this will be an issue for us or our customers for whom we develop custom training content.

-Posted by: Erik L.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mobile Learning: Trending Up, Slow but Steady

As has been apparent for a couple years now, ‘mobile devices’ are finally entering a level of media maturity. Apple deserves a large part of the credit when it comes to pushing innovation into the wild. The iPhone pushed Google to commit to Android and forced Microsoft and other players to either improve their products or get out of the game. Apple did the same with the iPad, finally delivering a ‘handy’ portable device with the power of a desktop, and once again pushed the competition to either join in or cede the market.

While the preferred use of these mobile devices varies, they certainly have a growing role in eLearning…or more aptly termed, by default, to mLearning. However, with the variation among mobile devices, from size to operating system, there are a lot more factors to account for in mLearning development.

There are essentially two ways to deliver content to mobile devices – HTML or ‘Apps’. Apps have a few more barriers, from complexity to distribution…thus HTML (via a browser) is generally a preferred delivery method for learning courseware, especially with the current state and requirements of SCORM (though the TinCan project may change that).

For good or bad, HTML5 has all the ‘buzz’…but it has a way to go to deliver on the hype and promise. As of last year, the defined HTML5 specification is due to be delivered by the end of 2014, so a mere two years away. “Only” two years? Does that mean that HTML5 tools and deliverables are at a standstill until then?

Not a chance.

Despite the W3C delivering a spec by 2014, that will be just the first official version. But a ‘final’ specification may not be out until 2022! The web just won’t wait that long…

ABI Research predicts “2.1 Billion HTML5 Browsers on Mobile Devices by 2016”. Says Mark Beccue, “We expect HTML5 features in categories such as graphics, multimedia, user interactions, data storage, and others to be widely adopted sooner rather than later. A significant number of HTML5 features will be adopted in the mass market in the next three to five years.”

So despite the two to five year wait for a more refined spec and greater adoption, we’re seeing tools and requirements for HTML5 being pushed broadly now. There will remain some pain and mitigation to those expectations however, while the various web browser vendors work to implement the capabilities. Per our previous article, “Thoughts on Flash, HTML5, and video”, video is just one contentious aspect of browser growth and capabilities.

Tools like RapidIntake’s Unison, Trivantis’ Lectora, and the fabled Articulate Storyline promise to deliver to both the desktop and mobile devices, and do so via ‘HTML5’. How is that possible when the spec isn’t near completion and browser support is inconsistent? Well, because those tools probably don’t really publish content in ‘pure’ HTML5. However, good old HTML4 plus a little javascript, frameworks like JQuery, and fun ‘AJAX’ implementations, can well compensate where HTML5 cannot yet deliver. Such approaches still pale in comparison to the richness of a custom Flash experience but progress is being made! And certainly such approaches and tools can offer a solid eLearning, or mLearning, experience.

So the HTML5 specification continues to plod forward, tools continue to advance via whatever method they can to improve the development and delivery experience, and browsers continue to debate and integrate the features they feel most refined and useful.

As Learning Developers, our challenge has grown to not only design solid, effective courseware, but also to now design and develop a functional approach to deliver the courseware to a variety of devices. For some projects, Flash remains the best solution. However, for others – especially those that need to include Apple’s iOS devices – either a hybrid Flash/HTML solution needs to be designed, or a pure HTML (and, note, that’s not ‘pure HTML5’) solution will be the solution. In many cases, the project’s design and delivery needs to be highly customized, pulling and presenting the base information and learning content in completely different ways depending on the targeted device.

Fortunately the solutions are all possible now, regardless of the maturity of the entire ecosystem (technosystem?); and the challenges those design and delivery requirements bring sure keep the projects fun! Drop us a line if your eLearning courseware needs to target multiple devices; we’re happy to help you design a flexible solution.

-Posted by: Erik L.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Articulate Player Customization

We work with several tools here at ICS to develop custom eLearning content for our clientele. The Articulate suite (i.e. Articulate Studio) is certainly one of the tools in our box which we use for the less-complex Level 1 and 2 lessons.

For such projects, a common request is to modify the default player ‘skin’ to meet navigation and branding requirements…and we thought we’d share some of those processes. The below suggestions assume some familiarity working with Articulate Presenter.

One quick and easy way to customize a lesson is through the Table of Contents, or left-side slide navigation. To edit this information, click the “Articulate” tab in the PowerPoint presentation, then click the “Slide Properties” button. Here you can edit the information the user sees and how they interact with the lesson through the adjustment of several variables, including:
  • Slides titles
  • Slide level nesting
  • Branching
  • Slide advancement (automatic or by user)
  • Slide view (standard, no sidebar, or slide only)
  • Slide presenter
  • Slide audio
When developing content for Articulate lessons, we've had several clients request that we use their existing color schemes or templates for a unique ‘look and feel’ to the Articulate player. The files they provide are .XML format and should be stored and accessed by Articulate Presenter here:
  • C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\Articulate\Articulate Presenter 5\Color Schemes
  • C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\Articulate\Articulate Presenter 5\Templates
Another way to distinguish your Articulate Player from the rest is by removing the default Articulate logo and replacing it with your own. This is done by creating a customized .SWF file, using the following criteria:
  • 950 x 40 pixels
  • 24 fps
This new .SWF file can be added to your presentation by following these 4 simple steps:
  1. Copy the .SWF filt to the following location:
    • [Published Folder]\player\
  2. Open the following file:
    • [Published Folder]\data\playerproperties.xml
  3. Remove the following code from line 54:
    • < poweredbypanel >< enabled >false< /enabled >< file >81CBEBA0-5745-414C-8EE5-A10A54EE2219< /file >< /poweredbypanel >
  4. Replace with the following code (remove the spaces):
    • < poweredbypanel >< enabled >true< /enabled >< file >.SWF< /file >< /poweredbypanel >
We hope this provides you with the insight to add a bit more customization and flair to your Articulate-based eLearning products. Of course, if you need any more complex development – whether within the Articulate framework or something more interactive and detailed – we’re here to help!

(credit: ICS developer Jason Moore contributed the Articulate processes to this article)
-Posted by: Erik L.