Adobe Captivate Basic Troubleshooting Techniques

In a previous (teenage) life I worked as a technician repairing and servicing domestic electrical appliances. It was there I first learned how to troubleshoot technical issues. Most of the time it just boils down to eliminating all possible causes until you find the one/s triggering the issue.  It’s not rocket science; just a process of elimination.  After a while the diagnostic process speeds up because you know most of the common causes and might even know instantly as soon as you hear the telltale symptoms.

Similarly, some basic troubleshooting tips apply to just about any Captivate issue you need to debug. In the thousands of posts I’ve logged on the Adobe Captivate Forum I often find myself following the same diagnostic process of elimination I used when fixing washing machines and refrigerators back in my teens. This section gives you a quick apprenticeship in Captivate troubleshooting techniques that every Captivate user should know about.

Easy Troubleshooting Techniques

These tips cost nothing, in most cases take only seconds or moments to perform, and have saved my bacon more times than I can count.

1. Start with the most likely causes

Of all the possible causes for an issue, there is usually one that stands out as most likely. Start with this one and work through to the most unlikely ones.  Don’t waste time exploring things that rarely turn out to be the cause if there are more likely candidates staring you in the face.

2. Simplify the project to isolate the issue

Very often a user will be unable to debug some baffling issue in a big complex project…largely because it IS a big complex project. The larger the number of slides and components, the harder it becomes to know where an issue might be lurking. If you cut out the complexity, the issue may be easier to discern and thereby become easier to debug. For example, when you publish a project, any hidden slides and their associated objects do not get published in the final output.
So a common debugging trick I use is to make a copy of a problematic project (just in case you make unforeseen changes to the project file that render it unusable) and then hide or delete half the slides to see if this resolves the issue. If hiding half the slides resolves the issue is resolved, then the cause of the issue was likely to be located somewhere in the hidden half of the project. Then you concentrate on that suspect half of the project and hide or delete half of it again. Using this simple process of elimination you can often narrow down the problem to a specific slide.
If you can isolate the cause to a given slide, then start deleting objects or just deselecting the Visibility setting of objects on that slide to use the same process of elimination. As opposed to hiding an entire slide, setting the Visibility of an object to off will still mean that it gets published along with the rest of the project. However, it will be effectively disabled. So this is a way to locate any object or group of objects that might be causing the issue.
An alternative method of removing an object from a slide for debugging purposes to test whether or not it is causing some issue is just to drag it off into the scrap area outside the slide boundaries.  Objects located entirely in the scrap area are not published with the project.

3. Try to replicate the issue in a new project file

If you’ve been working on an issue that defies explanation, try creating a brand new Captivate project file and see if you can replicate the issue there.  Sometimes you’ll find that a new project does NOT suffer the same issue.  You can then stop blaming Captivate and start scrutinising the specific project file, which may have become corrupted in some way. If so, it might be a good idea to transfer slides over to a new project file rather than risk further corruption that could result in a project you cannot open or edit.

4. Copy and paste slides to reset object IDs

Copying slides from one project to another causes Captivate to rename all copied objects with new unique Item Names. These are the unique IDs that Captivate uses to track objects internally.  If for any reason your issue is due to duplication of these IDs (which can cause project file corruption) then copying the objects will often resolve it because it forces Captivate to recreate the object references. Copying slides from one project to another also strips out any Advanced Actions attached to those objects. This can remove another cause of project corruption, though it will also mean you need to recreate your Advanced Actions and User Variables in the new project file.  Sometimes this takes less time than struggling to restore a corrupted project file.

5. Don’t just Preview. Publish completely!

I wish I had a dollar for every question where someone on the forum has been expressing frustration with Captivate because something is not working as expected and it turned out they were hitting F10 and previewing the next 5 slides, not publishing the entire project. F3 will only play the slide timeline of the slide you are currently viewing.  And this won’t show you how everything will look at runtime, especially if you have Effects on any objects.  Some things will ONLY work properly if you publish completely. For example, click boxes or buttons set to Jump to Slide will ONLY work if you publish completely or use F12 to Preview In Web Browser.  So if something isn’t working, but you’re only actually previewing, try publishing out completely.

6. Use the Force Republish Option

Cp5 added a new check box on the Publish dialog to Force re-publish all the slides.  By default this box is NOT checked, which means Captivate only republishes slides that have been changed in some way and re-uses previously cached publish files for all other slides.  This does effectively speed up publishing times significantly.  However, it can occasionally mean some changes don’t get detected, which can cause some things to stop working. So, ticking this box on the Publish dialog forces Captivate to republish all slides regardless of whether or not they were changed.
Another issue area in Captivate where force republish can work wonders is for ‘ghost lines’ that can sometimes appear in screen-captured output. This has been a long-standing problem in Cp for several versions, but many users find that just ticking this box and forcing Cp to republish all slides in the project can work wonders at removing those annoying lines. (Turning off all compression options also helps too.) Unfortunately, the setting doesn’t ‘stick’, so you need to remember to do it occasionally.  You should always use force republish for the final publish of any output.

7. Clear out your project cache

Captivate 5 wasn’t just a normal update from Cp4. Under the hood it was totally rebuilt from the ground up to rely a lot more on XML technologies. Adobe added an Adobe Captivate Cached Projects folder inside the user’s My Documents folder. Captivate uses the Project Cache to store data while working on project files.  Adobe also uses this cache to speed up publishing times for Cp projects. The cache maintains separate folders for each Captivate project currently being edited, and inside these folders are zillions of small files that control every aspect of every object in the project.
This cache folder can eventually accumulate several gigabytes of files and cause Captivate to become unstable, causing all manner of issues. So you need to clean out the cache from time to time. In fact, Adobe recommends you clear your cache after completing each project and before you begin the next one.

There are a number of precautionary steps you can take to set up your Captivate working environment and thereby avoid many common issues.  One of these steps involves changing the default locations of your Project Cache folder.  You are well-advised to take this action.

Never use Windows Explorer or the MAC Finder tool to delete the files in the cache folder while Captivate is open or you may crash the program. The recommended method is to use the Clear Cache button under Edit > Preferences > General section.  

8. Reset Captivate preferences

One of the most common ‘fixes’ for a wide array of issues entails renaming or deleting a specific hidden folder buried deep within your user profile.  This folder happens to be the one that stores all of the data relevant to the options you select under Preferences and Workspaces inside Captivate.  Unfortunately, Captivate’s preference data seems to be easily corrupted, leading to a wide variety of issues.

The Preferences folder is not named ‘Preferences’!

The Captivate preferences folder is not that easy to find on your computer because files in your user profile are hidden by default. And even when you DO find it, it’s not actually named ‘Preferences’ at all, but instead is named after the installed version of Captivate. This naming irregularity confuses the heck out of newbie Captivate users directed to kill this folder in the hope of resolving some annoying issue.  Typically they go looking for a folder specifically named ‘Preferences’ and cannot find it. Frustration quickly ensues.
  • To find the elusive Preferences folder, here’s what you need to do:

Show all hidden files and folders – Files in your PC user profile are normally hidden from view to prevent you from inadvertently deleting something essential, thus rendering you incapable of logging into your own computer.  So, in order to locate your Captivate Preferences folder you need to make a change to default system settings and show these hidden files or folders.  If your PC is not already set up this way, we cover this step in more detail in the chapter on setting up your computer to work with Captivate.

Close down Captivate – You cannot rename or delete the preferences folder while Captivate is currently open.  So, close down Captivate before performing the next steps.

Navigate to the Preferences folder in your user profile – Your user profile path to the preferences folder will vary depending on your specific computer operating system. (In paths shown below for Cp6, replace [user] with your own profile name.)

  • WinXP: C:\Documents and Settings\[user]\Local Settings\Application Data\Adobe\Captivate [version#]
  • WinVista / Win7: C:\Users\[user]\AppData\Local\Adobe\Adobe Captivate [version#]
  • Apple MAC: /Users/[user]/Library/Preferences/Adobe Captivate [version#]
Rename or delete the preferences folder – As mentioned above, the preferences folder is NOT named ‘preferences’. In the example paths above, the Adobe Captivate [version#] folder IS the preferences folder. Once you’ve found that folder, all you need to do now is delete it. Alternatively, if you’re one of those commendably cautious people that never feels right about deleting things, just rename the folder to something else (e.g. add OLD to the end as I have done in the screenshot shown below). If you are using Adobe Captivate 7.0.1 or later then you may also need to rename another folder as well. This folder is found at: C:\Users\[your name]\AppData\Roaming\Captivate
What happens next is that when you re-launch Captivate again it will notice the missing preferences folder and create a nice fresh (uncorrupted) new one for you.  If your issue was due to corrupted preferences, then it should now be resolved.  (If it’s not resolved, at least you’re one step closer to finding the real reason.) Please be aware that killing the preferences file, as described above, will mean you lose any customizations you may have made to preferences or workspaces when Captivate defaults back to original installation settings.  But that’s usually a small price to pay for getting back a fully functional working app that enables you to meet that looming deadline.

Tip: Use the CleanPreferencesWin.bat file to do it quicker!
With all Captivate 6 and later versions Adobe now provides an easier way to reset preferences via a special file named CleanPreferencesWin.bat which is located in a the utils directory found inside the Captivate install folder under Program Files.
Just close down Captivate and execute the CleanPreferencesWin.bat file at this location to reset your preferences folder in a matter of a second or two.  Some users that experience this issue often even set up a custom shortcut on their desktop!

9. Step away from the issue!

If you’ve been banging your head against some issue for hours without success, walk away from it and do something else for a while.  You may have become so close to the issue that you cannot see something obvious.  I like to play my guitar, go for a walk, go for a coffee, or go to the toilet. (You’d be amazed how many times I’ve found inspiration in the ‘smallest room of the house’.)

10. Ask someone else for advice

Again, if you’re too close to the issue to see the solution, ask another person unrelated to the problem for their input.  Many times they will hit on the reason because they don’t share your perspective. If you don’t have another developer in your team, log a question on the Adobe Captivate User Forum.  In most cases you’ll get a reply within hours, sometimes within minutes. However, if you DO expect someone else to help you, please note the next suggestion…

11. Give detailed info about the issue

Effective troubleshooting is based on accurate information, otherwise it’s just guesswork.  So if you’re trying to debug an issue for another user, you need to know everything they know about the issue and its context.  It’s often just some minor detail that reveals the underlying cause or causes.  Conversely, if you ever log an issue on the Captivate forum, it will greatly increase your chances of finding a solution if you provide the helpful people there with some basic information.

Typical things you need to know or provide include:

  • Captivate version and whether or not all recent patches or updates have been installed.
  • Whether the computer is PC or MAC and what OS version it’s running.
  • Web browser version (if published content is playing in browser).
  • Flash Player version/s installed.
  • Playback source (CD-ROM, LAN, local hard drive, LMS).
  • If the published folder location is NOT on a web server, whether or not it has been added as a trusted location in Flash Global Security.  (This accounts for a huge number of issues.)
  • If content is delivered from an LMS, which LMS, LMS version.
  • If using an LMS, which integration technology (AICC, SCORM, or Tin Can) and version.

People often post questions on the Captivate forum without any of this information. The more information supplied, the more likely someone can help resolve your issue.

12. Read the user help doco!

And last but not least….when all else has failed and you’ve wasted far too much time searching for answers, do what you should have done when you first installed the application: Read the user help files documentation!

As someone who spent a number of years working in the software industry as a Technical Writer (before becoming an e-learning developer) I can tell you that most people neglect this basic step in learning about the application they just purchased, or where told by their boss to use.  

Large companies never expect their employees to just ‘pick up’ a new business application by playing around with it.  But many newbie Captivate developers somehow expect that they will have no issues by doing exactly that.  They don’t invest in any training (beyond watching a few YouTube videos) and they neglect to look up or download the Adobe Captivate HELP documentation.  The inevitable result is that they strike issues and then label Captivate as not being ‘user-friendly’.

Captivate does have some areas where its usability could certainly be improved.  But it’s never going to be completely idiot-proof.