Sunday, April 29, 2007

Product Review - Overboard by Gus, Inc.

Overboard is augmentative and alternative communication software (heavily) marketed (try typing Boardmaker into Google and see what the paid ads are) to compete with Boardmaker by Mayer-Johnson. At $169.00 for a program that claims to do everything and more that Boardmaker with Speaking Dynamically Pro ($389.00) does, Overboard is very tempting and I fell for the bait.

First some background, I have been in the special education field long enough to have used the Mayer-Johnson Picture Communication Symbols back when you had to photocopy, enlarge, hand color and glue together communication boards. If you compare Overboard to that method of making a communication board or book it is far superior. I have used Boardmaker version one, version three, version five and am yet to try version six. Thus this is mostly a comparison of the currently available Overboard and Boardmaker 5 (not the new and improved six).

Let us start with what Overboard actually does better: the draw and paint features are quite a bit better than Boardmaker w/SDP, letting you do things like change the opacity and make exactly one more button shape than Boardmaker. Other nice things about Overboard include not needing the CD in the drive and getting free upgrades for life. Other than those four things - the price, the draw/paint features, no CD and free upgrades Boardmaker with Speaking Dynamically Pro is far superior to Talking Overboard.

The symbols in Overboard are different, as proclaimed they do not have "stick men", then again none of Overboard's images of people have any hands to speak of, which is just creepy. I thought for a second I had searched for amputee, but I hadn't. Overboard claims the symbols are more "adult" however a study presented at ASHA showed that adults did not prefer Overboard to Boardmaker symbols or vice versa. Also, I teach students ages 16-22; my students have had 13 or more years of Boardmaker symbols. It doesn't seem fair to switch to symbols that look totally different this far into their education, when in all likeliness they will be back to Boardmaker symbols when they move on from my class.

(Although I only describe making one board using Overboard in this post I actually made about two dozen in order to feel I was being fair to Overboard. I also watched all of the Overboard training videos online, which have a horrible background noise. Overboard has no other help system to speak of other than the videos.)

For starters the Overboard symbol search engine is slow, and I have a fancy, fast computer. You also cannot create boxes or use the provided templates and expect your symbols with or without labels to go neatly into the boxes - they don't. You will spend gobs of time resizing images and moving text to fit into your grids. By gobs of time I mean a twelve symbol board about insects that took me exactly three minutes in Boardmaker took me 37 minutes in Overboard. If you choose to have buttons automatically made around images then the buttons will not be a uniform size, they will be a size proportional to the size of the image, thus my button for "bee" was much smaller than my button for "beetle" (which makes no sense when you think about it) and I had to resize the buttons, the images and move the text by hand.

There is also no "snap to grip", so have fun aligning those buttons by hand, too. You cannot spray buttons, empty or full. Also the program considers the text, image and button to be three separate items and even if you select them all to move them the text stubbornly stays put while the image and button move. You cannot chose to "replace" or "add to" an image that is already in a button. In the image search engine you cannot switch languages, you cannot have more than one language (English only), you cannot chose a font size or location for your text, in fact if you want text with your image you have to remember to click on the "image plus text" icon every symbol time you paste in an image. What's that you want to search by first letter, or word part or whole word only? Sorry, not a choice. I searched for "L" hoping for words that started with "L". I got 1169 images including words that have the letter "L" no where in the word! (Like "absent", "about" and "Board Games" - huh?)

Now let's make my misaligned insect board do some Speaking Dynamically sorts of things. Making the buttons talk and link was easy, but forget any of the cooler things that Speaking Dynamically does, like scan, launch programs, play a recorded sound, etc, etc, etc. I have to say that Overboard has no business comparing itself to Speaking Dynamically Pro, maybe, just maybe it is in the same ball park as Boardmaker Plus. No, forget that, Boardmaker Plus does animations and video as well as features to make interactive games. Overboard doesn't even come close to Boardmaker Plus.

For $220.00 more than Overboard you can have Boardmaker with Speaking Dynamically Pro with all of the picture symbol addendums. It is money well spent. If you already have any version of Boardmaker, which someone in your school or agency probably does, you can get an upgrade, which will most likely save you close to the difference between the two. Not to mention that the time you save not hand aligning and resizing or searching out all the "L" words is probably worth $220.00!

If you are a parent you can get Boardmaker at Home for $149.00, twenty dollars cheaper than Overboard and then your child's home and school symbols will match.

Also see "Why buy or use Boardmaker these days?" by Call Centre.

P.S. Just for the sake of full disclosure when I purchased my Overboard via download using PayPal Gus Inc. claimed to have charged me $169.00, however they actually charged me $185.00. This is still not fixed.

Also, it took more than 30 hours after my purchase, via what was supposed to be a fast electronic process, for Gus to get me a registration code - 22 hours to respond to my request for a code, then they claimed the computer identification number I sent them was wrong (it wasn't), then I told them it wasn't wrong, resent the information with copies of the PayPal and Gus electronic receipts and they sent me a code, but did not fix the billing error.
Caveat Emptor!

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