This is a read-only archive. Find the latest Linux articles, documentation, and answers at the new Linux.com!

Linux.com

Feature: Tools & Utilities

Record your desktop with Linux tools

By Kurt Edelbrock on August 06, 2008 (4:00:00 PM)

Share    Print    Comments   

You can capture video of all of the amazing things happening on your desktop with one of Linux's many screencasting applications. These programs are perfect for creating demonstrations for blogs and tutorials, and for illustrating projects with more than just still images.

Many different programs are available, and they all provide a different set of features, options, and output formats. When choosing, consider the degree of control you want to have over your video resolution and whether the video is intended to work on non-Linux operating systems. Common open source output formats, such as FLAC and Ogg Theora, work natively on Linux but require software and plugins on proprietary operating systems. User interfaces also vary greatly; some applications are nothing more than an icon in the system tray while others depend on large interfaces with many options.

I tested three popular screencasting applications to see which is best for everyday use. I evaluated the user interface, the quality and variety of output formats, and the ease of installation and obtaining the required dependencies. I tested the programs on a MacBook Intel Core 2 Duo with 4GB of RAM, dual-booting into Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron.

Istanbul

Istanbul is a simple desktop recorder that lives in your system tray. Clicking on the icon starts the recording session, and clicking it again ends it. The video is encoded in the Ogg Theora format. You can capture the full screen, a selected window, or a portion of the desktop, with or without sound.

This application doesn't have a complicated user interface, making it easy to use, but there are some drawbacks. Although you do have some control over the resolution size, you cannot change the output format of the video file. This isn't much of a problem if you're going to upload the video to a Flash-based video site, but the Ogg Theora format doesn't work out of the box of the main proprietary operating systems without an application like the VLC media player. Therefore, you'll have to convert to a different format if your intended audience requires it.

Istanbul is easy to install, and it is included in most distribution repositories. In Ubuntu, I was able to install it with the Synaptic Package Manager. It requires PyGTK and GStreamer, which are common dependencies.

Wink

Wink is geared toward making video tutorials; it compiles a series of screenshots to a Flash format, and allows you to edit the video directly and add text boxes, navigation buttons, and still images. It includes many advanced features, such as the ability to create preloaders (elements that load portions of the video before it starts playing) and control bars for the Flash playback.

The interface is not as minimal as Istanbul's, but it is still relatively straightforward. The main drawback of Wink is the video output formats: Flash and Windows .exe programs are good for viewing the video when the file is local or when it is hosted on a personal Web site, but you can't upload Flash and .exe files to most social networking and video sharing sites. Wink is good for corporate entities who want to share a tutorial with staff, but it is less useful for home users who want to show off their desktop on YouTube.

Most distributions include Wink in their repositories, and you can install it with any package management application. Unfortunately, though, Wink doesn't work with Ubuntu 8.04 as of the writing of this article without some hacking. I tested it for this review with a previous version of Ubuntu.

XVidCap

With XVidCap, you can capture desktop video and take single-frame screenshots. You can record portions of the screen by dragging a red selection rectangle over the area you wish to capture. The program can handle a wide variety of output formats, including MPEG, AVI, Flash, and QuickTime.

The interface consists of a small toolbar with more options tucked away inside a Preferences panel. XVidCap uses the FFmpeg libraries to capture video or a series of images, and it can also embed audio. Some people claim that XVidCap can dramatically slow down your computer if you try to record a large area. I didn't have that problem on my machine, but I had 4GB of RAM.

Installation of XVidCap is easy because it comes in the repositories for most distributions. It requires common dependencies, such as libavcodec (the FFmpeg codec libraries for video), and Cairo, Glade Interface Designer, and GTK+ to render the graphical interface.

Conclusion

XVidCap is the most versatile of these three tools for recording your desktop and creating screencasts. Istanbul is a close second, but its lack of support for a variety of different output types is a drawback. Wink is nice, but it's limited in use to only a few tasks, and it's not for users who merely want to record their desktops. XVidCap can handle many popular video formats, allowing it to play nice with both Windows and Mac OS X. The red selection box is kind of clunky, and there is no easy way to record only a specific window without it, but XVidCap gets the job done in an efficient manner.

Kurt Edelbrock is a technology journalist, blogger, and university student. He writes for a variety of open source publications, and serves as a technical consultant for a large public university.

Share    Print    Comments   

Comments

on Record your desktop with Linux tools

Note: Comments are owned by the poster. We are not responsible for their content.

Record your desktop with Linux tools

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.74.205.122] on August 06, 2008 04:38 PM
I believe you missed gtk-recordmydesktop.

#

Re: Record your desktop with Linux tools

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 190.95.13.250] on August 06, 2008 04:57 PM
... and qt-recordmydesktop. In fact, recordmydesktop and front-ends :-).

#

Record your desktop with Linux tools

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.0.0.169] on August 06, 2008 05:37 PM
Nice article. Will try XVidCap. Tanks.

#

Amazing...

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.156.159.10] on August 06, 2008 06:27 PM
Just yesterday I was wondering how I would go about recording my desktop. I put it out of my mind for the moment, because I didn't have time/energy to research it. Then I get a few minutes today, figure I'll pop in for a minute to see what's new, and this article is at the top of the list...I didn't know mind-reading was a feature of linux, too :D

---------------------------------------------
Linux user #476442
Kubuntu user #23420
Converted: April 2008 B-)

#

better alternative

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.95.236.142] on August 06, 2008 08:39 PM
ffmpeg.

#

Wink is best for tutorials

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 145.94.108.175] on August 06, 2008 11:24 PM
I had to do tutorial/demos of software, and I ended up with Wink because it is much easier to edit the video (add text, speed up some parts) and the image quality is perfect (lossless and still very good compression).

If your goal is not to show off your latest compiz plugin on youtube, but to effectively demonstrate how to use your software to people, wink is definitely the way to go. Additionally, as it generates a flash file, it's very easy to integrate to your own website.

#

Re: Wink is best for tutorials

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 127.0.0.1] on August 07, 2008 04:09 PM
the only problem is the fact that is closed source freeware.

#

Record your desktop with Linux tools

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 99.202.251.47] on August 07, 2008 05:22 AM
It's surprising to some people, but VLC can actually record the desktop. If you open screen:// with it, it'll show the desktop. After that, you just check the streaming/saving options you want and viola! Instant recording to whatever formats VLC supports. The streaming is fun for showing people how to do things.

#

Record your desktop with Linux tools

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.113.106.16] on August 07, 2008 08:15 AM
> Istanbul is a close second, but its lack of support for
> a variety of different output types is a drawback.

It's not a bug, it's a feature! Using a free codec unemcumbered by patents' threats and supported out of the box by most linux systems instead of alternatives.

Another feature: it's the most simple to use from the pack.

#

Record your desktop with Linux tools

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.81.19.162] on August 07, 2008 08:43 AM
VLC doesn't support ogg vorbis? It says Theora for the video and Vorbis for the audio in the list to trans-code.

#

Record your desktop with Linux tools

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 213.112.118.48] on August 07, 2008 02:26 PM

Others free software desktop records tools for GNU/Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 166.70.207.2] on August 11, 2008 09:01 AM

This story has been archived. Comments can no longer be posted.



 
Tableless layout Validate XHTML 1.0 Strict Validate CSS Powered by Xaraya