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Multimedia Toolbox: Mediator 6 Presentation Software

Are you a relative newcomer to multimedia design in need of a tool that creates professional-looking Web pages and slick multimedia presentations? If so, one product you should consider is MatchWare's Mediator 6 Pro software, available for PCs only. Simple drag-and-drop components enable users to combine graphics, sound, text, video, and animations—one page at a time.

Unlike much of the multimedia software on the market, Mediator 6 is not at all intimidating; the interface is simple and built on basic, intuitive tools, and the Quick Start section of the users' manual (25 pages) gets the new user up and running in less than an hour. Loading the software is easy, and once loaded, the first window offers users the option of opening a new document or a saved file. Opening "new document" leads to a simple page featuring a scroll bar, page list, and toolbox.

Tools from the toolbox create such objects as the text box, video, picture, button, and headline box, as well as dynamic tools that create animation paths, bump maps, and active documents. Pages are constructed by clicking and dragging these objects onto the main window. Simply clicking on the page list allows users to add and rename additional pages instantly. So, without dealing with page links or dynamic items, users can design the essential structure of each page quickly and without much design know-how.

The Events Dialog window opens with a right click on any object on the page. This window creates dynamism in the document, enabling the user to link pages, activate videos and sound, animate objects, and perform myriad other activities. The Events Dialog consists of two icon-driven menus (see figure). On the left side are all of the possible mouse-driven "events" that can happen to any object (for example, mouse clicks). Across the top of the window are "actions" that are triggered by the stated event. For example, an event such as a mouse click may take you to another page, launch a sound, or create an e-mail. Users simply drag and drop events and actions together into the active field, specifying by doing so what should happen to the given object. One event can have multiple associated actions; for instance, clicking a button can trigger a picture to appear and sound to play.

Within the Events Dialog are more than 200 special effects that can be applied to any action, including zooms, fades, and scrolling. The window previews every effect so that users can select one without first having to apply it to a particular document. These effects are useful (in moderation), and users control the duration and speed of each effect. However, navigating through the many effects is quite time-consuming for anyone not already familiar with how scrolls and fades—not to mention drapes, waves, and sponges—will look on a screen.

Creating animations in Mediator 6 is relatively easy following a set of straightforward instructions in the manual. Likewise, users can insert hotspots (an area that reacts to events on its own), build polygonic shapes, and apply bump maps for textured 3D effects. One thing to keep in mind is that while the drag and drop toolbar makes these tasks simple, no software package can teach a person design. One drawback to making multimedia easy is that users with no artistic sensibility will be tempted to design beyond their capabilities. Artistically challenged users may benefit more from the included Multimedia Catalog which provides templates to simplify the design process, as well as a collection of photos, backgrounds, and button styles.

Mediator lets users test run any page or entire document simply by clicking Test on the scroll bar. Editing pages is also easy—users can use the Edit function or simply highlight and delete icons and objects.

The program makes distribution of multimedia presentations relatively easy, providing several delivery options, including diskette, CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, e-mailed .exe file, screen saver, and DHTML (for Web pages). Recipients of the document don't need to have Mediator installed to be able to view it.

New to Mediator is an online teacher's forum developed for teachers who use the product. At the site they will be able to interact with other teachers who use Mediator as well as with MatchWare staff members.

The well-written users' manual (400 pages) includes the above-mentioned Quick Start Guide and a thorough index. Both the manual and on-screen Help Menu provide a reference list of terms, organized by topics such as tools and objects, events, and actions. This organizational strategy can be frustrating for the uninitiated who don't know an action from an event, but most novice users will find that Mediator enables them to experiment with presentations and Web sites in ways they never thought possible.

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