We recently got a couple of new products with tutorials made with Camtasia. This is a program that’s just about perfect for creating instructional videos. It lets you string together a series of screen shots, like making a movie without a camera.

There’s a wide range of uses for this sort of

program. One is creating tutorials for other software. But it quickly becomes obvious that if you can create a tutorial on how to use a computer program, you can create one for just about anything: how to repair a washing machine, assemble equipment, build a garage or do a chemistry experiment. And in fact, the program is commonly used to create these kinds of instructional videos. It could also be used to create a book.

Camtasia has been around a long time, but the newly released Camtasia Studio 2 lets the viewer interact with the show. The key to this is the creation of “”action hot spots.”” Spots on the screen can be assigned to trigger some action. Move the mouse pointer to that spot, click on the button, and you are taken to another sequence of screen shots, text or even a full-motion video, complete with voice and music.

You can add your own voice to any screen or sequence, and since the program allows two-track audio, you can add background music as well. Callouts can be typed in to illustrate a photo that needs more explanation. “”Callouts”” are what page layout people call short pieces of text connected to a line pointing at something in the photo, like labeling the zoom button on a picture of a digital camera. Almost all editing is drag-and-drop, as they say: Click the mouse on an image or sound or piece of text and drag it into place on the screen.

If the subject you want to explain is too large for the screen – a map, for example – you can pan across it. If you zoom in on a section of the map, a small window in a corner of the screen shows where you are on the whole map. This feature allows you to handle very large images that can be displayed even on a small laptop if handled as a series of zooms.

When the instructional video is all done it can be saved to disk, tape or the Web in any of the popular formats and then published. Camtasia Studio is $399 and runs on Windows XP or 2000 for authoring; playback can be done on any Win 95 and up machine. Win 95 and 98 users who want to create instructional videos can do that with earlier versions of Camtasia, which, as is typically the case with software, are much cheaper.

A REALLY USEFUL UTILITY

PowerDesk is our favorite multipurpose utility, a jack-of-all-trades for managing files, sending e-mail and in general customizing the PC. It can substitute for Windows Explorer, but it does more and is easier to use.

The new Pro 5 version adds routines for handling digital images and MP3 music files. In fact, you can use it to view any image or listen to any MP3 file you click on. The new version also adds colour coding for files. Mark categories of files with a color and spot them quickly as you browse.

We can’t overemphasize how useful this program is. It’s a breeze to use and we use it several times a week. You can almost instantly zip and unzip large files for e-mailing, and make those files self-extracting so the person on the other hand doesn’t go nuts trying to figure out how to open it; just double-click it.

PowerDesk Pro 5 is $40 from the maker, V Communications Inc. (www.v-com.com), and the price is the same whether you download it or order the disk. There’s a free trial version at the site, but it does not have all the features of the one you can buy.

BOOKS

“”How to Do Everything With Microsoft Digital Image Pro 9″” by David Plotkin; $25, Osborne/McGraw-Hill (www.osborne.com).

There are dozens of image editing programs available now, but Digital Image Pro was one of the very best we saw last year. This book tells you how to get the most out of it.

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