Proprietary Software


I'm not sure if this is the best place to ask this question, so sorry if it isn't. I've been using Articulate for a while to produce elearning materials for students at a university. After years of working solo, I'm beginning to get other people interested in producing such materials. Inevitably, the question of being locked into proprietary software has come up: if we decide to use software like Articulate, are we becoming too tied to something which may become obsolete (not necessarily likely) or which the university may stop supporting (a much more likely scenario). When using software, I usually make a conscious decision not to lock myself into a format which is proprietary or which doesn't have allow content to be exported to other non-proprietary formats. So I guess I'm asking whether other people have been asked this question when deciding to use Articulate and how they answered it. 

(I'm not talking about exporting to Word, and I'm not aware of any elearning software that has the kind of migration I'm talking about, so this isn't a critique of Articulate). 

8 Replies
Nancy Woinoski

I don't think Articulate is considered proprietary software. Although it is not open source, it is commercially available to anyone who wants to purchase it.  My definition of proprietary, and correct me if I'm wrong, is a software solution that has been developed in house by a company and is not commercially available to anyone else. In this case, if the company creates a course for you they are the only ones who can maintain/revise it.  If they created the course in something like Presenter or Storyline then anyone who has the software could maintain it.

In this regard, Storyline is no different than Word which is also a commercially available software package.

If you don't use a commercial software package for development then I am not sure what you would use.

Joseph Flanagan


Sorry, I wasn't being clear. I meant to say a proprietary format, which I understand as meaning that a file that can only be opened by one or more related programs (and, yes, I consider Word to be a proprietary format, and I tend to avoid it as much as possible). Consider something like outlining programs that can export to plain text, rich text, Word, or OPML. The idea is that you're not locked into a particular program if, for some reason, you decide to move to another platform later. I think all e-learning software is like this, so I'm not complaining about Articulate. But the question I need a good answer to is this:  "So if we start developing e-learning courses with this software, doesn't that mean we are more or less "locked into" into a particular vender because we can't export it?" 

Steve Flowers

As far as I know all eLearning development tools will employ some kind of specific / proprietary source format. The only alternative at this point is going with a hand-coded HTML output. Source formats tend to be locked down for a variety of reasons. Mostly because tools and tool makers have very specific operational requirements as an enabler for designed functionality. It would be difficult to come up with a common format for all tool makers that didn't restrict functionality and choke the market. 

I would love to see a portable (importable / exportable) content cartridge that would be interpreted by different packages and work with minimal effort. I doubt it will happen But we can dream.

I guess it's about trade-offs. Some software packages offer fantastic advantages even if the file formats are proprietary. If I was working in an environment that has already integrated Word into the workflow, for example (which I am), it might be unwise for me to resist using that tool out of principle. Likewise, if I gain significant productive advantage using an eLearning development tool, it might be unwise to elect using something significantly less productive out of the same principle.

One thing to consider with eLearning outputs is the lifecycle of your content. If you end up rebuilding assets every few years, it's quite likely the lifecycle of your tool will refresh less often than the refresh of your content. In my experience, shops also tend to keep a version of the tool on-hand for maintenance purposes. 


Joseph Flanagan

Thanks for the comments. I probably worded the post incorrectly. It probably should have been entitled, "Help me sell Articulate to my university/business etc." As I said, I've been using Articulate products since 09 first came out. I've being working alone, and I wouldn't be promoting it to others if I didn't think it was a good product. However, moving from a personal use of software to a more institutional one raises a different set of questions and issues, including answering objections that the use of any kind of commercial software (and, yes, that includes all elearning software) locks us to a particular vendor and commits us to purchasing future versions of the software if we don't want to simply abandon what we've already done. It's one thing if that software has always been supported (e.g., Office). But there's no precedent for supporting elearning development tools, so one of the issues here is whether we should be using any commercial software tools for this purpose in the first place. This question might just reflect the unique situation I'm in: I'm talking about use within a university rather than a business or as a tool for a freelancer, and I'm not part of the IT department but a subject. Again, thanks for the comments. 

Phil Mayor

I may be missing the point, but unless you are going to build your own HTML or flash courses (ignoring the fact that flash is an adobe owned format) and have no intention of building your own software, if you want to build elearning you are going to have to use a tool of some description and at that point if you wish to continue to update that product you need to use that tool.

I don't think working in a University makes your situation unique, I know of many universities that use articulate, captivate, lectora, studio etc.  These organisations have all made a business decisions based on the risks associated with using a particular tool, you are not committed to purchasing further tools from a vendor as your current tool will update the course you have built, unless of course you want new features that a new version supports.

I am also aware to companies and universities that have converted projects from Storyline to Captivate and vice versa as their development needs have progressed.

I would say you need a business case for using one tool over another for your situation and skill set or perhaps I missed the point.

Kate Hoelscher

We have had this issue; when we change products, we have had to completely remake a considerable number of modules.  We do this as requests to change old ones come up, but it is always a huge push on our team when we do change software.  It is also difficult/time consuming to convert one to another, depending on the software.  Business case: you need software to build, and we recommended Storyline for a multitude of reasons.  When looking at software, I always try to consider the cost of the software as well as the staffing to convert modules.

Bruce Graham


If you show the value of using the product, in terms that the administration understands, (reduced-costs, increased students learning etc.), they are less likely to pull the plug.

Universities are increasingly run as businesses - you are not alone in having to make a decision based on costs vs. benefits.

All software has this sort of question attached to it - and as @Steve rightly says...."trade-offs".

In my world that is called a Business Case.