I just finished another book, and the books I write require screenshots. Previously, I relied on a shareware screenshot utility called Flash-It. Written by Nobu Toge and last updated in 1993, Flash-It 3.0.2 continues to function today, surprising for a utility that works at such a low-level.
That is, Flash-It continues to work well with one notable (if not surprising) exception: Microsoft applications. If I were a conspiracy buff, I’d say Nobu Toge did that on purpose, but that’s unlikely since most of the Microsoft programs it has trouble with didn’t exist in 1993. Some problems were minor, such as bits of color showing in screenshots taken when the monitor was set to 256 grays.
Internet Explorer 3.0, though, was the final straw for poor Flash-It due to problems in Standard File dialogs, so I went looking for another screenshot utility. I didn’t go far, because Ambrosia Software posted their $20 shareware Snapz Pro 1.0.1 to Info-Mac that very day, and I’ve used it happily since. There are many other screenshot programs out there, but Snapz Pro met my immediate needs, so I didn’t look further. Perhaps some day I’ll compare them all, but for now I’m sticking with Snapz Pro.
Loading the Film — Snapz Pro installs a single control panel, but you only use it for basic setup. Clicking the Settings button brings up a small dialog where you choose the Snapz Key that invokes Snapz Pro (it defaults to Command-Shift-3). A checkbox toggles sound effects. Snapz Pro only saves screenshots in PICT format (which may seem slightly limiting – more on that later), but you can choose which program will open those PICTs when you double-click them in the Finder. Finally, a pair of radio buttons let you select whether invoking Snapz Pro should open the Snapz palette (the program’s primary interface) or take the screenshot with the last-used capture tool.
Click the Shutter — When the time comes to take a screenshot, you arrange the screen however you want, and, if necessary, drop a menu. Then you press the Snapz Key, which brings up the Snapz palette.
The palette contains four large buttons for the different capture tools: Screen, Window, Menu, and Selection. Below the four capture tool buttons are three pop-up menus. One lets you choose where you want to send your screenshot: to a file in the Screen Snapz folder that Snapz Pro installs in your Apple menu, to the clipboard, to the printer, or to a file within a folder in your Screen Snapz folder. Another pop-up menu lets you set the scaling of your image from 10 to 400 percent in a variety of useful percentages. The final pop-up menu enables you to change the colors in your screenshot using different palettes, including Black/White, System palette, Greyscale palette (probably the standard for books), Thousands, and Windows palette.
Checkboxes let you decide if the cursor should show in the screenshot and if you want to name each screenshot individually. If you choose not to name each screenshot, Snapz Pro names them using the name of the active program, several spaces, an incremented digit, and a ".pict" filename extension.
Once the Snapz palette has appeared, you modify the settings in the pop-up menus and the checkboxes (Snapz Pro remembers your settings from the previous usage), then you click one of the four capture tool buttons. (There are also copious keyboard shortcuts.) The cursor changes to indicate which tool you’ve selected, after which you click on the screen, window, or menu you want to capture. Obviously, the Selection capture tool requires you to drag out a rectangular selection instead of just clicking, and the Menu capture tool is unavailable unless you had a menu dropped when you invoked Snapz Pro. Helpfully, Snapz Pro enables you to select which sub-menu you capture of a set of visible hierarchical menus, and by default captures all visible sub-menus down from the one you click.
As you click on a screen, menu, or window, or let up on the mouse button after making a selection, Snapz Pro makes a clicking shutter noise and inverts the area you’ve captured, providing visual feedback about your target area. If you’re saving to a file and you’ve selected the checkbox to choose the file name, a small dialog appears where you can enter the name (it’s not a Standard File dialog, and the file will be stored in the pre-specified folder). If you enter the name of an existing screenshot, Snapz Pro asks you to confirm that you want to replace it.
The well-written Snapz Pro documentation outlines various options you can apply to each of the capture tools. For instance, pressing Option causes the Snapz palette to reappear so you can take more screenshots immediately. The Command key modifies the Screen capture tool to capture all attached monitors, and also modifies the Window capture tool to capture only the window content. When using the Selection capture tool, Shift constrains the selection’s shape to a square, and Command tries to select the smallest area in the selection that is not of a certain "bluescreen" color.
Developing the Image — For my purposes, Snapz Pro’s ability to change the palette to greyscale was helpful, but not sufficient. The publisher, Osborne/McGraw-Hill, wanted screenshots in TIFF format, and Snapz Pro only takes PICTs. Luckily, the free clip2gif from Yves Piguet works wonderfully for converting files with a single drag & drop action.
Clip2gif proved useful later on as well. My publisher wanted me to print all the screenshots and label them with the appropriate figure numbers. This was a pain, but it’s hard to argue with production departments – you don’t want them to mess up your screenshots. I turned on the Desktop Printer capabilities in System 7.5.5, selected the screenshots for a chapter, and dropped them on the desktop printer icon, which resulted in the files printing in the order that they appeared in the Finder window (View by Name in this case).
The only problem was that if I used the SimpleText PICT files, SimpleText printed multiple pages for the larger screenshots. Since the paper copies were merely representative of the screenshots, I saw no reason to waste paper printing edges that flowed onto a second page. If, however, I dropped the clip2gif TIFF files on the desktop printer, clip2gif displayed the Print dialog for each file, allowing me to specify that I wanted to print only the first page of each one.
Image Problems — Although Snapz Pro met my immediate needs, it isn’t perfect. The feature I would have most liked to see is an option to set the pattern for automatically naming and numbering screenshots. The basic capability is obviously there – what’s lacking is an interface to let the user specify a more useful pattern to the names and numbers, like "Figure 23-12."
Also annoying was the requirement that the screenshots end up in the Screen Snapz folder in my Apple Menu Items folder. I partition my hard disk in very specific ways, and I don’t like being forced to save files in one place, much less in my System Folder. Whenever I finished taking screenshots for a chapter, I had to copy them to the proper location for them on my hard disk. The destination folder should be configurable.
Finally, I could see adding the capability to send screenshots to more than one place at a time – I would have tried printing a screenshot at the same time I saved it to a file, especially if Snapz Pro could scale it to fit on a single page and automatically print the filename as a footer on the page. Perhaps that’s excessive, but authors would appreciate the flexibility.
Choosing the Camera — I used Snapz Pro for about a month and took over 80 screenshots with it, so I felt comfortable paying the $20 shareware fee via Ambrosia’s Web site (Snapz Pro reminds you about paying after 15 days of use by telling you how long you’ve had it and how many screenshots you’ve taken, which I rather miss now that I’ve paid, since I’m generally curious about how many screenshots I’ve taken). I never experienced crashing problems, and it’s a fat binary, so its performance was always snappy on my Power Mac 8500.
If you’re not happy with the built-in screenshot capability in the Mac OS, (press Command-Shift-3 to try it; in Mac OS 7.6, you can also press Command-Shift-4 to make a selection or capture a window), Snapz Pro is worth a look. It’s a solid utility, and a great example of a program that works well as shareware.