An authoring package can put the full range of PC multimedia at your fingertips
If you really want to want to harness the power of PC multimedia, you'll need a multimedia authoring package. If you want to wow the audience at your presentation, hit the mark with your computer-based training or turn your Web site interactive, the comprehensively featured multimedia authoring programs available today give you the means.

These packages let you build a programme incorporating graphics, audio and video for display on a PC. Pure presentation packages, such as Microsoft's PowerPoint, can also include multimedia elements but are designed more for "linear", slide show-type presentations. A multimedia authoring package is a much more powerful tool allowing the development of a full-blown application which, crucially, includes interactivity. The user of the end-product multimedia application does not just passively sit back and watch but can make use of interactive controls and can navigate around the presentation.

The developed application can be tailored for a particular audience with special tool bars, icons, help buttons and navigation controls for every aspect of sound, vision and text. The finished application, along with its graphics, video and audio files, can be saved and used on an individual PC, accessed over a company's network or even, if there is a sufficient audience, published on CD for wider distribution.

For use on the Web, multimedia applications can be embedded into a Web page. Instead of being constrained by the limitations of the Web's common language, HTML, add-on programs (known as plug-ins) such as Macromedia's ShockWave can be installed into your Web browser to allow the embedded application to be run. Enhancing your Web pages in this way can transform your site, generating hugely increased interest and traffic.

Along with the power and features of multimedia authoring packages comes the inevitable complexity. While a Windows-literate user can learn PowerPoint and create presentations quickly, the multimedia authoring tools on the market require a steep learning curve. In its July issue, PC Magazine tested five leading multimedia authoring tools and subjected them to a battery of usability tests in which intuitiveness, productivity and overall satisfaction was measured. It is all very well having an all-conquering set of features, but if a product is unfriendly a user will never get to take advantage of them.

The clear winner in the usability testing was Dazzler Deluxe 4.0 from Linotype, with its easy-to-use, pre-defined controls and intuitive layout. Priced at pounds 995 (ex VAT), Dazzler Deluxe 4.0 also gained a top score in features and value for money, winning it a PC Magazine Editor's Choice award. The product is far from perfect, with its interface still to be improved, but for those wanting to try out true multimedia authoring for the first time Dazzler Deluxe 4.0 is the package to buy.