Multimedia Authoring Systems FAQ
Version 2.23
4 April 1999


This FAQ addresses the authoring system questions of multimedia developers who monitor comp.multimedia; however, it is not a comprehensive FAQ for the newsgroup.

 Plaintext version for downloading.

Polish Version -- translated and maintained by Pawel Olszewski at Multimedia Club.


1. What is an Authoring System?

2. Why would anyone want to use an authoring system?

3. What is an authoring paradigm?

4. What is the Scripting paradigm?

5. What is the Iconic/Flow Control paradigm?

6. What is the Frame paradigm?

7. What is the Card/Scripting paradigm?

8. What is the Cast/Score/Scripting paradigm?

9. What is the Hierarchical Object paradigm?

10. What is the Hypermedia Linkage paradigm?

11. What is the Tagging paradigm?

12. What is an Authoring Suite?

13. Can I develop all of my material in the authoring system?

14. What is the best authoring system?

15. Given that my subject matter is <>, my delivery platform is <>, and my design specifies <>, which authoring system should I use?

16. What are the names of some authoring systems?

16. What print magazines deal with authoring systems?

17. What books deal with authoring systems?

18. What software titles deal with authoring systems?

19. What USENET newsgroups deal with authoring systems?

20. What Independent WebSites deal with authoring systems?


1. What is an Authoring System?

An Authoring System is a program which has pre-programmed elements for the development of interactive multimedia software titles. Authoring systems vary widely in orientation, capabilities, and learning curve. There is no such thing (at this time) as a completely point-and-click automated authoring system; some knowledge of heuristic thinking and algorithm design is necessary. Whether you realize it or not, authoring is actually just a speeded-up form of programming; you don't need to know the intricacies of a programming language, or worse, an API, but you do need to understand how programs work.

2. Why would anyone want to use an authoring system?

It generally takes about 1/8th the time to develop an interactive multimedia project, such as a CBT program, in an authoring system as opposed to programming it in compiled code. This means 1/8 the cost of programmer time and likely increased re-use of code (assuming that you pass this project's code to the next CBT project, and they use a similar or identical authoring system). However, the content creation (graphics, text, video, audio, animation, etc.) is not generally affected by the choice of an authoring system; any production time gains here result from accelerated prototyping, not from the choice of an authoring system over a compiled language.

3. What is an authoring paradigm?

Also known as the authoring metaphor, this is the methodology by which the authoring system accomplishes its task. There are various paradigms, including:

4. What is the Scripting paradigm?

The Scripting paradigm is the authoring method closest in form to traditional programming. The paradigm is that of a programming language, which specifies (by filename) multimedia elements, sequencing, hotspots, synchronization, etc. A powerful, object-oriented scripting language is usually the centerpiece of such a system; in-program editing of elements (still graphics, video, audio, etc.) tends to be minimal or non-existent. Scripting languages do vary; check out how much the language is object-based or object-oriented. The scripting paradigm tends to be longer in development time (it takes longer to code an individual interaction), but generally more powerful interactivity is possible. Since most Scripting languages are interpreted, instead of compiled, the runtime speed gains over other authoring methods are minimal. The media handling can vary widely; check out your system with your contributing package formats carefully.

5. What is the Iconic/Flow Control paradigm?

This tends to be the speediest (in development time) authoring style; it is best suited for rapid prototyping and short-development time projects. Many of these tools are also optimized for developing Computer-Based Training (CBT). The core of the paradigm is the Icon Palette, containing the possible functions/interactions of a program, and the Flow Line, which shows the actual links between the icons. These programs tend to be the slowest runtimes, because each interaction carries with it all of its possible permutations; the higher end packages, such as Authorware or IconAuthor, are extremely powerful and suffer least from runtime speed problems.

6. What is the Frame paradigm?

The Frame paradigm is similar to the Iconic/Flow Control paradigm in that it usually incorporates an icon palette; however, the links drawn between icons are conceptual and do not always represent the actual flow of the program. This is a very fast development system, but requires a good auto-debugging function, as it is visually un-debuggable. The best of these have bundled compiled-language scripting, such as Quest (whose scripting language is C) or Apple Media Kit.

7. What is the Card/Scripting paradigm?

The Card/Scripting paradigm provides a great deal of power (via the incorporated scripting language) but suffers from the index-card structure. It is excellently suited for Hypertext applications, and supremely suited for navigation intensive (a la Cyan's "MYST" game) applications. Such programs are easily extensible via XCMDs and DLLs; they are widely used for shareware applications. The best applications allow all objects (including individual graphic elements) to be scripted; many entertainment applications are prototyped in a card/scripting system prior to compiled-language coding.

8. What is the Cast/Score/Scripting paradigm?

The Cast/Score/Scripting paradigm uses a music score as its primary authoring metaphor; the synchronous elements are shown in various horizontal "tracks" with simultaneity shown via the vertical columns. The true power of this metaphor lies in the ability to script the behavior of each of the cast members. The most popular member of this paradigm is Director, which is used in the creation of many commercial applications. These programs are best suited for animation-intensive or synchronized media applications; they are easily extensible to handle other functions (such as hypertext) via XOBJs, XCMDs, and DLLs.

9. What is the Hierarchical Object paradigm?
The Hierarchical Object paradigm uses a object metaphor (like OOP) which is visually represented by embedded objects and iconic properties. Although the learning curve is non-trivial, the visual representation of objects can make very complicated constructions possible.

10. What is the Hypermedia Linkage paradigm?

The Hypermedia Linkage paradigm is similar to the Frame paradigm in that it shows conceptual links between elements; however, it lacks the Frame paradigm's visual linkage metaphor.

11. What is the Tagging paradigm?

The Tagging paradigm uses tags in text files (for instance, SGML/HTML, VRML, 3DML and WinHelp) to link pages, provide interactivity and integrate multimedia elements.

12. What is an Authoring Suite?

Currently, an authoring suite is a single program that combines multiple authoring and tracking views, as well as pre-authoring, instructional design, and project management functions. The current offerings in this type of tool are optimized for CBT production, and include BGW Multimédia's Tactic! or Allen Communications' Manager's Edge

13. Can I develop all of my material in the authoring system?

Yes, but you probably shouldn't. Although most packages allow you to create content using their in-built tools, these tend to be rudimentary when compared with those available in dedicated programs. For more professional output, you should use software dedicated to the creation and editing of that medium, and then import/integrate the content into your multimedia program.

Major content-development packages are likely to include:

14. What is the best authoring system?

This is the most impossible question you could ask. It's like asking what's the best hammer -- it depends upon the job you're trying to do, and sometimes (like when you're working on plumbing), there is no answer. Qualify your question, and there'll be a prayer of answering it.

15. Given that my subject matter is <>, my delivery platform is <>, and my design specifies <>, which authoring system should I use?

This is a question an authoring specialist can answer (just as soon as you fill in the blanks, and add any other qualifying data).

16. What are the names of some authoring systems?

Players require authoring on a "full" platform, then a port to the player platform.

DOS Authoring Systems:

Macintosh Authoring Systems:

NeXT Authoring Systems:

OS/2 Authoring Systems:

Solaris Authoring Systems:

Windows Authoring Systems:

Windows NT Authoring Systems:

UNIX Authoring Systems:

WWW-capable Multimedia Authoring Systems:

Platform-independent (Java, JavaScript) Authoring Systems:

17. What print magazines deal with authoring systems?

18. What books deal with authoring systems?

Additional book pointers are collected at:

19. What software titles deal with authoring systems?

20. What USENET newsgroups deal with authoring systems?

21. What Independent WebSites deal with authoring systems?


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