Random Tip #14: Awesome Screenshot (add-on/extension)

I have to go on a tangent for a bit before getting to my random tip, but I’ll try to keep the side-leg motion brief. Not everyone is aware of the ability to “add” features to Internet browser’s functionality. Back in the earlier days of Internet browsers (e.g., Netscape, Mosaic, AOL Explorer, etc.), the average user didn’t have have many options for changing or upgrading browser functionality. In other words, the browser worked the same for every user (unless you had programming skills to make modifications that are well beyond my general knowledge).

Along came Firefox, a browser that offered users the ability to “add-on” functionality through third-party developers who create these tools that enhance your browser’s abilities. One of the first add-ons that I added to Firefox was Cool Previews (no longer available), which allowed me to “peek” at a webpage without clicking it open. Yes, Apple didn’t invent the peek option. I’ve had a variety of add-ons since then, and my favorite right now is Evernote Clipper. But, we’re not here to talk about that. One last point I want to mention is that Google Chrome has a many add-ons (a.k.a., extensions), much like Firefox, though not all the Chrome options are free.

Awesome Screenshot LogoWhile I’ve done several reviews of screen-capture software (e.g., Screencast-o-matic, Jing, and Camtasia), there is a browser add-on that was one of my first add-ons and still available: Awesome Screenshot (here is Firefox add-on). What do I like best about this tool? I can take a screen shot of the entire browser page, not just what is viewable (without scrolling down). While Evernote’s Clipper is good for capturing articles I want to read, there are some whole pages I want to save. For example, if I’m shopping for a new Canon lens, and want to keep track of my favorites, I can keep screen shots as I browse different places online. More commonly, I capture my “home” page for my online classroom’s list of announcements so I can make sure I set the course up the same next term since the content doesn’t transfer one term to the next.

Awesome Screenshot doesn’t require a login if you want to just save the graphic to your computer. You can save it online and share if you sign up; you can store up to 30 images for free online. You can also annotate (i.e., draw on the graphic) prior to saving it. Their blog isn’t updated very often, but it’s available for a few more insights.

I suspect there are other (better) options, but this one has worked for me, so I thought I’d share.

Here are some screen shots of the tool:

Awesome screenshot annotation toolbar

There are the annotation options after capturing the screen you want to save. You don’t need to annotated (just click Done to move on to saving it).

Awesome screenshot save screen

Here is the save screen. You’ll need to be logged in to save it to the cloud.

Awesome screenshot sample

Here is the entire screen capture of a webpage, with annotations added.

TinyTake…unless you have a big screen

Name: TinyTake
Cost: Free (pay versions available)
Type: Software download
Rating: 2/5

TinyTake_logo

Although I’m a technical writer, and able to explain steps in a process through text, I value the “let me show you” ability that screen capture software provides, either with still-shots or video capture. This type of software helps the audience compare their actions and outcomes to those described in the tutorial or instructions. I can only imagine how this software would have changed my approach to training when I first started out as a technical writer. Instead of long training sessions, brief videos could capture what the documentation reinforced. For anyone who has sat through a three-hour PowerPoint training class, you’ll understand the value of videos you can watch at your leisure. As for screen shots in documentation created 15 years ago, I used the Prt Scr keyboard button of Windows, and then edited it in Paint. Actually, TinyTake is not too far off from the options in Paint, though it includes the screen capture feature that Paint does not. If TinyTake was the only screen capture software I was given when abandoned on a desert island, I would probably last about a week before pitching my laptop into the ocean. It isn’t bad software, but it’s just not very dynamic. That said it would work well for anyone who likes to use a simplified version of Paint (if you can get more simple than Paint).

I would like to thank one of my technical writing students (Britt Wells) for bringing this tool to my attention!

TinyTake workspace

This is the whole tool. You can select an image capture, video capture, upload documents to share, or access your YouTube account to share videos you’ve uploaded.

Goal: create video or static photo of my computer screen through screen capture software

Benefits:

  • There is a blog associated with the tool, but at the time I wrote this post, there were only seven articles and none were dated, so they could be a few years old. (I’m becoming such a blog-snob, as I want companies to continually update their blogs with fresh ideas and insights.)
  • There are undo and redo buttons. As someone who is prone to playing around with software until it breaks, I like the option to go back to a pre-broken state.
  • There is an effect to “pixelate,” which threw me off at first because I’m always trying to make graphics clearer rather than more obscure. But, then it dawned on me that sometimes you need to obscure personal information and the like.
  • You can add arrows to point out areas in the graphic. There are options to change the color of the arrow, though that’s about it. It’s also easy to add an arrow and textbox.
  • There are a few different options to save/share: save to computer or to TinyTake cloud; copy to clipboard; email; or print.
  • When uploading videos to YouTube, you can preset all the videos to use the same privacy setting (e.g., Unlisted).
  • MangoApps, the company that created TinyTake, claims their cloud storage is very secure. This is helpful when storing screen shots of proprietary software or personal information.
  • If you like the ability to add text, arrows, and other simple graphics (e.g., circle, square, etc.) to your own photos, you can open graphic files with TinyTake. I’d probably stick with one of the more “fun” photo/graphic editing options, such as PicMonkey, BeFunky, or Canva. You can also import a video you’ve recorded with other software.
  • You can record the audio from your speakers, which is convenient if you’re recording a Google Hangout session. But, you only have five minutes of recording time on the free version, so it needs to be a very short meeting.
  • You can share more than the TinyTake screens/videos on their cloud; in other words, you can share documents and your other YouTube videos you’ve created and want to show others in your group/class.

    TinyTake workspace 2

    After capturing an image, this is what you’ll see as far as the workspace. The “annotating” tools are at the top of the screen.

Drawbacks:

  • Requires software download. This isn’t a big deal, but some people can’t make changes to the PC/laptop they’re using (e.g., school lab, work laptop).
  • Required login to use the software. It’s best to set up the account prior to download because you have to receive and respond to the confirmation email.
  • No click and drag resizing before opening the editing window. Jing, for example, selects the area and allows me to drag the borders to capture more/less in situations where I missed the mark I was aiming for.
  • There’s a “drag me” indicator at the bottom of the screen that makes it seem like more features are available, yet it actually implies you can click and drag your graphic right into another application (e.g., email). I was hoping for something more fun (like Alice in Wonderland‘s “drink me” bottle to change sizes).
  • The pixalation squares for the pixelate effect are really big, so they seem more decorative and the audience may not realize that you intentionally obscured information. I think I would prefer a blurring effect that can be gained in a photo editing tool.
  • There are few formatting options for the textbox text. The border color is the same as the text color; so, you can’t have a green border and black text, for example.
  • The free-draw option (as compared to drawing a box, circle, or line) is pretty basic. I tried to draw a star and I think that I was able to draw better looking stars when I was in kindergarten.
  • The free version does not allow for annotating the video.
  • If you click the main Save and Share button, it goes right to the TinyTake cloud; you have to click the little arrow on the right side of the button to open the other save options.

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Screencast-o-Matic…automatically a success

Type: Internet tool (download version available)
Rating: 5/5

 

Screencast-o-matic logoGetting an audience to see what you’re seeing is ideal for photographers, videographers, trainers/instructors, and technical communicators. This is especially true for a society that has a “just show me” response to learning new things, as compared to “just explain it to me.” Screen capture software can take different forms, whether it’s capturing a static screen shot or recording movements (e.g., clicking, typing) and audio being performed on a computer. Jing has been my go-to screen capture software for many years, and for static screen captures, it’s still my favorite. But, Screencast-o-Matic is my new love for video recordings of my screen. Jing, Camtasia, and Snag-It all have quality issues with recordings; the text is sometime blurry or pixelated, which is frustrating for an audience who isn’t sure what they’re supposed to be seeing. For the record, this post is not my first encounter with Screencast-o-matic. I had looked at it several years ago and found it lacking, though functional, but dismissed it for Jing/Camtasia. Screencast-o-matic’s “new” look and functionality is a great improvement.

Screecast-o-matic start screen

This is the home page, and access to the tool. Very simple.

Goal: quality screen recordings for longer than five minutes

Benefits:

  • No need to sign up or login to start recording your screen. At this point, I haven’t see the value of signing up since I won’t store my videos to their site.
  • Records the computer screen or webcam view and microphone recording; for the pay version, you can record audio from the computer speakers, which makes it a good option for recording Google Hangout sessions or other video conferencing that doesn’t include a recording option.
  • 15-minute recording length, as compared the the five-minute limit for Jing. You can record longer versions with the Pro Recorder (pay), but you’re limited to 15-minutes if you’re uploading it to their cloud.
  • Recording can be downloaded to PC, or uploaded to YouTube of Sceencast-o-Matic cloud (i.e., hosting).
  • Clear (video) screen captures, even when the screen is moving.
  • Tutorials are available, though I didn’t review any of them since you can pretty much figure out what to do for simple screen captures
  • Unless you download the software, it runs from your Internet browser, yet records to your computer. There are two benefits here. 1) You have access to the most recent version of the software without further downloads/updates. 2) Your video is not saved to a cloud unless you want to; so, there isn’t public access to the recording unless you upload it yourself to a public area.
  • A yellow circle rings the mouse pointer so that it’s easier to follow when watching the recording. (See first sample below.)
Screecast-o-matic video options

This is the pop-up screen you’ll see after finishing the recording. You can make changes to the file type, filename, where it’s stored, whether the cursor is highlighted in your final version, and whether captions should be included.

Drawbacks:

  • If you don’t catch the enable/allow Java screen quick enough, the recorder won’t launch and you’ll see the link to download the software instead. If you catch the Java accept screen, though, you can click the box to not ask for permission in the future. I think that if you have a Mac, you’ll need to download the software as the Internet version wont’ work.
  • “Screencast-o-matic” sounds like something Calvin and Hobbes would think up. Okay, not really a bad thing, but it’s difficult to sell the concept to peers and managers with a straight face.
  • When making several recordings, and exiting the recorder each time, you have to click back the the website’s Home page to find the Record Screen button again. Again, not a big deal.
  • There is a watermark on all the recordings done with the free recorder. That said, it’s not obnoxious, as I’ve seen with other free software.
  • If you upload the video to their cloud, then there will be ads on the screen. Since I can save the file and upload it to YouTube, then I don’t have an issue with this. The free hosting plan is limited to a 15-minute upload, so even if you have the Pro Recorder (pay) version of the software, you’d need to invest in their Basic hosting plan for $96/year to get 2-hour recordings uploaded to their cloud.
  • No screenshot option for the free version.
  • No video editing abilities for the free version; you would need to save the video file and use a different tool to edit the video (e.g., Camtasia, Adobe Premiere, iMovie, Movie Maker, etc.)
Java screen

This is the Java screen you’ll need to accept (or use the download version of the tool)

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Random Tip #9: Embed.ly

In an online environment, many of us have become accustomed with seeing “extra” content, such as videos or interactive content, along side the text we are reading. I find it necessary to embed content in my classroom announcements, which is the only place that my ecollege platform will allow me to embed content. You’ll also see embedding in my blog when I provide samples of digital media creations. Essentially, embedding doesn’t force your audience to leave your webpage in order to access the relevant video or other content. As an educator, I’m always afraid that my students will get distracted and not come back to the lesson content. If I give a link to a YouTube video, they might then continue to browse further videos that aren’t necessarily related to the lesson. Who can resist the “guilty pet” videos?

 

Embed.ly logo
I hope that you didn’t just prove my point in that video links take audiences away from my website and they don’t come back. Most video hosting sites and Internet digital media tools will provide embed codes for you to use, but there are times when they’re not available. I’ve found that I want to embed links to websites or documents in my classroom in order to have the same “don’t leave this page in order to access this other content” approach. There is an Internet tool to help create embed code for those who don’t have the programming skills to do it themselves: embed.ly. It’s kind of like a screen capture with a link, if you’re just embedding webpage content. It’s a better option for PDFs and videos. If you have some programming skills, or patience to figure programming stuff out, then the tool can do a bit more than just provide embed codes. For this tip, I just went with the basic version.

 

Here are a few things to know about Embed.ly
  • It’s free to use for up to 5,000 URLs per month, requests that are 15 seconds apart. I suspect there are some tech savvy folks who have great use for more URLs at a faster rate, but I know that I won’t intentionally exceed the free version. If you have many users accessing your content often, then you’ll probably max out. I’m happy when a few students access the content every once in a while.
  • There is help and tutorials available, though the tool is pretty easy to use for basic purposes. There is also a blog.
  • You don’t need to sign up or log in to start using the embed code generator. If you want to “customize” the embed code content, then you need to log in.
  • Really simple to use once you find the content you want to embed, since you just copy the URL into the embed.ly tool and copy the code.
  • The tool is not perfect. If there is a video on the page you want to embed, then only the video will appear in the embedded content, and users will still need to go to the link to access the full page.
Embed.ly workspace

After you click the copy to clipboard, if you’re signed in, you’ll see an option to customize your embed view. This is the workspace view for that customization.

 

Since most videos I create or want to otherwise share will provide embed codes, I mostly use this tool for embedding PDFs or documents that are posted on the Internet. The first sample is to a PDF. The second sample isn’t as helpful since it only provides a brief view of content, and then requires the reader to click the link for the full content; the advantage I see here is that the embed code at least entices the reader with a graphic and some content.

IEEE

IEEE.org serves technical professionals and students who are looking to both foster working relationships and gain access to the latest technical research and knowledge.

Camtasia…tentative steps into the world of movie making

Name: Camtasia (version 7)
Cost: $100+ (there is a student version for a reduced price); 30-day trial available
Type: Download (you might be able to purchase a CD version for student use)
Rating: 3/5

 

Camtasia logoThere is something addictive about the ability to create a movie (video). Perhaps it’s a generation thing, as I remember the early days of the Internet, prior to YouTube. I never delude myself in believing that I’ll make real movies/animations, with a moving or compelling storyline. But, I do like the power of mixing text, audio, graphics, and movement. I teach online, so I’m often teaching synchronous sessions with audio and slide presentations. This made it easy for me to transition into video making with Camtasia, where I could combine my slides with audio and transitions. Camtasia also allows for screen capture video recording, so I can record my screen actions (e.g., showing students how to upload their assignment) and add it to a longer presentation with other graphics, audio, and text. The screen capture feature has more clarity than Jing, but Jing is free. I use Audacity to first record my audio files, which can be added individually to the movie during the development process.

Goal: A robust tool to combine graphics (e.g., PPT slide JPG), screen capture videos, audio clips, and transitions. I also wanted to add overlays to the video content, such as an arrow cued up to sync with audio or other highlighting methods.

Camtasia workspace 1

This is the workspace that you’ll see before adding files to work with.

Benefits:

  • Does not require Internet access since it’s software on my PC, thus increasing software stability during editing
  • It is intuitive as long as you know how to work with a timeline when editing video content. Drag and drop to add content, with icons for other features of the tool
  • Provides all the necessary files for editing in Camtasia and then uploading to YouTube; it even creates a screen shot of the first moments of the video in case YouTube doesn’t get it right when choosing the video still image (i.e., what you see before clicking Play).
  • There are tutorial videos on the software’s website.
  • There are “stock” background music and other options to add to your presentation.

Drawbacks:

  • It can’t embed links that work on YouTube. If I upload the video to my Screencast account, which has limited free storage, the links will work; but, users need Silverlight loaded in order to view the video (which isn’t usually a problem, but YouTube is more accessible). I’ve tried work arounds, but they are messy. YouTube and Camtasia need to work out their compatibility issues, or I need to see if posting to a different website is the solution (e.g. Vimeo). Camtasia 8 has not addressed these issues.
  • The timeline can be a little quirky to work with when trying to edit video screen captures and audio. I cannot seem to break the screen capture video if I want to pause it or slow it down at a certain point. [The work around I use to to add the clip twice, cut/delete portions of the video, add a jpg (e.g., screenshot) between the cuts, and then edit the videos as needed. Without transitions, the clipped videos are seamless to the audience this way.]
  • I tried a stop-motion video with hundreds of photos and the software continually crashed, to the point I gave up. I tried researching the error message, but didn’t get satisfactory responses. After spending hours taking photos of “moving” letters, I was too frustrated to figure out the software any further.
  • Very limited shape animations (e.g., arrow) are available. I could get around this by recording my PPT as a video with animations, but editing the captured video is cumbersome, so I have to rely on the software’s stock animations (e.g., appearance of an arrow or box). Free Internet tools have significantly more options to “slide” graphics/text on to the screen.

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Jing….bringing light to my computer screen

Name: Jing
Cost: Free
Type: Download
Rating: 5/5 (static screen capture); 2/5 (video screen capture)

jing logo

Do you remember Ctrl+Prt Scr? Or, Alt+Prt Scr? Those were the only options to capture still images of computer screen views in the “early” days. [Note: the early days are probably more like the middle days, since if you wanted a screen shot for the early early days, then you’d have to use a camera and get the photos developed so that you could cut and glue them into the document prior to copying them for distribution. We’ve come a long way.] While the Ctrl or Alt methods are sometimes effective, they often captured way more of your screen than needed (e.g., desktop photo of you at the beach or desktop icons for solitaire, spider, and freecell). For those with patience, Paint could be used to crop the graphic, but most folks just plopped the full graphic into a document without editing. Half the Word document page was useless graphic, especially if the font was too small to actually read. The Jing “sun” brought light into the darkness and gave us the ability to only capture the relevant part of our computer screen. What’s more, Jing gives us audio/video recording abilities to show and tell our audience where to click (rather than putting arrows on the screen capture graphic). Alas, Jing has saved us all from awful screen captures.

My Goal: Capture my computer screen without the need to edit the graphic

Jing Sun

What the Jing Sun looks like on the desktop (not much to look at)

Benefits:

  • It’s FREE! You download it to your computer so that it’s available to use without Internet access. The Jing “sun” is always visible on my desktop, so I can hover over it to select my option and then click the area to capture.
  • Some users find the five-minute video restriction of the free version to be a benefit as it compels the user to keep the information brief.
  • It saves a copy of the capture to your Screencast account, though I just use the version I’ve stored locally. You can share this account with other users so they can access the saved videos or graphics. I don’t think they need an account, but you will; and, there is a size limit on how much can be stored for free.

Drawbacks:

  • The quality of the video screen capture is less than ideal if the user needs to read the text on the screen. The text is a little blurry. The video quality, though, is often better than other free screen capture tools I’ve tried. I don’t have any quality issue with static screen capture.
  • The screen capture video format does not work with typical video players/editors, as it saves the file as SWF (Adobe Flash Player). If you have Camtasia, then you can edit the files, though if you have Camtasia, then you’re probably using Camtasia’s screen record feature that yields a better quality video. The preferred viewing method of Jing videos is through the Screencast.com website, where your videos and graphics are automatically stored.
  • Sometimes the Jing “sun” is quirky, where it disappears or doesn’t respond to clicking. I can either shutdown Jing, or use the Jing button found in my “hidden icons” tab of the Windows toolbar. The quirkiness is not often and not generally a major issue.
  • Like most screen capture software, you can’t freeze dropdown menus during the capture process.

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