Friday, December 26, 2008

Software Review: Microsoft Expression Studio 2 - Expression Web 2

Written by T. Michael Testi

This is the first of a series of three reviews that will cover what is contained in the Microsoft Expression Studio 2 Collection. Expression Studio is the latest version of Microsoft's development design set. In Studio 2, there are five programs that are geared to Web and application developers and designers. The products include Expression Web, Expression Blend, Expression Design, Expression Media, and Expression Encoder. The goal is define what each product does and provide information of what it can do for you.

What do you need to run Expression Studio 2? On Windows you need an 1GHz or faster processor, Windows XP SP2 or Vista; on Mac, a PowerPC® or multi-core Intel processor, Mac OS X v10.4.11 – 10.5.4 (Leopard), 1GB RAM, 1024x768 display (1280x800 recommended) with a 24-bit video card, 2GB hard drive space, and DVD-ROM Drive.

MicrosoftHere I will look at Microsoft Expression Web 2. Expression Web is a HTML Editor and general Web design program that was developed to replace Microsoft FrontPage. It is targeted toward professional Web site developers. It allows the authoring of Web pages using XML, CSS, ASP.NET, XHTML, XSLT, and JavaScript. Differing from FrontPage, it uses its own rendering engine, and contains accurate standards compliant rendering.

In Expression Web 2, you have an editing screen that toggles between design screen, straight code, and split screen with the editing screen at the bottom. While it retains some similarities to FrontPage, it really is totally different under the hood. Instead of inserting jacked up tags and code, it really builds nice CSS-based code that is easy to maintain. It is also pretty easy to build larger sites by using templates.

So what is new with Expression Web 2?

• PHP Support – now will let you work with PHP sites and provide the standards-based features to this platform. You can just open up a PHP page and start creating. You get syntax color coding and full InteleSence control to help you choose functions and global variables, as well as tool tips that provide information about parameters. Once you have PHP on your system, you can also preview your pages locally without having to upload to a server.

• ASP.NET Support – has been enhanced as well to not only support ASP.NET 3.5 and Visual Studio 2008, but AJAX support as well. AJAX is the essential technology for creating a modern state of the art site in which the full page refresh is no longer needed and gives it a more responsive, dynamic feel. You can now work with any ASP.NET Control as well.

• Photoshop Support – will let you import a Photoshop PSD file and choose what layers are converted. You can also re-edit the file in Photoshop and easily update your Web optimized graphic file. When you insert the PSD file, Expression Web will optimize it for Web use, and any time you change the PSD file, it will automatically re-optimize it using the update from source functionality.

Microsoft• Silverlight, Flash, and Windows Media Support – gives you the ability to add rich Internet applications to your Web pages by using a simple insert command, or via drag and drop. Expression Web will make sure that your content is standards-based when it is added to your page. You can use Flash, Windows Media, or Microsoft's new cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering rich media, and interactive applications.

I found that Expression Web 2 was very intuitive and easy to use. I especially like the fact that it creates pretty efficient Web sites and doesn’t add a lot of bloat like FrontPage used to. The opening up to non-Microsoft platforms is great. The ability to work with PHP and Photoshop are an enormous plus, as are the updates to work with the latest and greatest Visual Studio (2008).

If you order the Expression Studio 2 Subscription, you not only get the five products in the Studio, you also get a copy of Microsoft Windows Vista, and a copy of Microsoft Visual Studio Standard Edition as well, along with a year worth of updates.

One thing that I had a problem with is that I installed the demo, signed up for the subscription, and they sent me a set of permanent disks. The problem I had was that I then had to uninstall the demo to install the live version. It would have been better if I could have just put in a key, but in the overall scheme, not a biggie. On the upside from this problem was that I called tech support, and the person was very helpful in explaining what I needed to do.

I think that if you are into Web development, and especially if you work with Microsoft products, then I can easily recommend Microsoft Expression Web 2.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Software Review: Camtasia Studio 6 from TechSmith

Written by T. Michael Testi

So what is Camtasia Studio? It is the premiere screen recording system on the market today, and it has just gotten better with the release of Camtasia Studio 6. It is a complete software solution for creating high-quality training videos, presentations, and screencasts that can be shared on the Web, CD-ROM, as well as on portable media players such as the iPod.

Camtasia Studio 6 runs on Microsoft Windows XP or Vista, requires DirectX 9.0 or later, 1.0GHz Processor (2.5GHz is recommended and needed for PowerPoint and camera recordings), 500MB RAM (2GB recommended), 115MB of hard drive space. There are other specialized requirements for specific needs.

TechSmith started out in 1987 as a custom software company who developed for the Windows platform. Responding to a demand for screen capture utilities, they created SnagIt in 1991. Over time, SnagIt offered some video capture capabilities and these eventually became Camtasia in 1999. In 2002, it became Camtasia Studio, which was enhanced with a suite of tools. In November 2008, the latest version — Camtasia Studio 6 — was released.

Camtasia Studio 6What does Camtasia Studio actually do? It automatically records exactly what a user sees on the screen. It records what they say, and how they interact with any Windows-based application or Web site. It can be used to record training videos, marketing information, or support instruction.

Once you have your video recorded, Camtasia Studio 6 has the tools that will allow you to edit your video and share it in a variety of formats. These include Flash (SWF), fixed media such as CD and DVD, as well as on portable media such as the iPod. If you want, you can see a short overview of Camtasia and how it can be used.

There were two main goals that Camtasia Studio wanted to address for this version. First were larger projects. As people became more comfortable with creating videos, they started creating larger ones. The larger they got, the more sluggish the editing became. The second area was as new technology keeps being introduced, Camtasia needed to create higher quality videos with smaller file sizes.

So what is new with Camtasia Studio 6?

• Finer control over effects – will help you get your timing down. You can control the duration of transitions and callout fades right down to a tenth of a second.

Camtasia Studio 6• Tilt Video effect – will give you the ability to let your videos pop! By being able to change the angle and bring some things closer to the screen and putting others in the background, you can force some items to grab attention where the attention is needed.

• Overhauled presets – like Web, blog, and iPod have been upgraded to have High Definition video capabilities. Three others — YouTube, HD display, and, which are new presets — also take advantage of the new format which replaces FLV. They all default to a MPEG-4 AVC (H.264 ACC) file coupled with a Flash player. This means the HD quality with the smallest file size possible.

• Edit MOV files – from a digital camera or previous project. You can now bring it into Camtasia Studio and edit it on the timeline. As long as it is a self-contained MOV file, you can edit it.

• – is the fast and easy way to get videos from Camtasia to the Web. With the new preset, you can direct content into your sharing folder of choice. What's better, you get a free 2GB storage, 2GB bandwidth account absolutely free.

Camtasia Studio 6 is an all-in-one solution for creating audio-video screencasts. You can import media, record from your screen, or record video from your Web cam. It provides the ability to include quizzes as well as other information into your presentation. It is SCORM compliant. There is also a PowerPoint plug-in that allows you to take your presentations and turn them into video form.

Camtasia Studio 6 also has a lot of tutorial videos (go figure) that break down specific topics and focus on helping you get up to speed fast. They also have on many of the screens a button that says "Assist Me" that will display instruction, and a button "Show Me" which will take you to a video about the topic. The latter really saves you time from having to try to find the tutorial somewhere else.

If you are looking to get into professional video creation, then Camtasia Studio 6 is the right product. If you own Camtasia Studio 5 should you upgrade to 6? In my opinion, the separate audio and video clips are worth every penny of the upgrade. This alone will save hours of editing/re-recording time. Add to that the better performance for working with larger recordings, the HD video ability, and the finer control over the effects all make it an easy decision to upgrade. I highly recommend Camtasia Studio 6.

• Separate audio and video tracks – will now let you detach your audio from your video so that you can fix mistakes much easier than ever before. So say you mispronounce a word during your recording. In the past you would have to either leave it in or re-record your video. Now you simply detach your audio from your video track, cut out the bad section, and drop in the new.

• Added hotkeys – will save you a lot of time. Now with seven customizable hot keys, if you want to add a callout to the current spot on the timeline, just hit "C" on your keyboard. If you want to zoom, hit the "Z" key.