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The Many Ways of Capturing the Moment With Linux

The Many Ways of Capturing the Moment With Linux

Just like doing almost anything in Linux, something as simple as snapping a screen cap means you get to pick from a variety of applications designed to get that image from screen to file with just the right combination of whistles and bells -- or lack thereof -- along the way. Remember, though, that it's not always easy to interchange them between distros.

By Jack M. Germain
10/20/10 5:00 AM PT

Capturing a screen image is a basic computing task -- so basic, in fact, that almost every computer keyboard has a dedicated key to grab a picture of what the monitor is displaying in the instant the key is pressed.

Three Linux apps have proven very useful to me. I use Shutter, Gnome Screenshot and mtPaint Snapshot almost daily in documenting Linux Picks selections and feature articles about using computers.

In the earliest text-based DOS (Disc Operating System) days of the PC, the Print Screen (Prn Scrn) key was used to literally send the image on the monitor's display to the printer. Today, pressing that key saves the screen image to a file. Far from being complicated, using screen capture software for any Linux distribution is fast and simple.

As a proponent of the Linux OS, writing about Linux apps each week helps LinuxInsider dispel the nagging attitude that doing stuff in Linux is difficult compared to using Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X. That's not the case with Linux apps today. To borrow a common phrase and apply it to Linux, yes, there's an app for that!

Shutterly Functional

Shutter is a well-tuned screen capture app that similar to KSnapshot, the resident screen grab utility in the KDE desktop for Linux. If you have little enthusiasm for KDE, Shuttter is a good alternative for the standard Gnome Linux environment.

This screen utility captures with ease desktop, parent window, child window and rectangular area views. Shutter has a plug-in library that provides resizing functions and special effects.

Shutter has other tools not usually found in more basic screen capture apps. These enhancements let you delay the image capture to prepare the displayed view. You can also activate/deactivate the window border and cursor.

Shutter
Shutter

Tools Galore

The included drawing tools are linked to an external editor. I like this ability. It eliminates the need to load the saved image into an image editor such as GIMP. (See my review here).

This feature-rich screen capture app even makes it a snap to grab a website display without using the Web browser's "save as" options. Shutter accomplishes this with the Gnome Web photo service.

Another feature not found in other capture apps is the ability to upload the saved screen image to an image hosting site without going through the Web browser. Shutter has a neat ability to support multiple monitor settings so you can capture the active monitor without jumping through configuration hoops.

Edit Fest

No doubt typical users have little need to do heavy editing of their screen grabs. But those who work in technical documentation or do sophisticated graphic editing will quickly appreciate Shutter's editing toolbox. With the vast arsenal of editing tools built into Shutter, you do not have to use other specialty graphic apps to continue working.

These editing tools let you add text and shapes such as arrows, rectangles and ellipses to the screenshot. You can customize each added element by altering the color and line width of shapes. You can change the font for added text.

You can hide private data captured in the screen grab image. You can also hide IP or email addresses.

One of the handiest editing tools for me is the built-in cropping tool. Using it is a no-brainer. Just choose the area to be cropped with the mouse or put the desired dimensions into the input fields.

Plug-In Plurality

Included with Shutter are 18 plug-ins that provide cool effects to your screenshots. No external add-ons are available, however.

The plugins range from sepia and grayscale to texture enhancements such as jigsaw pieces, raised and sunken borders, and hard and soft edges.

Other plugins let you perform a PDF export of the saved image. Other visual effects are torn paper, watermark and offset.

'Take a ScreenShot'

That is how Canonical brands the Gnome Screenshot app in Ubuntu. It is the installed screen grab app of choice in that distro.

Take
Take Screenshot

Take ScreenShot functions much like a graphical front end for the print screen button on the keyboard. It provides the two functions of pressing the (PrtSc) button to capture the entire desktop display or pressing the Alt-PrtSc button to grab only the active window.

The plain GUI (graphical user interface), I think, is a better option to pressing the keyboard buttons. If for no other reason, the GUI offers a few embellishments.

Grabbing the Shot

Linux lets you work your way. So you could type a command line instruction. You can, if you wish, type:

$ gnome-panel-screenshot

To grab the active window and specify a delay factor, use this CLI:

$ gnome-panel-screenshot--window --delay 5 <== change the number for the desired seconds of delay!

A prompt asks for the location to save the screenshot.

Take a Few Extras

The Gnome ScreenShot GUI has three buttons to specify the area of the grab. You can choose Grab the whole desktop, Grab the current window or Select the area to grab.

This last choice closes the GUI and gives you a crosshair (+) to draw a box around the area to be grabbed. Once you release the mouse button, a Save Screenshot dialog box opens. This is the same action included in the GUI when you select the other two button options.

The first two choices let you specify the time delay in seconds before the app grabs the image. If you select the area to grab manually (choice three) the time delay option grays out.

Take an Effect

You can also include the pointer in the screen grab. This option is useful if you want to set a capture delay so you can move the pointer near an element on the desktop or in the window being grabbed.

If you select the Grab the Current Window option, you can also include a window border around the screenshot image. A drop down window lets you select None, Drop Shadow or Border.

Click the Take Screenshot button to finish the action. After the screen grab is done, a dialog box opens so you can specify the location and file name. The image is saved in .png format.

Paint a Screen Save

mtPaint SnapShot Screen Capture is the installed screen grab app used in Puppy Linux. Its look and feel are much simpler than the Gnome Screenshot app.

mtPaint
mtPaint

You get only one choice: Take the image now or wait 10 seconds. It instantly loads the screen image to Puppy Linux's mtPaint photo editing app.

This gives you the ability to crop the view and use any of the picture-enhancing editing tools bundled in mtPaint. The cross-hair selection tool is already active when you mouse over the captured image.

Another cool feature of mtPaint SnapShot is saving the screen grab from mtPaint. This gives you six file formats: BMP.GIF, PNG, TGA, TIFF and XPM.

Limited Access

The Puppy Linux distro has dozens of offshoot versions. The latest pure Puppy distro breed uses a new package managing system that allows access to many of the apps available in the Ubuntu Lucid Lynx release. Most Puppy versions and their derivatives also have a file converting feature to recompile an archived package into the Puppy .PET package format.

But I have not found a way to convert Puppy packages so they can be installed in other Linux distros. That's too bad, because I would love to be able to use the mtPaint screen grab in Ubuntu.

But a great thing about Puppy Linux is I can boot it from a CD or USB drive on any of my desktop and laptop computers -- including my netbook. So I can easily work with Shutter and Gnome ScreenShot when I boot into Ubuntu or mtPaint when I run Puppy Linux.

Making Choices

As an aside, you might be wondering why I bother with Puppy Linux at all if I have Ubuntu on all of my computers. The answer comes down to the essence of the Linux OS philosophy. It is all about having choices.

Puppy Linux barks! It runs in RAM and fits well on older hardware and is dog-racing fast. Sure, Ubuntu is an ideal desktop environment. But so is the Puppy distro. And some screen capture projects just go faster and smoother with the Puppy Linux apps doing the work.


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