General

By no means a replacement for hard core users of SnagIt, Screenpresso is a good, lightweight screen capture tool.

What I like about it:

  • No installation required, so you can run it directly from your USB thumb drive (although, you can install it, if you prefer).
  • It has the usual tools that are handy for tech writers (arrows, bubble text boxes, callout numbering, blurring, image shaddows, and torn edge effects).
  • It has extra features, like automatic image resizing (to a fixed width, height, percentage, or maximum size) and automatic border effects.
  • It is free.

Screenpresso Example

It is not perfect and is not feature rich. For example, I did find it had some strangeness when editing text in text boxes and bubbles. Also, you cannot edit saved images using the free version.

Its place in a tech writer’s toolbox could be on their USB thumb drive as a good alternative when they are away from their own computer.
Find more information about Screenpresso and download it from http://www.screenpresso.com/.


In my current role, I need to produce training material for a software product that has three variations (depending on the licence the user has). The original framework to create these training materials was to have three completely separate sets of PowerPoint slides – one set for each ‘flavour’ of the product.

Coming from a strong single sourcing background, the pain point was that 80% of the content was shared across the three flavours! It was only a scattering of slides throughout that varied between the flavours. The maintenance overhead of having to make updates to three sets of slides for the common content was enormous. Not to mention the scope for errors and inconsistencies between the different variations.

I needed a solution to save time (and my single sourcing sensibility!).

I wanted the ability to include or exclude specific slides based on a set of conditions. (Sounding like Author-it’s variants functionality, anyone??)

The solution

The solution consisted of:

  • Marking up slides that were specific to a particular flavour (or flavours) with a condition tag.
  • A macro that would ‘publish’ a slide deck for a particular flavour of the product. The macro would remove slides that did not meet the conditions for the required flavour of the product.

Adding conditional tags to the slides

Marking up the slides with the conditions was just a matter of deciding on a convention for the conditional tags. I decided that my conditional tags would begin with ‘<<Cond’.  I put the conditional markers in the notes section of the PowerPoint slides. The following screenshot shows an example of the conditions.

Adding conditional tags to the slides

The actual conditions that I could include are totally arbitrary – as long as they start with ‘<<Cond’ (because that is what the macro will look for).

Running the macro

When I run the macro, it:

  1. Searches through all of the slides in the deck for conditions starting with ‘<<Cond’.
  2. Displays a list of these codes for me to select which conditions I want to apply to the slide deck. If a slides contains:
    • One or more conditions, if any condition on the slide matches one of the selected conditions, the slide is included.
    • No conditions, it is included only if the Include slides with no conditions? check box is selected (see screenshot below).
  3. Goes through each slide testing the conditions. If it fails the test, the slide is deleted.

For example, if I wanted to build a slide deck for the ‘Strawberry’ version of the product, I would select the conditions as shown in the following screenshot.

Running the macro

After running the macro, the slide deck would contain only slides that either had '<<CondProduct=Strawberry>>' in the notes section or had no conditional tags at all.

It is rough. It is rudimentary. But it lets me single source, which is what I like.

As a side, I have another macro which goes through the slide deck and removes all of the conditional codes from the notes – just a quick tidy up macro.

If you would like any more information or would like to use my macro, please contact me.

An invaluable tool I have been using for the last year or so is Texter. Developed by Lifehacker (also a great blog in itself) it saves you loads of time by replacing a pre-defined abbreviation with text as you type.

How it works: Texter monitors what you type. When you type in a pre-defined series of keystrokes (a ‘hotstring’), Texter replaces those characters with a longer section of text. For example, if your company name is Primatech Paper Company, you could set up a hotstring of ppc. When you type ppc, Texter replaces it with Primatech Paper Company.

Texter works with any Windows application.

An example I use at work is below.

Tip: To avoid inadvertently inserting expanding text mid-word I use the full stop (or period) before all of my hotstrings. It is unlikely that I’ll type a key sequence of a full stop and then a letter directly after it and not want it expanded.

Although not the latest version, you can get SnagIt 7.2.5 for free:

  1. Download the trial version of v7.2.5 from here.
  2. Get your key here.
  3. After you install it and run it for the first time, click the Unlock link when the SnagIt Message Centre is displayed.

Thanks to Confessions of a freeware junkie for the tip off.

[Update: 2010-09-06] The link to the key in step 2 is now dead. You could consider Screenpresso.

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