Creating training videos with recordMyDesktop

Learning Curve

© sebastian kaulitzki,

© sebastian kaulitzki,

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A training video of a new application can really reduce the learning curve. The recordMyDesktop program is at an early stage of development but already stable enough for everyday use. We'll show you how to use the program to capture custom procedures in a desktop video.

IT trainers understand that the best way to teach a desktop procedure is to help the user visualize each step. Overhead projectors were long regarded as the best approach; in recent years, computer-based slideshows and video projectors have extended this philosophy. But even these "modern" teaching aids suffer from the fact that they are static: In the best case, all you can show your students is a short text segment and a couple of screenshots.

Educational videos, typically implemented as Flash animations, are a relatively recent innovation. To play the video, all the student needs is a web browser with a suitable Flash plugin. Because a native Linux application for Macromedia's proprietary Flash format did not exist at first, trainers and teachers had no alternative but to create their own tools for building training videos.

A number of Linux developers rose to this challenge and programmed recordMyDesktop [1] and Istanbul [2]. Both programs are currently at an early stage of development, but lab tests reveal that recordMyDesktop is certainly mature and stable enough for everyday use.

Installation

To run recordMyDesktop, all you need is a working Linux PC with one of the major video players (Totem, Xine, MPlayer). If you want the recording to be professional, the system also must have a sound card, and you will need a microphone for sound recording. If you intend to use the GUI to control the software, you need both the free Theora codec and a complete Python environment, including matching Qt and Gtk modifications.

RecordMyDesktop is available in binary format for almost any Linux distribution, which considerably simplifies the installation. Users with Fedora and Mandriva, or their derivatives, will find pre-built packages at Rpmfind [3]; packages for Slackware and its derivatives are available from Linuxpackages [4]. Debian and Ubuntu offer the package in their own repositories, and fans of openSUSE can turn to Rpmseek [5]. If you use any other distribution or prefer to build the program yourself, Sourceforge [6] has a tarball with the current source code package.

Although recordMyDesktop is a command-line program, the developers have programmed two almost identical front ends for Gnome/XFCE and KDE: Gtk-recordmydesktop and Qt-recordmydesktop. Both are available as pre-built binary packages for most distributions.

Synaptic, Rpmdrake, and YaST will also set up the required menu entries when they install the programs, allowing users to launch the software in next to no time.

Sound and Vision

Modern computers typically have a sound card. To avoid reinventing the silent movie with recordMyDesktop, just attach a microphone to your sound card's microphone input jack.

In our lab, I achieved the best results with a simple clip microphone clipped onto the collar of my shirt or attached to a buttonhole (Figure 1).

The microphone needs a stereo jack; if you use a mono jack, a modern sound card will only record on one channel. On top of this, PC sound cards are not designed to support just any input impedance.

Microphones with just a couple of hundred ohms impedance are not suitable: You will achieve the best results with a device that offers about 2.5 to a maximum of 10kohms.

Feedback

To avoid feedback through your PC's loudspeakers, most distributions disable the microphone input by default; you might need to enable it in the ALSA Mixer. To do so, check the Rec. checkbox in the Mic slider window.

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