Get Inspired

The successor to Promethean’s ActivStudio 3 software is known as the ActivSoftware Inspire Edition… although hopefully it will just be called ActivInspire or something less wordy.  The first Beta release of Inspire is now available and Promethean is encouraging people to download, install and play with it, no doubt to try and identify as many bugs as possible before the production release, due in late March.

While I was writing the IWB book, I was fortunate to have been invited to a sneak peek at a very early Alpha build of this software, and it’s certainly come a long way since the buggy, crash-prone demo I saw a few months ago.  For a Beta, this is actually quite stable, although there are still some unusual behaviours and unexpected interface issues to iron out in the next two months.

To give you a bit of an insight into some of the most obvious new features, both good and not so good, I’ve recorded this screencast about the new Inspire edition.  It’s about 20 minutes long, but if you use Promethean software I hope you’ll find it useful in helping you get your head around the changes.  And there are some major changes too… the team behind Inspire were aware that ActivStudio had a number of legacy issues that needed to be addresses, so they decided to start with a clean slate and develop the new version from scratch.  This is not an update on ActivStudio, this is a whole new codebase and a complete rethink of how an IWB interface should work.  The interface is certainly cleaner, and there seems to be less clicking to get things done.  It’s still not perfect, especially in the area of video handling, but it does seem to be a step in the right direction.  It appears to borrow some interface ideas from other tools like PowerPoint and Smart Notebook, but reinterprets them.  My first impression is that, although it is certainly a big improvement on AS3, it still needs quite a bit of work before the final release.

You can get your own copy of the new beta from the Promethean Planet website.  You need to be a Planet member, but it’s free to join.

In a nutshell, some of the new features worthy of a mention are…

  • Profiles for task-centric tool palettes
  • Browser pane for easier access to common functions
  • Cleaner, more streamlined interface
  • Support for multitouch and dual pens
  • Elimination of the familiar edit panels that appear when you double click an object
  • Non-modal action pbjects
  • New connector tools
  • More familiar use of a standard menu bar at the top of the screen
  • Better drawing tools
  • ActivStudio and ActivPrimary both optionally available within the same application
  • Customisable tooltips on objects
  • Better 4:3 Flipchart support for widescreen computers
  • Much better implementation of templates

It’s not all rosy however… there are still some notable ommisions, such as the ommision of a tool for creating tables, something their competitor Smart Notebook 10 actually does very well.  Tables really need to be in here.

The other notable point is the lousy way it seems to handle video and media.  This has been my biggest complaint about ActivStudio 3, it just does a really crappy job of managing digital video.  It needs to be far less fussy about what media type you throw at it, it needs to render video really well, and it needs to allow the embedding of video into the page rather than just creating links to it to open in a new window.  Although Inspire has attempted to improve this aspect of the software, it still has an awfully long way to go in my opinion.

There is plenty to talk about in this Beta release, and I think I might make a couple of other video reviews in the next couple of weeks.  But take a look for yourself… in the interests of making sure the final release candidate is everything it should be, I’d encourage you to download it, cast a critical eye over it and tell Promethean what you think.

I’ve been pretty critical of ActivStudio 3 in the past, and have complained loudly about its woeful usability and lack of standardised interface design.  I have even been whinging directly to Promethean over the last six months or so, and I’m pleased to see that this new version seems to be the start of finally getting it right.

Not bad so far, but Just fix the damn video handling issues!

PS… I meant to mention these couple of extra things, but forgot…  so here is another screencast just to add the bits I missed.

A couple more things about Activ Inspire from Chris Betcher on Vimeo.

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CC BY-SA 4.0 Get Inspired by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

9 Replies to “Get Inspired”

  1. Great review. ActivStudio has never been the most intuitive program and I don’t understand why it has to lag so much. From looking at your video I like how this new ActivInspire edition has the property menu at the side. Many times I have double-clicked on objects in ActivStudio and the properties haven’t come up. I will definitely try out ActivInspire but I’m proposing a moratorium – until it’s as good as Notebook, I wouldn’t want it used on our Smartboards.

    1. Thanks Edwina,

      I don’t like to play favourites with IWB software, but I do actually quite like the new Inspire edition more than I expected. I’ve been pretty critical of ActivStudio in the past, despite the fact that I work with it regularly… in fact I had a really big whinge to the Promethean people at the last IWB conference in Melbourne. I think as end-users, teachers need to be far more critical of crappy software design, and speak up when software gets foisted upon them that is less than it ought to be. Software is the most malleable material in the world, so having a software app that is less than it could be is just unacceptable in my book.

      I find that the deeper I delve into AS3, the worse the design flaws become. It can be counterintuitive and hard to use. In particular, I’m most disappointed in AS3’s ability to handle media, specifically video. It is finicky and fussy about file types, and looks like a software app that is much older than it really is. AS3 certainly does not look like a modern, post-Web2.0 application.

      As for Smart Notebook, I really like the intuitiveness of Notebook, and it was the IWB software that I learned to use first. I think it’s much easier to learn and far easier to discover the features. However, I must say that after having worked with Promethean’s ActivStudio3 for a year, despite the fact that it’s clunky and dated, I found Smart Notebook 10 much more limited as to what I could do with it. I kept trying to do things in Notebook that were possible in AS3 and realising that some features I have taken for granted were just was not built into Notebook.

      Having said that, I still prefer the better usability of Notebook, even though AS3 is probably more functional. The new Inspire edition will, hopefully, add the much-needed usability to the Promethean product. BTW, I realised after I made the videos, that Inspire can in fact be tweaked and modded to look more like Notebook… toolbars across the top of the screen, etc.

      But the video handling really is in need of a fix. Notebook is FAR better at handling video. Fix that in Inspire, and things could get really interesting.

  2. It’s nice to think that you CAN actually use the social web to get through to the right people. Take a look at this email I received this morning. Just goes to show that regular people like me can have a voice about things that really matter to us…

    Hi Chris,
    I sat all my engineers in a room put your video up on a whiteboard and made them sit through it.
    It was very revealing and the guy who did the video hid under a chair!!
    There where a few laughs as we willed you to try and drag the tooltip label so you could position it!!
    We also recognised that it was hard to unlock the object. Again we willed you to use the property browser or to to go into design mode.
    But saying that you are spot on and we appreciate your excellent review.
    We have fixed the dragging on a video issue (Actually you can insert media from the menu and it does this by default)
    And we also hope we have fixed the aspect ratio.
    Cheers.
    Regards
    Andrew Edwardson
    Head of Software Development
    Promethean

That's all well and good, but what do YOU think?