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Naresh Jain's Random Thoughts on Software Development and Adventure Sports
     
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Good bye Word documentation

If you are in the software industry and if you have ever gone through the pain of creating software documents, either for other developers to refer to or for your users, then stay with me. I‘ll share my experience creating really useful documents using a screen recording tool called CamStudio. It has liberated me from all the pains of documentation. Creating documents is no longer painful, it is fun. It retains the real value of documentation .i.e. communication and knowledge sharing.

I‘m not the first person doing this. There are lots of people who have already used this technique.

What is CamStudio?
CamStudio is a Free Streaming Video Desktop Recording Software. In other words it is a screen capture tool. It allows you to record all screen and audio activity on your computer. It can create AVI videos or Streaming Flash videos (SWFs). And the best part is CamStudio is Open source. It comes with a GPL.
More details: http://www.camstudio.org or http://sourceforge.net/projects/camstudio

How software teams can use this tool?

  • You can use it to create any form of demonstration videos for your software

    • Installation Guide
    • Developer Guide
    • Trouble shooting document
    • FAQs
    • And so on . . .
  • You can capture recurring problem with a tool your team is using. And may be record known work arounds.
  • You can create video tutorials about recommended ways of development on the team. For Example

    • How to do logging?
    • How to do exception handling?
    • Other standards and patterns followed on the team
  • You can record a pairing session on the following and share it with the team

    • Refactoring sessions
    • TDD sessions
  • You can capture a whole session where the developer/s is pairing with Analyst/Customer to write automated acceptance tests. It is difficult to capture the thought process in an acceptance test. This tool will help you capture content rich discussion between the customer and the developers.
  • QAs can use this tool to report bug to developers
  • Customers can use this tool to create supporting info for a user story. They can record a business work flow. (esp. if they are using an existing system), and share it with the team.
  • You can use it to create video-based information products you can sell. Like “TDD for Dummies” or “Refactoring to Patterns overnight” ;)

Other cool things

  • You can add high-quality, anti-aliased (no jagged edges) screen captions to your recordings in seconds and with the unique Video Annotation feature you can even personalize your videos by including a webcam movie of yourself “picture-in-picture“ over your desktop.
  • You can choose to use custom cursors
  • You can choose to record the whole screen or just a section of it
  • You can reduce or increase the quality of the recording depending on if you want smaller videos (for emailing to people, for instance) or you can have “best quality” ones for burning onto CD/DVD

Using this form of rich communication tool over stupid word documents can save a lot of pain and frustrations. On my current team we are trying to get away from all kinds of word documents by just using this tool.

In most cases, we don‘t have to do anything special. Just let the tool record what you are doing. You can use this tool to records hours of videos and it will not show any difference on your system‘s performance.

Note:

  • Please don‘t use this tool to create video documents and throw it over the wall. These documents should help you during your face-to-face conversion or capture a face-to-face conversion, instead of being a replacement for them.
  • The problem of maintaining documents still exist with this tool. Once you create a document and if things change, you will have to update the document. In this case, it might not be as simple as just updating a few lines in the word document. It might mean re-record the whole video. One technique you can use is to break the video down into small sections [which is a recommended pattern]. It is most likely that you will just re-record one section and not the whole document.

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