Create video screen captures for free with Jing

Have you ever had the need to show someone how to do something on the computer, but you can’t do it in person? It’s infuriating to talk people through things on the phone, “Click on the file menu… no, the file menu. At the top of the screen! That’s probably the title bar. No, I’ve no idea how you managed to get that screen up either. Just shut it down and I’ll come over tomorrow or something.”

One solution is to take over their computer with something like Logmein, or you could also capture a video of yourself doing what needs to be done so that they can copy it on their own machine. The problem I’ve always had with the screen capture method is that all the decent programs cost money – it seemed to be that if it was free, it was rubbish.

Jing Project is the online home of Jing

Jing is a free screen capture and screencast tool for PC and Mac that allows you to capture images or video from your desktop and either post them to or save them as Flash files. I tested the Mac version.

After downloading and installing the program you are able to select whether you want to grab an image or a video. I already had Safari open, so I opted to capture a video and clicked on Safari. This told Jing to capture the whole window. I’m afraid I didn’t do anything very interesting, but you can see by looking at the video below how it captured mouse movements, screen movements, and typing. If I were trying to explain something to a friend or colleague this would prove invaluable. As already mentioned, the captures can be uploaded to or saved on your desktop as Flash (swf) files that load just fine in your web browser if you have the Flash player installed.

Jing has the option to record narration through the microphone, or to record system audio with the addition of a 3rd party program. At the moment I don’t have need of either, although the narration could again prove very useful if trying to guide someone through a tricky process.

The video captures are decent quality, although a little jerky if you try to do anything too quickly. Apparently the technique for a good screencast is to slow down a little so that your viewers can see what you’re doing. I don’t know if that’s a true productivity tip or if it’s because the software can’t keep up, but I can see it might be necessary to take it easy whilst recording.

One real downside, though, is that Jing produces some pretty hefty files. The capture of about a minute’s browsing weighs in at 11Mb. A minute of my entire desktop takes up 18Mb. Perhaps uploading to YouTube would help, but in their raw format Jing screencasts are hardly light on traffic. Another slight annoyance is that the screencasts are displayed at their original size: if I capture the entire screen at 1280×1024 and then load the file up in Firefox I can’t see the whole thing in one go. I think this will have to be a tool for capturing one window rather than the entire desktop.

Having said that, Jing looks very useful. If you have a need to show people your desktop but can’t do it in person, or if you’re a digital artist who wants to record their workflow, it’s worth a look.

View my Jing screencast here.

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