Screencasting with gtk-recordMyDesktop

cameraIf a picture is worth a thousand words, then a screencast has to be worth at least a thousand pictures. I don’t know about you, but I find a well-done screencast to be a great way to learn how to do something or to find out about a new feature or function in a piece of software.

Over the last year or three, I’ve tried out several screencasting tools for the Linux desktop. Most of them left me flat. One or two just outright didn’t work. The one I keep coming back to is gtk-recordMyDesktop. It’s a simple and effective way of recording a screencast that offers few surprises.

A little background

gtk-recordMyDesktop is one of the graphical front-ends to the command line screencasting tool called recordMyDesktop. The command line portion of the tool does all the heavy lifting – recording and saving what you record – while the GUI makes it easy to set recording options and to start and stop recordings.

In addition to recording video, recordMyDesktop can also record an audio track along with the video. The video is saved in an open format called Theora and the audio is saved in a related format called Vorbis. The resulting file is saved to your hard drive with the extension .ogv.

Getting going

Chances are you don’t have gtk-recordMyDesktop (or even recordMyDesktop) installed on your computer. You can do that by either downloading the source code and compiling it, or installing the software using your distro’s package manager. I chose the latter route and gtk-recordMyDesktop installed seamlessly.

Once you’ve done that, launch the application. I usually do that using Kupfer, but on my Linux Mint desktop I can also fire up gtk-recordMyDesktop by selecting Menu > Sound and Video > Desktop recorder.

gtk-recordMyDesktop main window

From there, you can customize gtk-recordMyDesktop to suit your needs. To do that, click the Advanced button and then change the settings on one of four tabs.

gtk-recordMyDesktop advanced options

You can tell the program where to save temporary files, set performance and sound options, and what elements the program will capture when recording. For more information on the settings, see the gtk-recordMyDesktop documentation.

Two settings that you might want to change on the main program window are Video Quality and (if you’re doing a narration) Sound Quality. I usually keep these at 100. That gives me good resolution, but a bigger file. If you don’t mind lower quality, lower these settings as needed. Keep in mind that any setting lower than 75 results in fuzzier video.

Recording your first screencast

Launch gtk-recordMyDesktop. Then, click the Select Window button. This allows you to choose the window on your desktop that will be the focus of your screencast – for example, a Mozilla Firefox window.

Your mouse pointer will change to a cross. Then, click the window (like that Firefox window mentioned above) that you want to record. If you want to record the whole desktop, just click the Record button in your system tray. It’s the red ball.

gtk-recordMyDesktop record button

If you’re recording a single window, I suggest making that window a bit smaller before you record. You’ll wind up with a smaller file overall, regardless of the setting you choose. I usually make the windows that I record about 50% their normal size. They, and what’s on them, are still clear.

After you click the Record button, do whatever it is you want to record in that window. If you’re including narration, don’t use that to describe what you’re doing. Instead, the narration should set things up and provide segues between actions. More on this below.

When you’re done, press CTRL+Left ALT+s on your keyboard to stop recording. gtk-recordMyDesktop will encode what you’ve just recorded. Depending on how long your screencast is, encoding can take anywhere from a few seconds to up to a minute.

gtk-recordMyDesktop encoder

Once the screencast has been encoded, click the Save As button. Select the directory in which you want to save the file and give it a new name (the name that gtk-recordMyDesktop gives it is out.ogv). Then open the file in your favourite media play to check it out.

Demo screencast

If the screencast turned out the way you wanted it to, keep it and post it somewhere. Otherwise, re-record it.

There’s more to screencasting than the video

Far too many people think that all they need to do is fire up their favourite screencasting software and start recording. Well, they can. But if you want to make your screencasts effective, you need to do some writing and planning. I’ve written about this elsewhere.

The guidelines that I usually give people are:

  • Keep the screencast short, under two minutes is best so you don’t lose your viewers.
  • Focus on one thing and one thing only.
  • If you have to narrate, only do so when necessary – usually to set something up, to clarify something, or to segue between actions.

Putting together a screencast is a great way to teach and to learn. gtk-recordMyDesktop helps make the process a bit easier.

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