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Lotus ScreenCam 2.0 for Windows

Dennis Carothers


Lotus ScreenCam 2.0 for Windows

Lotus Development Corporation
55 Cambridge Parkway
Cambridge MA 02142
(800) 343-5414

Software Type: Screen Capture/Presentation Graphics Utility

List Price: $149; Street: $99

Pros: An inexpensive, well-designed, easy to use utility to record and play "movies" of screen actions for tutorials and presentations. Standard file formats TXT, WAV, BMP for movie elements make this an open and flexible tool. The interface is a little gem of design and the product works hard on the details. The captioning capabilities of version 2.0 make it competitive with high-priced demo development software. Distribution of ScreenCam files is free. Excellent on-line help. Technical support via phone and the Internet is free and unlimited to registered owners. And, it's fun!

Cons: A print manual would be nice, but on-line is good for the price. Pray IBM doesn't lose this one.


Major computer applications are now so complex and feature-rich that the user's need to quickly and correctly complete procedures is finally being recognized as a serious productivity issue. Word processors, spreadsheets, and databases, to name three of the biggies, are making increasingly extensive use of tutorials, demos, and wizards to enhance their on-line documentation. These can be both general and specific, addressing the needs of novices, converts from other applications, and experienced users trying to execute infrequently used commands. Demos and tutorials are usually passive and run from the help system while wizards are interactive and engage the application directly in the task.

While the future of desktop computing may be in docucentric, wizard and agent-driven objects, the present world requires us to figure out what we want to do in a given application, call that thing by its right name, look up how it's done (in print or on-line), absorb that information and then do it. Sometimes, but not all the time, watching a sequence of commands being executed can be a real help by showing us a path through a procedure. Developers and documentation staff must determine where to commit the programming and design resources to build these aids with one eye on the project budget and the other eye on their usability tests. Users must be willing to take the time to watch these demos and tutorials. Lotus ScreenCam is a tool for producing these types of presentations.

System Requirements

An 80386 25MHz minimum system is required but a 80486 or higher is recommended. ScreenCam will not allow recording if less than 5MB of disk space is available. You must have Windows 3.1, a mouse and VGA 16-color graphics adapter (256 color and higher resolutions are not supported) and monitor. Options for adding a soundtrack: a sound card, microphone, headphones, speakers. This product was tested on a 486/66 machine with 16MB RAM and a Sound Blaster 16 card.


ScreenCam can be installed from the Windows Program Manager or File Manager in the usual way. The install program gives you the option of selecting a drive, directory, and Program Group for ScreenCam files. It also creates a separate directory and installs additional files in them that can be shared by other Lotus applications. The files are mostly DLLs (dynamic link library) and I've learned the hard way not to delete DLLs, so I'll just leave `em be. The complete installation requires 2.65MB of disk space.

Using ScreenCam

ScreenCam can be opened by double-clicking on its icon in the Program Group in which it is displayed or from within any Windows application that supports the insertion of objects. It will remain on top if you switch between open applications, but it occupies a very small piece of screen real estate and can be dragged to any part of the screen or minimized as needed. A lot of functionality is packed into the small ScreenCam control panel that is displayed when you open the program. A set of buttons control the recording process and the File and Edit menus offer numerous options.

Making Movies


ScreenCam contains a recorder and a player. In its simplest form, a movie is created by starting the recorder, performing some actions on screen, and stopping the recorder. A movie can be saved under a new file name or cleared from memory.


If you have the requisite hardware (sound card, microphone, speakers/headphones) you have a number of interesting options. You can narrate screen actions as you record them, add a soundtrack of voice, music, or other sounds to an existing movie, or record a sound-only file. Although you can only record at a sample rate of 11 kHz and a sample size of 8-bits, sound (.WAV) files recorded at higher levels can be opened and combined with the movie. The sonically-accomplished among you can edit your sounds files to produce higher-quality soundtracks. Compression options are available. I did manage to add the opening of James Brown's "I Feel Good" to a movie about changing templates in Word for Windows; it didn't add any instructional value but it sure was fun.

Captioning and Recording

Until the multimedia millennium arrives when all PCs will have real sound systems, on-screen text is still the surest way to convey the meaning of screen actions. The captioning capability of version 2.0 is its major new feature and makes ScreenCam a professional-level product. To include captions, you first create them then insert them as the movie is being recorded. This takes some planning. For a simple piece, an outline and caption text notes will probably do, but beyond that storyboarding is the way to go.

As with all forms of computer-based learning and presentations, the clearer the content, the easier the design choices become. Take some time to really look at the screens and actions your movie will show and think about what you want the viewer to learn. The same practices that make for effective help systems, on-line documentation, and presentations will serve you well in ScreenCam.

The range of presentations that can be produced with ScreenCam is enormous; the following suggestions apply mainly to using ScreenCam movies to enhance and supplement software help systems, which is the focus of my work.

If you stray from the topic, you risk losing the viewer. Lest you think this is all work and no play, my six year old son quickly learned to make his own talking pictures using Paintbrush and ScreenCam. He recorded his voice as he made his drawings and then played back the movie. This is now his favorite computer activity. I may have to buy a Zip drive to store it all!

When the content is determined, you can work on the caption text and display. Font style and size can be selected from the Windows font list. A set of caption backgrounds, plain, bar, plaque, bubble, pointer is included. Since ScreenCam uses bitmap (.BMP) files, a logo or other custom background may be inserted. Backgrounds are selectable for each caption so it is possible to use different backgrounds for different parts of a presentation or to highlight important information. The caption text is written in a text box and then dragged and dropped onto the background. Text is editable in the text box or it can be saved as a text (.TXT) file and edited in a word processor.

A caption design plan based on the content and style of the features and functions being presented should have the goal of displaying readable captions sized and placed for maximum effect. Captions should fit in, not overwhelm, the host screen. ScreenCam helps with this goal by providing options for positioning text on a background and for enabling hot keys to display and hide captions. The captions dialog allows you to define and alter the caption order and to edit and delete them. A sliding scale viewer and auto-numbering of captions keeps things organized.

Steady Hand

One part of building a movie that ScreenCam can't help with is controlling the mouse pointer movements. For a tutorial that shows how to open menus and dialogs, highlight and execute commands, place objects on the screen and so on, smooth, well-timed pointer movements are critical. I got the best results by setting the mouse speed to slow in the Windows Control Panel Mouse Dialog and using a consistent arcing movement across the screen. An alternative is to use keyboard commands and to list both the keyboard and mouse methods in the captions. This could be supplemented by an explanatory narration. Again, an understanding of the movie's purpose and intended audience should inform these choices.


Press the <Esc> key to stop recording a sequence. The movie can be played at once. It can then be saved or cleared (deleted) from memory. Reverse, Fast Forward, Volume Control, and Exit buttons are enabled when a movie file is open. Multiple movie playback is enabled by listing the files on the File Run... command line in Program Manager. An information file is automatically generated for each movie. File size and duration, screentrack and soundtrack settings, and author and revision information are all tracked. A text entry box is also available to add a description.


A movie can be saved as an executable (.EXE) file which combines the movie file with the player. This makes sense for a single movie. If more than one movie is being distributed, then they should be saved in the proprietary (.scm) format and the player included as a separate file. All the movies can then be accessed by the player. The player may be distributed free with ScreenCam files. Lotus requires that files distributed for "commercial purposes" display the ScreenCam logo (a separate file) in the product's splash (opening) screen, About dialog, media (disk or CD-ROM), packaging, Internet home page or other on-line service.

Network Distribution

The release notes file contains information on using ScreenCam with cc:Mail and Lotus Notes, but this review was done on a standalone PC so I cannot report on its network capabilities. A Notes field form is part of the Info... dialog.


The print documentation consists of a single card with the information necessary for installation, basic recording, and getting help on-line. The on-line help system is one of the best I have seen; the content is complete and well-organized and the design is superior. In addition to the standard <F1> and Help menu access, you can right-click any active control button, click on the question mark button in any dialog box, or open the QuickHelp screens for recording and playback reference.

One novel feature is a brief description of the highlighted menu command that displays in the program's title bar when the command is highlighted. Custom buttons on each help screen provide access to the related help menu and allow the topic to be printed. While you could start recording by using the printed directions, a few minutes spent in the help file will acquaint you with many useful features to control and customize functions.

Technical Support

On the two occasions I used Lotus Technical Support for Screen Cam, I found the phone support friendly and helpful. An automated fax-back support system is available at (800) 346-3508 and on the Internet at http://www.support.lotus.com.


I am impressed with ScreenCam's performance and features especially when compared with other screen capture products such as Dan Bricklin's Demo-IT ($289) and Blue Sky's WinHelp Video Kit ($89). ScreenCam performed smoothly, without glitches, and I liked its ability to add captions which the others do not. ScreenCam lets you record, playback, and edit to your hearts content and is worth your investment.

About the Author

Dennis Carothers can be reached at (617) 739-2147, dennisc@world.std.com and newmedia@bcs.org. Dennis Carothers Associates offers a range of on-line documentation and multimedia development consulting. He is Project Coordinator for the BCS Interactive Media SIG.

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