Linda and Erick Von Schweber
[ This review was originally published in 1996. Updated information is enclosed within brackets. ]
Developers of CBT applications who seek a powerful but easy-to-use Windows-based authoring environment should take a serious look at Intersystem Concepts' $4,395 Everest Authoring System 1.5 [ Version 2.3 pricing ranges from $1995 to $3395. ]. As far as CBT environments go, Everest--a Windows 3.1 application that also plays back on Windows 95--features strong multimedia support, enough object orientation to improve your productivity over competing products, and great tech support. [ Windows versions from 3.1 to XP are supported. ]
Everest's nearly seamless multiparadigmatic approach includes such features as visual programming with icons, direct manipulation of interface elements, and procedural programming. Everest has successfully integrated these elements, making applications development easier.
The Everest development environment opens with multiple views of your application. Supporting all these paradigms takes up screen real estate, so we suggest running Everest at a minimum of 1,024 by 768 pixels. The display includes Visual-Screen (which shows what your audience will see), the IconScript window of program icons, Attributes windows, the Toolset window, the Apex program editor, an excellent debugger, a Variables window, and the Everest main menu bar. You may want to consider running display resolution at 1,280 by 1,024 pixels!
In Everest's application creation, you start off with a library and name an initial screen. Dragging a Layout object icon from the Toolset onto that screen provides the basis for your first screen. The Layout object, visible as an icon on the IconScript, also occupies the Attributes window, in which you can choose a background color or bitmap, select a screen size, and specify up to 34 more properties.
Next you can drag interface and media object icons onto the screen: list and combo boxes, edit boxes, text displays, bitmap placeholders, sliders and gauges, buttons of all types, video and audio, OLE, and animation. You can move these objects around, visually resize them, and set their properties by clicking on them in either the VisualScreen or the IconScript; doing so selects an object and opens it in the Attributes window. And you can leave the placeholder objects empty or specify their contents immediately.
Everest's object orientation, which supports object instancing but not subclassing, increases developers' productivity. For example, as part of the PC Labs test application, we dragged a button object, dropped it in the VisualScreen, and sized it for use as a Back control button to return to previous screens. In the Attributes window we named it, set the bitmaps used for pressed and released, and assigned it an "event code"--in this case, 33-- that it would generate when pressed. And we did all this simply with drag-and-drop, point-and-click, and fill-in-the-blank.
Then came the fun part. In the Attributes window, we set Save as Object to true. On the next screen, we dragged in another button off the Toolset. With one simple choice off a pull-down menu in the Attributes window, we made this new button an instance of the Back button that we saved as object, and the newly created button inherited all its properties.
Once your screen design satisfies you, Everest has provided an easy method of scripting navigation and control flow. Drag a Wait icon (the center of control for each Everest screen) from the toolbar and drop it into the VisualScreen. Consider the opening menu of the PC Labs test application. Event codes of 33, 34, -101, -102, -103, and -104 were assigned to the buttons for Back, Main Menu, Forward, Tell Me More, Test My Knowledge, and Let Me Buy, respectively. Using the Attributes window, we entered actions for each of these event codes; for example, we associated the action BRANCH @prev--a function that transfers program control to the previous screen--with the 33-event code that the Back button generated.
To implement drag-and-drop for the matching quiz, we had to drag a program icon to the IconFlow and open an edit window, in which we entered A-pex-language statements. An excellent debugger supports this straightforward scripting, and a Variables window acts like a microscope into an executing application.
We did find a bug, however. We could drag and drop a picture object without any problem, but when we tried to drag a button object, the system refused to identify it. A call to tech support confirmed the bug. The next day we received a patch disk from Intersystem Concepts, and soon we were dragging and dropping buttons with aplomb. This unusual tech support greatly benefits the professional developer.
Overall, Everest offers a charming environment in which to create CBT applications. Additional modules from third-party vendors can infuse Everest with data-handling facilities to access databases and utilize rich text format. (The base product can access only its proprietary database, which can read to and write text files.) The technical support of Intersystem Concepts ranks with the best, and the hands-on tutorial builds confidence quickly, although the adequate documentation could use more depth and better indexing. For single-platform applications, though, Everest should definitely make your list.
Everest Authoring System 1.5
List price: $4,395 (or $239 per month for a subscription). [ Now $1995 to $3395. ]
Requires: 386/25-based PC or better, 4MB RAM, 8MB hard disk space, Microsoft Windows 3.1 or later, VGA card.
In short: Everest is an easy-to-use tool that needs little or no traditional programming to create sophisticated CBT and kiosk applications.
Intersystem Concepts Inc., Columbia, MD; 410-531-9000; fax, 301-854-9426.
Power Ease Interactive title development Good Good Computer-based training (CBT) Excellent Excellent Interactive catalogs/kiosks Fair Good Web authoring N/A N/A
N/A--Not applicable: The product does not have this feature. [ Web capabilities did not appear in Everest until version 2.0. ]