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MAEstro helps students become multimedia authors

STANFORD -- Forget term papers. College students of the '90s will turn in term disks-- and at some colleges, they will include much more than text.

A political science student will be able to splice both TV and newspaper clips into his analysis of the August '91 attempted coup in Moscow. A film major's study of Charlie Chaplin will combine video clips from old movies with music from a CD player, text gleaned from an online archive and the student's own voice-over recording.

Thanks to MAEstro, a software protocol developed by Stanford programmer George Drapeau, any student can be a multimedia computer author -- blending any software applications and any hardware that can be controlled by a UNIX-based workstation.

On Tuesday, Oct. 15, Drapeau is introducing MAEstro as "freeware," available to all users of UNIX operating systems. Oct. 16 though 19, he will demonstrate it at Educom, the educational computing conference in San Diego. He estimates that like Stanford, several hundred colleges and universities offer students some access to computer workstations. He's hoping to make students across the nation into multimedia authors.

Drapeau is the MAEstro project leader in the Academic Software Development Group of Stanford's Libraries and Information Resources. The group develops computer-based tools for classroom and research use. He designed the software package with financial and technical support from Sun Microsystems, the nation's largest manufacturer of computer workstations, though the program can be used in any UNIX environment.

The name MAEstro stands for "Multimedia Authoring Environment." MAEstro allows computer applications to communicate with one another. Programmers can use it to instruct the software that provides graphics and text or controls a video player. As a result, users can work with all the applications at the same time. Students can create multimedia projects that their professors can grade by typing -- or audio taping -- their comments onto the disk. Faculty can make multimedia presentations for classes and lectures.

To demonstrate MAEstro's versatility, Drapeau has set up a system on his office desk including a Sun Sparcstation 2 computer workstation, a microphone, a laserdisc player and TV screen, a CD-ROM player for music and data, and stereo speakers.

Using a mouse to manipulate icons, he brings in a passage of text from one of the literary works available online to users of Stanford's computer network. He uses a computer video editor to mark off a segment of video, chooses a passage of music, records a voice commentary with the microphone, and types in the good old-fashioned text and titles needed for any student report.

Using a slide-bar display called the Timeline Editor, he designates how each segment will overlap the others in time. From the user's point of view, the whole process is less complex than using the combined word processing/spreadsheet/data base programs available for personal computers.

The result plays back on the computer screen and the speakers: a multimedia production combining video, sound, text and graphics.

"This is not professional production quality," Drapeau said, adding that it wasn't intended to be. "The whole emphasis is to provide a simple tool for students and professors.

"Because it's simple, we hope it will encourage students to be more ambitious about the kinds of work they'll try to create," he said. "Instead of thinking about the tools, they'll think about the task."Drapeau said he aimed to make MAEstro "extensible" -- adaptable to change.

"Multimedia is changing so quickly, it's a moving target," he said -- new ways of combining computer-controlled devices are being developed all the time.

For example, a plug-in card that has been available for less than two months allows him to display video pictures on the computer monitor rather than on a second TV screen. In the future, users will be able to transmit video images over computer networks -- TV "hardware" will be replaced by software.

College computer labs that do not have video or audio hardware can still use MAEstro to combine any applications available on disk or over a network.

"Students will still be working with a rich environment," Drapeau said.

Why not seek a patent for MAEstro instead of making it available as freeware? Two reasons, Drapeau said.

First, freeware is a tradition among UNIX users. Second, by making MAEstro available to other universities, he hopes to attract co- developers -- other programmers who will add new applications no one has thought of so far. And he hopes to learn ways to improve the program from students and professors across the country as they start adapting multimedia for their own use.

"If we were to sell it, I don't think we would get that kind of response," Drapeau said.


USERS: To obtain a copy of MAEstro via Internet, contact sioux.stanford.edu via anonymous ftp.

The project's E-mail address is: Maestro@sioux.stanford.edu. Or write via U.S. mail: George Drapeau, MAEstro project, Sweet Hall, Room 300, Stanford, CA 94305-3090.


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