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Time for Your Productivity to Soar on Mac or PC? These Video Training Sites Give You Wings!

When New York Times’ tech columnist David Pogue created a series of “How-to” guides for the Mac in 2002, the title he chose for the O’Reilly publications bare a not-so-subtle truth.  Pogue dubbed his series “The Missing Manual” since the Apple Computer products that you, a family member or a colleague, may have plunked down close to four figures to “unbox” did not come with an “Owner’s Manual.”  While “The Missing Manual” series rapidly filled a conspicuous void in bookstores, they have recently been rivaled by a more than worthy challenger — the online video training session or “screencast.”

Two premiere video companies in the Mac and iOS world have risen above the pack like Boeing flight simulators on the way to cruising altitude. Their unique, video training design, production and Webcast delivery systems have fostered “live,” “in your face,” “get to know” product courseware that “walks you through” both the basics and the finer points of optimizing your Apple Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod or Windows software investment.

On two different continents, founders Lynda Weinman of  Lynda.com <www.lynda.com> based in Southern California and Don McCallister of ScreenCastsOnline.com <www.screencastsonline.com> from studios in the UK, have taken different approaches to their training videos. Each flies high on its own merits. Indeed, the legions of subscribers of both programs have been made all the richer for their pioneering efforts.

 If you’re already well acquainted with the core technologies of the  Mac OS X operating system, meaning you’re a candidate “Power User” or at least a bona fide enthusiast or aficionado, then ScreenCastsOnline can help you discover the latest trending Mac applications and lesser-known Mac utilities to take your productivity to the next level. “SCO” offers guided, armchair tours of 40 minutes or less on how to enhance your Mac app’s functionality, complete with subtitles if you prefer to read along. The programs are each dished out as a single serving, not segmented by feature or time code. This appetizing course is much like the Spanish “tapas” (for small plates) and McCallister, the “seventh Beatle,” (pictured at right), narrates each and every exercise with a delightful Liverpudian accent.

What is unique about SCO’s compact format is that each byte-sized dish being served is downloaded to iTunes each week. The current rate of delivery is around two episodes per week and includes both Mac and iOS (iPhone and iPad) tutorials. Therefore, a subscription to “ScreenCastsOnline” (a mere $14 a quarter) keeps you up-to-date with regular scoops without even having to think about it.

What’s more, SCO recently launched three mobile “Apps” in the iTunes store entitled SCOTutor for Lion, SCOTutor for iPad, and SCOTutor for Mac  that bundles their tutorials into training Apps for easy “on-the-go” viewing.

Lynda.com, in contrast, offers a different kind of courseware that is multi-part and segmented in such a way that users must pace themselves with what amounts to an average two-hour training track.  Lynda.com does not “export” their courseware, so no iTunes downloads are available.  Rather, Lynda.com invites monthly subscribers to log-in and stream its courseware over the Net via a basic account (around $25 a month) or a Premium account that comes complete with sample work files to download and practice in the lesson plan.

Compared to ScreenCastsOnline, Lynda.com is typically weeks behind the release of contemporary subject matter.  Sure, Lynda will get to it, eventually, but the amount of time between a new software release and its “Essential Training” debut on Lynda.com can be several weeks, if not months.  In spite of this criticism, once produced, the lesson plans, once deployed,  are authoritative and even entertaining, including the choice of Chris Breen to man the OS X Lion Training essentials and Jill Whelan to instruct on SEO fundamentals.  But how long has OS X Lion been out without a follow-on title that dives deeper into the OS? ScreenCastsOnline is already covering enhancements and extensions to Lion while Lynda.com’s “Lion” is asleep in his den.

Nevertheless, Lynda.com offers an encyclopedic  panoply of titles on everything from programming and design to photography and studio management that are unavailable at any other outlet.  Whereas ScreenCastsOnline is miles long for the Mac and iOS, Lynda.com is miles wide on a sweeping array of subjects for almost every digital practitioner. The road you travel will depend on the breadth and depth of your interests.

Both services are invaluable to the new and experienced user. And tbey both warrant “5 Lattes” from the Seattle24x7 “Hot Shot Potency Meter.”   [24×7]