Lotus ScreenCam 2.0 for Windows
Lotus ScreenCam 2.0 for Windows
Lotus Development Corporation
55 Cambridge Parkway
Cambridge MA 02142
Screen Capture/Presentation Graphics Utility
List Price: $149; Street: $99
An inexpensive, well-designed, easy to use utility to record
and play "movies" of screen actions for tutorials and presentations.
Standard file formats TXT, WAV, BMP for movie elements
make this an open and flexible tool. The interface is a little gem
of design and the product works hard on the details. The captioning
capabilities of version 2.0 make it competitive with high-priced demo
development software. Distribution of ScreenCam files is free. Excellent
on-line help. Technical support via phone and the Internet is free
and unlimited to registered owners. And, it's fun!
A print manual would be nice, but on-line is good for the price.
Pray IBM doesn't lose this one.
Major computer applications are now so complex and feature-rich
that the user's need to quickly and correctly complete procedures
is finally being recognized as a serious productivity issue. Word
processors, spreadsheets, and databases, to name three of the biggies,
are making increasingly extensive use of tutorials, demos, and wizards
to enhance their on-line documentation. These can be both general
and specific, addressing the needs of novices, converts from other
applications, and experienced users trying to execute infrequently
used commands. Demos and tutorials are usually passive and run from
the help system while wizards are interactive and engage the application
directly in the task.
While the future of desktop computing may be in docucentric, wizard
and agent-driven objects, the present world requires us to figure
out what we want to do in a given application, call that thing by
its right name, look up how it's done (in print or on-line), absorb
that information and then do it. Sometimes, but not all the time,
watching a sequence of commands being executed can be a real help
by showing us a path through a procedure. Developers and documentation
staff must determine where to commit the programming and design resources
to build these aids with one eye on the project budget and the other
eye on their usability tests. Users must be willing to take the time
to watch these demos and tutorials. Lotus ScreenCam is a tool for
producing these types of presentations.
An 80386 25MHz minimum system is required but a 80486
or higher is recommended. ScreenCam will not allow recording if less
than 5MB of disk space is available. You must have Windows 3.1, a
mouse and VGA 16-color graphics adapter (256 color and higher resolutions
are not supported) and monitor. Options for adding a soundtrack: a
sound card, microphone, headphones, speakers. This product was tested
on a 486/66 machine with 16MB RAM and a Sound Blaster 16 card.
ScreenCam can be installed from the Windows Program Manager
or File Manager in the usual way. The install program gives you the
option of selecting a drive, directory, and Program Group for ScreenCam
files. It also creates a separate directory and installs additional
files in them that can be shared by other Lotus applications. The
files are mostly DLLs (dynamic link library) and I've learned the
hard way not to delete DLLs, so I'll just leave `em be. The complete
installation requires 2.65MB of disk space.
ScreenCam can be opened by double-clicking on its icon
in the Program Group in which it is displayed or from within any Windows
application that supports the insertion of objects. It will remain
on top if you switch between open applications, but it occupies a
very small piece of screen real estate and can be dragged to any part
of the screen or minimized as needed. A lot of functionality is packed
into the small ScreenCam control panel that is displayed when you
open the program. A set of buttons control the recording process and
the File and Edit menus offer numerous options.
ScreenCam contains a recorder and a player. In its simplest
form, a movie is created by starting the recorder, performing some
actions on screen, and stopping the recorder. A movie can be saved
under a new file name or cleared from memory.
If you have the requisite hardware (sound card, microphone,
speakers/headphones) you have a number of interesting options. You
can narrate screen actions as you record them, add a soundtrack of
voice, music, or other sounds to an existing movie, or record a sound-only
file. Although you can only record at a sample rate of 11 kHz and
a sample size of 8-bits, sound (.WAV) files recorded at higher
levels can be opened and combined with the movie. The sonically-accomplished
among you can edit your sounds files to produce higher-quality soundtracks.
Compression options are available. I did manage to add the opening
of James Brown's "I Feel Good" to a movie about changing templates
in Word for Windows; it didn't add any instructional value but it
sure was fun.
Captioning and Recording
Until the multimedia millennium arrives when all PCs will
have real sound systems, on-screen text is still the surest way to
convey the meaning of screen actions. The captioning capability of
version 2.0 is its major new feature and makes ScreenCam a professional-level
product. To include captions, you first create them then insert them
as the movie is being recorded. This takes some planning. For a simple
piece, an outline and caption text notes will probably do, but beyond
that storyboarding is the way to go.
As with all forms of computer-based learning and presentations, the
clearer the content, the easier the design choices become. Take some
time to really look at the screens and actions your movie will show
and think about what you want the viewer to learn. The same practices
that make for effective help systems, on-line documentation, and presentations
will serve you well in ScreenCam.
The range of presentations that can be produced with ScreenCam is
enormous; the following suggestions apply mainly to using ScreenCam
movies to enhance and supplement software help systems, which is the
focus of my work.
If you stray from the topic, you risk losing the viewer.
Lest you think this is all work and no play, my six year old son quickly
learned to make his own talking pictures using Paintbrush and ScreenCam.
He recorded his voice as he made his drawings and then played back
the movie. This is now his favorite computer activity. I may have
to buy a Zip drive to store it all!
- Make a movie without captions and determine where text is
- Record and save several versions of your movie and test
them on users if possible.
- Build a movie that maximizes the time the viewer spends
watching it by focusing on the most important details of a single
procedure or a set of related procedures.
When the content is determined, you can work on the caption text and
display. Font style and size can be selected from the Windows font
list. A set of caption backgrounds, plain, bar, plaque, bubble, pointer
is included. Since ScreenCam uses bitmap (.BMP) files, a logo
or other custom background may be inserted. Backgrounds are selectable
for each caption so it is possible to use different backgrounds for
different parts of a presentation or to highlight important information.
The caption text is written in a text box and then dragged and dropped
onto the background. Text is editable in the text box or it can be
saved as a text (.TXT) file and edited in a word processor.
A caption design plan based on the content and style of the features
and functions being presented should have the goal of displaying readable
captions sized and placed for maximum effect. Captions should fit
in, not overwhelm, the host screen. ScreenCam helps with this goal
by providing options for positioning text on a background and for
enabling hot keys to display and hide captions. The captions dialog
allows you to define and alter the caption order and to edit and delete
them. A sliding scale viewer and auto-numbering of captions keeps
One part of building a movie that ScreenCam can't help
with is controlling the mouse pointer movements. For a tutorial that
shows how to open menus and dialogs, highlight and execute commands,
place objects on the screen and so on, smooth, well-timed pointer
movements are critical. I got the best results by setting the mouse
speed to slow in the Windows Control Panel Mouse Dialog and using
a consistent arcing movement across the screen. An alternative is
to use keyboard commands and to list both the keyboard and mouse methods
in the captions. This could be supplemented by an explanatory narration.
Again, an understanding of the movie's purpose and intended audience
should inform these choices.
Press the <Esc> key to stop recording a sequence. The
movie can be played at once. It can then be saved or cleared (deleted)
from memory. Reverse, Fast Forward, Volume Control, and Exit buttons
are enabled when a movie file is open. Multiple movie playback is
enabled by listing the files on the File Run... command line in Program
Manager. An information file is automatically generated for each movie.
File size and duration, screentrack and soundtrack settings, and author
and revision information are all tracked. A text entry box is also
available to add a description.
A movie can be saved as an executable (.EXE) file
which combines the movie file with the player. This makes sense for
a single movie. If more than one movie is being distributed, then
they should be saved in the proprietary (.scm) format and the player
included as a separate file. All the movies can then be accessed by
the player. The player may be distributed free with ScreenCam files.
Lotus requires that files distributed for "commercial purposes"
display the ScreenCam logo (a separate file) in the product's splash
(opening) screen, About dialog, media (disk or CD-ROM), packaging,
Internet home page or other on-line service.
The release notes file contains information on using ScreenCam
with cc:Mail and Lotus Notes, but this review was done on a standalone
PC so I cannot report on its network capabilities. A Notes field form
is part of the Info... dialog.
The print documentation consists of a single card with
the information necessary for installation, basic recording, and getting
help on-line. The on-line help system is one of the best I have seen;
the content is complete and well-organized and the design is superior.
In addition to the standard <F1> and Help menu access, you can
right-click any active control button, click on the question mark
button in any dialog box, or open the QuickHelp screens for recording
and playback reference.
One novel feature is a brief description of the highlighted menu
command that displays in the program's title bar when the command
is highlighted. Custom buttons on each help screen provide access
to the related help menu and allow the topic to be printed. While
you could start recording by using the printed directions, a few minutes
spent in the help file will acquaint you with many useful features
to control and customize functions.
On the two occasions I used Lotus Technical Support for
Screen Cam, I found the phone support friendly and helpful. An automated
fax-back support system is available at (800) 346-3508 and on the
Internet at http://www.support.lotus.com.
I am impressed with ScreenCam's performance and features
especially when compared with other screen capture products such as
Dan Bricklin's Demo-IT ($289) and Blue Sky's WinHelp Video Kit ($89).
ScreenCam performed smoothly, without glitches, and I liked its ability
to add captions which the others do not. ScreenCam lets you record,
playback, and edit to your hearts content and is worth your investment.
About the Author
Dennis Carothers can be reached at (617) 739-2147,
firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Dennis Carothers Associates
offers a range of on-line documentation and multimedia development
consulting. He is Project Coordinator for the BCS Interactive Media
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