Volume Number: 13 (1997)
Issue Number: 10
Column Tag: Tools Of The Trade
by Edward Ringel
QuickTime screen capture utility simplifies documentation and training
Software authors sometimes find end user documentation one of the most vexing aspects of development. End user satisfaction with your new application depends not only on the quality of your product and its ultimate ease of use, but also on the slope of its learning curve. While some programs are inherently complex, and the learning process is inherently long, good documentation and tutorials can make the training process less painful, take less time, and sometimes even be fun. Good documentation and training materials may not be responsible for the initial sale of your product, but will heavily influence upgrade sales and sales of other titles in your product line.
Applications benefiting from a graphical user interface require graphical documentation. The move toward electronic documentation, although probably fueled primarily by paper publishing costs, has as a secondary benefit high fidelity screen reproductions. Many applications now benefit from built in electronic help systems such as Microsoft Help, QuickHelp as used by Claris, and of course AppleGuide. AppleGuide is particularly sophisticated in that reference material, instructional material, and outright assistance with tasks can be incorporated into an AppleGuide file.
Animated tutorials of the kind that can be programmed in AppleGuide and recorded in CameraMan can be incredibly helpful in learning to use a product. A "movie" of how a screen should look and change during certain program actions can sometimes be all that's really needed to show exactly how to use a program. Creation of an AppleGuide file to do this can take considerable time, knowledge, and effort. CameraMan cannot create a Guide file, but it can create an animated tutorial with no programming effort.
CameraMan is a product that documents screen activity on your computer. Because
this review is in MacTech Magazine, I am approaching this product primarily
from the standpoint of the developer with a need to document software. Obviously,
such a product can be useful in any number of docu mentation, education, and
Like a number of other utilities, CameraMan can perform a simple screen capture. Of greater interest, it can make a movie of the screen activities or sequential stills, the latter particularly useful for slide shows and other forms of static documentation. CameraMan has three virtues: it is cheap, it is incredibly easy to use, and it does exactly what it says it would do. It has a few failings, and with one exception they are relative and do not detract from the overall value of the product.
I obtained CameraMan electronically, over the Internet. It is available from http://www.mwg.com (Site no longer exists). It comes as an installer application that creates five files. First, it places the CameraMan extension in your system folder. Second, it creates the CameraMan application. Third, it creates QuickEdit, which permits editing of the movies created by CameraMan. Fourth, it creates a .pdf documentation file and the mandatory Read Me SimpleText file.
The documentation indicated that the applications would work with QuickTime 1.6 or greater. Although the CameraMan extension and application would record with QT 2.1, QuickEdit would not work until I upgraded my system to QT 2.5 with Goodies. (This problem has been acknowledged by the company and will be addressed in the next maintenance upgrade.) After that, I had no difficulty with the product's performance. System 7.0, 8 megs of RAM, 32 bit QD 1.2, and QT 1.6 is the minimum configuration; System 7.5.5, PPC processor, 16 megs, and QT 2.5 with Goodies 2.5 is recommended. Please note that I evaluated this suite of products on my Performa 6200 CD with the recommended configuration. I like to think of this CPU as particularly useful for stress testing products since, at this point, the creature is about 15 months old and the PPC 603 chip that powers my fearless machine seems to have ended up on a dead branch on the evolutionary tree.
From a user's standpoint, the CameraMan application is a control panel for the CameraMan extension. The most important settings are the capture settings, which permit the user to define the size of the screen capture area, the frame rate, and a QuickTime vs. PICS vs. sequential PICT's decision. It is possible to create a capture area that then "tracks" the cursor movements, which can reduce memory usage and focus the attention of the viewer.
There are a number of advanced options regarding QT compression and the like which I will not review in detail; suffice it to say they are present and extend the utility of the program considerably, especially for long, large videos. The user can define the various control keys, where movies are stored, and several options regarding sounds, including the opportunity to use stylized mouse click and keyboard sounds. The movie can use microphone input or other audio input such as the computer's internal CD. The user can record sounds as a separate soundtrack or as an integral part of the movie. On systems with multiple monitors, the user can pick which monitor to record.
Figure 1. The CameraMan Application main window showing the recording configuration options.
The documentation for CameraMan is quite acceptable. All options were carefully reviewed and several strategies were offered for optimum recording. File sizes predicted by the documentation were somewhat larger than what I actually encountered.
Capture of screen activity on my 15 inch screen occurred without malfunction. I tried recording a narration of my activities along with my instructional demo, and aside from the fact that my kids laughed at me for talking to the computer and our new kitten insisted on sitting on my lap and purring into the mike, this part also went well. Comic relief aside, the utility works as described, and it was enormously easy to set up. As an example of file size, a 1 minute, full screen capture with voice-over was about 10 megs.
I have two comments about the capture aspect of the CameraMan package. First, it would be great if MotionWorks created another capture mode which automatically tracked and captured activity in the front window. It is possible to do this by setting the capture frame correctly, but I would expect that an automatic setting would be fairly easy to implement. Static screen capture utilities such as Flash-It do this, and it would be a reasonable and helpful upgrade to CameraMan. More importantly, initiating capture slowed other activity on the computer to a crawl. In fairness to MotionWorks, they forewarned of this, and I deliberately stressed the program by doing full screen recording.
I made several of the suggested alterations such as choosing the correct compression, reducing frame size, and using a solid background for my desktop, and performance improved. I think that careful thought and planning to record only the necessary portions of the screen would be an important aspect of product use. Obviously, the documentation should be produced on the fastest CPU available to you. I see this speed issue as CameraMan's one significant problem, since product documentation and tutorials often may require full screen capture. Given the task at hand, though, I'm not sure that anyone could write faster code. I think the speed issue may be an inherent limitation of the genre.
Practical use of the capture utility would include having the producer thoroughly understand the product or procedure to be recorded. He or she would then write a script of screen actions and a narration (or some other form of background music or sound) appropriate to the situation. Then, in a quiet room without cats or children, the script would be executed. The next step in production would be to edit the file.
Editing of recordings takes place in QuickEdit. This application can edit movies and soundtracks. I freely admit that I am not a QuickTime maven, but excepting a few rough spots, the product was more than ample for creating animated documents. Soundtracks can be edited and applied in "layers." Animations also can be layered, and text movies that overlay screen recordings can be created. Cut, copy, and paste appropriate to the tasks were available. The only glitch that appeared was that the window showing the tracks of the movie I made insisted on positioning itself partially offscreen.
The documentation for this application was not as good as for CameraMan. For example, it took a while for me to figure out how to create a new narration for a screen animation and replace the original; too much familiarity with QT was assumed.
All in all, I wouldn't want to create the sequel to "Toy Story" using QuickEdit, but it is a very creditable product. The individual responsible for developing a software tutorial will not push the limits of QuickEdit, and will learn how to use the package fairly quickly.
...Then Play It
The last part of the manual deals with playing back the movies you have created. It addresses licensing issues and the use of Apple's MoviePlayer. I would not have thought to put this last section in the manual, but it is a useful addition that will prepare the developer to write the necessary instructions for the end user. I used MoviePlayer to view some of my "tutorials" and encountered no problems.
The Bottom Line
CameraMan is a useful product for tutorial production and software documentation. Consider this: the average CD can hold 650 megs. Your golden master has 250 megs of software. With a little forethought and planning, in the remaining 400 megs you could present a tutorial video 20 or 30 minutes long that eases your new user over any ambiguities in the use of the product. You would have expended no resources on writing or contracting out an AppleGuide file and you would have required no fancy production house to make your video. I would like to see some portions of the documentation improved for QuickEdit, and I would like to see front window autoframing. Some utilities are probably better for still picture capture.
Personally, I would like to see more software QT tutorials. I used them when learning to program the Newton, and was impressed with this approach. I see this as a good package at a fair price, and I encourage developers to consider this means of software documentation.
- CameraMan(tm) 3.0 and QuickEdit 2.0, Motion Works International, Inc. Suite 130 - 1020 Mainland Street, Vancouver, BC Canada V6B 2T4. $69.95. Windows 95 and Window NT versions are due shortly.
- MoviePlayer 2.5, Apple Computer, Cupertino, California.
- http://www.mwg.com Motion Works on the Web. (Site no longer exists)
- firstname.lastname@example.org Motion Works e-mail.
- http://www.quicktimefaq.org QuickTime information.
Ed Ringel, email@example.com, is Contributing Editor for product reviews for MacTech Magazine. In his spare time, he is a respiratory and critical care physician in Waterville, Maine.