By Michael Burns | on February 06, 2003
Company: Discovery Systems
onViz is intended to create interactive multimedia applications with online connectivity and QuickTime multimedia support. Although this is a Mac-only product, you can create self-contained applications to run on both Macs (Mac OS 8.6 through to 9.2, with OS X support coming soon) and Windows machines (Windows 95 through XP). The onViz applications you create are standalone, self-contained files. No additional files or plug-ins are required. Common applications are kiosk-based information points, linear educational and entertainment programs, tests, presentation and research aids, and so on. Each application is built using a hierarchical tree of program blocks, or ‘States’. The interface consists in the main of a project window called the Application Map. There are the States that make up and control the application; the Paths that connect the States together; and a Floating Menu Bar from which the States are dragged to the Application Map. Each State has two or more parts. The top, or InfoCenter, is the access point to set up its functions. The lower parts are the Presentation areas, where the user can define appearance and multimedia elements. Input, Flow, and Output States provide the means to capture information, manage its traffic through the application, and present the user with a result using graphics, sound, or text. Graphics can be created (or imported and edited) in the image editor. This features a target screen overlay to define the bounds of the presentation, and basic vector- and bitmap-editing tools. Images created by or imported into the editor are stored in the image library, from which they can be accessed by consequent stages of the application. There are two things that set onViz apart from the rest. First, there’s portability. The software has two methods for setting up top-level applications: single-file or multiple-file. A single-file application has the advantage of having all of its media assets, such as images, sounds, fonts, and movie clips in an integrated container. A multiple-file application has its media assets contained within a hierarchy of support folders. A common library of media assets is shared by the different parts of the application, rather than each having its own. By automatically saving the assets to these folders during development, the onViz author has full access to the source files when they’re needed for changes and updates. For example, you would only need to change a corporate logo once for it to be updated automatically throughout the target application. Another benefit is that the image, video, sound, and graphics files can be held in common for both Mac and Windows deployments. You don’t need to have all your media assets in one basket either, as onViz can draw multimedia components into the application from outside sources such as a CD, a file-server, or via the Internet. The second advantage is connectivity. The onViz-authored application can launch other programs automatically, or in response to user interaction. This includes firing up Web browsers and email clients from any point in the application. Authors can designate an email subject and the message it will contain, and the Send Email State includes an option to attach a report at regular intervals. The Show Web Page State can open a URL in the browser, and designate a timeout option in the InfoCenter to return to the application. Other Gadget States add Print Options, Report Saving Options, and Bookmarking. There are also States for cursor customization, timing, sound and display preferences, and a Restart Application setting (to ensure that each user sees the presentation from the start). Multimedia and animation support are also important features. The multimedia States – Play Sound, Play Movie, and Overlay Image – have the added benefit of incorporating QuickTime media into the target application. For animation, onViz re-uses the media in the Image Library to create sprites, assigning attributes and mouse actions via the Sprite Attributes Palette. Working with two is the Frame Control Palette, which sets animation controls and frame properties such as transitions and time delays. The courseware angle hasn’t been ignored either, with eight different question-&-answer modes, including text and numeric input; multiple choice input with one or several answers correct; correct answer sequence; and scan for keyword inputs. The software can use draggable sprites, where the user can drag-&-drop an object into a ‘hot’ area to determine the correct answer. The application can be as big and as complex as you need. Conditional branching supports evaluating up to 64 different conditions on a single branch, while the Group State function acts as a container within the larger application, holding a complete ‘mini’ Application Map. This cuts down on complexity. However, the interface seems a little primitive, and the process of building applications isn’t the most intuitive (especially as the documentation has incomplete sections and ‘TBA’ markers all over the place). You can start off confused, but once you have the hang of it, onViz does have a simple logic. What is annoying, though, is the clunkiness of the Application Map. Every deletion during the application-building process is greeted with a warning, and there’s no way to turn it off. The Path connection isn’t as good as the company claims, either – I had errors several times because the connections between States just hadn’t matched up. Also, the support for QuickTime is welcome, but the Image Editor has limited support for many graphics formats beyond JPEG and PICT. All things considered, this first version of onViz seems like a useful alternative to Director and Authorware – but you can’t help feeling that it should have remained in beta until a bit more polish was applied.