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Freeware helps admins create tutorials, documentation

For many admins, their biggest drudgery is creating documentation for existing processes. A number of software packages allow easy recording and playback of on-screen actions for the sake of tutorials or documentation, but they often carry a hefty price tag. Now there's a freeware alternative.

What do administrators hate most of all? The tedium of backups? The toil of re-imaging workstations?

Their biggest drudgery, many of them say, is creating documentation for existing processes. Often it feels like a complete waste of time, and many administrators freely confess they aren't very good at such things anyway. It's usually easier for them to demonstrate how to do something than to write it down.

To that end, there are a number of software packages designed to allow easy recording and playback of on-screen actions for the sake of tutorials or documentation. The drawback is that they often carry a hefty price tag.

However, there is a freeware alternative to such high-priced programs: Wink, by Satish Kumar. With it, a user can capture events on screen, such as mouse movements, screenshots and window actions, then compile them and play them back through a number of different formats.

The most common and best-supported of the formats is the near-ubiquitous Macromedia Flash 3.0 (and higher), but Wink also supports output to a standalone .EXE, as well as PDFs, PostScript documents and HTML pages. Each format has its own advantages: The Web formats can be used for Web-based training, and the PostScript-based formats can be used for printed documentation.

Wink comes with several tools to turn captured actions into actual tutorials. To draw attention to specifics or to explain things, users can add callouts or balloons to parts of a movie. You can import screenshots in just about any image format, and the program's "Smart Capture" function grabs frames intelligently based on user actions to reduce the size of the captured material (and the resulting movie).

The program supports many languages, including right-to-left and non-Western languages such as Chinese and Japanese. Wink is available for both 32-bit Windows and Intel-based Linux with near-identical feature sets in both versions. A plug-in for Google Desktop Search allows Wink projects to be searched and indexed through that application.

Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter. Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators -- and please share your thoughts as well!

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This was last published in March 2006

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