One of the easiest ways to communicate an application-based feature or issue is to take a screen capture or screencast of it. A new free tool allows you to do both from one incredibly simple interface.
Jing Project is the latest offering from Techsmith, the company behind popular Windows-based screen capture tool SnagIt and best-of-breed screencasting application Camtasia Studio. In offering both means of recording your screen, Jing Project borrows a little something from its two well-known predecessors.
But where Camtasia and SnagIt pack the kind of feature-sets suitable for professionals, Jing is a pared-down, ultra-simple tool dedicated to making it super-easy for anyone to share the contents of their screen in seconds.
If your uncle on the other side of the planet is trying to show you what went wrong with his email application, Jing lets him take a screen grab, or take a quick video. Equally, if you then want to show him how to fix it, step-by-step, you can easily do so by recording your screen with Jing Project.
It is in this type of simple scenario that Jing Project really shines, making it easy for non-technical users to send and receive the kind of information that might be long-winded and confusing over the phone, or written at length in an email. This is a simple but great achievement - bringing screen capture and screencasting to the masses.
As such the TechSmith people are keen to stress that the features that may go into a final version of the product may not all be in evidence at this point in time. The idea is to provide a free tool to the public and gather their feedback on its strengths and weaknesses. Certainly, both are in evidence at this stage in development.
This isn't to say, however, that the Jing Project interface is anything short of excellent, or its simple two-in-one capabilities a very welcome addition to the Techsmith line-up, but rather that there are a couple of minor flaws that let an otherwise great service down a little.
That said, if you are looking for a screen capture and screencasting tool that puts usability and simplicity at the forefront of its features - the kind of tool you could have your mother using in a minute or so - Project Jing is well worth checking out.
In this short video from the Jing Project website you can get an instant feel for the capabilities and style of this useful tool:
The Jing interface is its greatest asset and it is evident that a lot of time and care has been put into making it as accessible and intuitive as possible. Minimalism is key here.
At the top right of my screen there is a small, semi-transparent sun - apparently this can be changed to a menu-bar icon on the Mac. When I roll over this minimized sun icon, it enlarges, presenting me with three icons - a cross-hair, photo-set and cog.
As you'd expect, the cross-hair is for capturing images or videos, the photo-set is for accessing your library of files, and the cog is to change your settings.
Clicking on the first automatically creates a full-screen cross-hair with which I can drag and drop the portion of the screen I would like to record or capture. The second icon opens a new window with my previously recorded items in thumbnail format ready for me to scan through and preview if need be.
The third option opens up a larger sun in the center of my screen, from which I can access help files, quit the application, send feedback to Techsmith or change my preferences in terms of whether or not I would like Jing to open on startup, and the hot key I would like to use to launch its capture capability.
What I like about the cross-hair is that it pops up straight away for my selection of a screen region whether I am going to record video or capture an image. From there, once I have selected the region of the screen, I can decide what I would like to do with it. This is a nice approach, and will make sense to those not familiar with more complex screen capture and screencasting solutions.
Once I have chosen the region of the screen I wish to work with, the remainder of the screen is switched to monochrome, firmly emphasizing my choice. Then I can choose to redo my selection, cancel, or create a screen grab or video from it.
If I chose an image, a new window opens with my freshly grabbed still, and from here I can apply basic annotation effects - an arrow, text, hollow rectangle or marquee-style highlighter are available. This means that if I want to point to a particular image, or draw attention to a particular line or paragraph of text, it is easily done.
I can then share, save or cancel the work I've done.
For video, I have stop, pause and resume, mute audio and cancel buttons. There are no editing capabilities and you can't rewind or trim the beginning off your clip, so you have to get things right first time and in one-take.
Nevertheless, for the kind of simple functions Jing Project is likely to be put to, this is good thing, and once again puts simplicity and ease-of-use center-stage.
What sharing capabilities Jing Project has have been made very easy to use.
As soon as you have finished a capture or recording you are given the option of either sharing - which will upload the file to your Screencast.com account instantly - or saving, whereby you can choose the destination on your computer that you wish the file to be stored. Theoretically at least this gives you the choice of either sharing your file over the web, or sending it in an email.
It's really as simple as that. Furthermore, should you decide to delete a file at some later point, it will also be deleted on Screencast.com. All from clicking the delete button below your image or video.
As your videos and images are all stored locally and arranged in a library of thumbnails, you are not forced to share them immediately, and can easily do so at any point in time.
Sharing is not the strongest card in the deck for Jing, and if there is one thing that lets the project down at this stage, it is a lack of image and video export options. Images, which can be saved to your desktop or instantly shared from your Screencast.com account, are only produced in the .png format. There is nothing wrong with that, per se, but if you want a .jpeg file, you are going to have to convert the file yourself with another application. This is annoying more than anything.
Video sharing, though, is a whole different game which goes beyond annoying and into the realms of unpleasant.
Certainly, it is easy enough to share your video by uploading and linking to your Screencast.com account, but if you don't want one of those, this is where the problems begin.
Because the videos produced by Jing Project, which you can save to your desktop, are in .swf format. That's great in terms of maintaining pretty good quality at low data sizes, and allows Jing Project to create videos on the fly, without having to encode the footage first. The problem is that very few people have an .swf player as standard on their computer, and .swf is one of the few formats you will not be able to upload to YouTube, or almost any other video sharing service.
All of this would seem to conspire towards making the easiest option for sharing signing up for a Screencast.com account, which while free for the duration of the Jing Project experiment - is usually a paid service that charges for storage and bandwidth. This walled-garden approach just doesn't swing it in these days of easy media sharing online. I would rather pay a modest fee for the software for the freedom to upload where I choose than use a free service tied into a proprietary hosting solution.
Linux is currently unsupported. A broadband Internet connection is highly recommended.
In terms of ease of use and two-for-one functionality, Jing Project is a knock-out success, providing one of the easiest ways to capture video or still images from your desktop that I have seen to date. This will be priceless for those working in tech support or educational / training roles, and will also come in very handy for others looking to help out a friend without having to explain an on-screen procedure blow-by-blow in text, or over the phone.
By rolling both video and stills capture together, and making the most of an interface that foregrounds simplicity and ease of use, Jing Project is likely to open up screencasting to a non-technical audience, which is a definite step forward.
This is by no means a replacement for the professional end of screencasting tools, such as Techsmith Camtasia, as without even rudimentary annotation or editing features, Jing Project is aimed squarely at the casual user. It is this casual user that is likely to get the most from Jing, which sits unobtrusively in the corner of your screen waiting to take and share captures at any point in time.
Sharing, however, is the weakest card for Jing Project, and as it stands today is likely to be a deal breaker for many.
The main issue here is in locking the user into using Screencast.com for sharing and publishing videos and images. Yes, you can save .png and .swf files to your desktop, but there are very few video publishing destinations out there that accept the .swf format, leaving the average user stuck with sending out links to their Screencast.com account for sharing, rather than being able to easily embed, email or publish elsewhere.
In these days of easy media sharing and data portability this is all a little lame, especially if you consider that once the Jing Project comes to an end, and the final release candidate goes live, you will be stuck paying a fair amount for content storage each year. The Jing Project developers could learn something here from the recent, feature-packed screen capture tool Skitch which makes it incredibly easy to drag and drop images to email, as well as publish directly to your Flickr account, .mac or own website.
This irritating flaw aside, though, Jing Project is a really simple screen capture and screencasting solution that will meet the simple needs of those not looking to create all-singing, all-dancing screencasts and captures, but to quickly and easily communicate in images what would take a lot longer in words.
For that reason alone it is well worth trying out.
If you would like to learn more about Jing Project, you might want to check out the following links:
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Originally written by Michael Pick for MasterNewMedia and titled: "Screencasting Gets Easier With New Screen Capture And Dektop Recording Tool: Jing Project"