Online data storage to migrate from Windows

I was in the process of typing up an email to a friend who is willing to give Ubuntu a try because he hates Norton AV that much. As I was typing I was explaining that I'd need to help him backup his data first before we could install Ubuntu. And then I thought about the Mozy backup service my sister uses and realized how much easier the process of switching from * to Ubuntu could be!

Idea #13671: Online data storage to migrate from Windows

I would love to see a little Windows application (like the Mozy.com service) added to the Live CD that would help people migrate their data from Windows to Ubuntu. The application would connect to a Web-based service and would upload all data from the current machine to a secure offsite backup. The machine could then have Ubuntu installed and the data would be migrated back down from the secure site to the (now) Ubuntu machine.

This service would make it a lot easier for me to get people moved over if I could show them their data was "safe" before doing the OS switch.

We should all be doing offsite backups on a regular basis, so why not have this as a feature of Ubuntu that actually helps you move into Ubuntu? Data storage is cheap; so is bandwidth (ignoring the fact that I live in a rural community with a fair number of dial-up users). Of course there would be security concerns as well. Users should be able to choose which files they would like to upload to the service. Certainly digital photos would be a huge thing that a lot of people would want to save, but don't really need to be "secured."

It's very possible there is already a service that integrates well with both Windows and Ubuntu that could be highlighted as both a backup and migration service for the home computer and small business market? 

If you have an account on Brainstorm you should give the idea a thumbs up!

Screenshot tools

I'm writing a book. It's very exciting. As part of the book I have to take a lot of screen shots. A few weeks ago I was in Hungary for DrupalCon. There were a lot of Mac users. They all had a fancy tool called Skitch for taking screenshots. Skitch allows you to easily take a snapshot and then annotate the screenshot and then upload it to the web. How cool is that!? (Very cool if you're doing UI work, sort of overkill if you're a regular person.) Excellent for UI design, excellent for sharing error messages, excellent for taking screenshots for books (well the upload part isn't required). There was also a Web service that allowed you to capture only part of a Web page. I used it once. And blogged it. I thought it was really cool at the time, but now I can't remember what the service was and searching my own blog is turning up fail. Maybe I just dreamed it.

Knowing what was possible in a screenshot tool I decided to look beyond the basic GNOME Take Screenshot application I'd been using. I found only two other obvious options in the Ubuntu repository: kGrab and kScreenShot. This is Linux, there should be a billion little applications to take screenshots! A command line search with apt-cache search didn't reveal much more..and included things that didn't really make sense (like tdl a command-line to do list manager...and gentoo and ogle). I was curious so I installed tdl, looked at for about 14 seconds and then quit out of and will probably never remember that I have it installed... jp2a looked like fun though (that's a little app to convert jpgs to ascii). Did I mention I'm easily distracted? Screenshots are difficult for me because they tend to take me away from the task at hand. Even when I'm just writing about taking screenshots. So back to the task at hand.

Of the three applications that I found, none of them are really meeting my needs entirely. And none of them have the really cool features that Skitch has. I've made up three lists: need, want, indifferent. The "need" list is a series of things that I'm used to and now consider "essential." Yes I could live without some of them, but it makes my life a lot easier to have them. The "want" list is the full blown feature set and "indifferent" are things that Skitch offers, but that I don't really consider "essential."

Things I need

  • visible, obvious and persistent configuration options
  • ability to select a whole window, or part of a window
  • configurable time delay for screenshot to set up menus in GUIs (an "I'm ready now" keystroke would also be sort of cool)
  • easy file naming and also file type configuration (file name based on browser window is actually less helpful than the autonumbering provided by the KDE-based apps; although generally I really like file name based on browser window)
  • ability to take multiple screenshots without having to re-open the application each time
  • ability to minimize the tool between screenshots (I often need to do two or three screens with only slightly different information showing in each; I don't want to wait even a nano second to fire up the screenshot tool again)

Things I want

  • annotate screenshots immediately (opening GiMP to annotate is too time consuming)
  • upload to Web service (e.g. flickr)
  • grayscale the screenshot (I'm writing a book, I need black and white images)
  • highlight part of the screenshot (add a mask to gray out most of the screen except one spot)
  • hide/show for browser chrome elements including tabs, bookmark toolbar
  • ability to stitch several screenshots together (especially for long browser pages)
  • hide/show cursor as part of the screenshot (sometimes I want to show an "action" that's being performed)
  • tab to show history of recent screenshots ("argh! did I take the default settings, or just skip to the "next" page?")
  • input box to tag screenshots (single line, space seperated, option to use the same tags as the last image)
  • other? there may have been more before firefox killed my page...

Open message to Firefox: move your fricking reload button! It's WAY too close to the "view" and "history" menu items and I just lost a HUGE amount of data trying to confirm a view setting. This is WRONG. You should never delete my information without asking first. *sigh*

Things I'm indifferent about

  • resize (I typically want screen-sized screenshots)
  • crop (this can already be done by a selection tool at the time of screen shot creation)

There are probably other screenshot tools for Linux. I'd like to know about them. I'm aware of wink and will be exploring it further when I delve into screencasting. Wink seems to do a lot of what I want, but does not seem to have an option for individual screenshots, just screenshots combined into a screencast. It might be there, but hidden under a confusing set of options. The Pencil add on for Firefox also seems very cool. I have it installed, but really haven't played with it (is it just me or can you not import a screenshot into Pencil? seems like that would be an obvious thing you'd want to do with a browser plug-in). Screengrab does long pages, which is cool, but it's a separate app and I want something that does all things from a single tool.

Update A lot of people are recommending GiMP. I couldn't figure out why because I knew I talked about why I didn't like using the GiMP for this. And then I remembered: Firefox ate that information. A quick update on why I don't use the GiMP for screenshots. It's really simple. It opens one too many menus. Writing requires a text editor (vim), a browser (typically with multiple tabs) and a screen shot tool (and music and email and other distractors). When I'm writing I have a vim shortcut that inserts the structure for an image. I then pop over to my browser, set it up for the desired screen shot, take the screenshot and then go back to vim to add the absolutely correct caption.

If I use the GiMP I have to tab-cycle through an extra window because the GiMP adds a separate screen for the image and the menu/palate system. This is not helpful to the way I write. As far as annotating goes. Yup, I can do that from the GiMP as well. but I have to think about each tool that I want to use. Sketches are added to the same layer by default and can't be moved. Again, GiMP can do what I want, but it is (by milliseconds) too time consuming. Anything that is too time consuming takes me away from the task of writing because I suddenly end up spending more time fidgeting than I do writing. This blog post, for example, took me 2.5 hours to write this morning and another hour this afternoon (installing applications, confirming functionality, adding this update).

Last night was one of my helper nights for my small business clients. They all bring their laptops and I ... help them ... typically on their Web sites, but sometimes we veer off in other directions as well. One of my clients had picked up a new Mac earlier in the day. He was switching from Windows. He talked about how much he loved using OSX because everything was just "as expected" .. when he made a guess about how something should work, it worked that way. Linux can be this good too. We just need to set higher expectations of ourselves. It can't be good enough to say, "Oh you just have to modified your work flow like this." Our tools need to work perfectly and adjust to our needs, instead of us adjusting to them. I love using the GiMP for a lot of things. Taking screenshots isn't one of them. Right tool for the job. Something that does bezier curves is simply not the right tool for this job. :) End of update


And finally: a short review of the tools I've tried out. From this list I currently use KSnapshot for most things, but still use the GNOME Take Screenshot application when I just need something really really fast.

GNOME Take Screenshot

What I started with ... shows my typical use (current window with two second delay).

GNOME Take Screenshot -my setup

Things I do like:

  • Quick and dirty and all config options shown.
  • Very obvious options: grab the whole desktop or grab the current window.

Things I don't like:

  • Does not stay open after finishing a screenshot.
  • No obvious widget to change file type (I have to save in TIFF).
  • Does not save configuration options.
  • Save dialogue (not easy to save the image anywhere other than favourite folders)
  • If you don't include a delay there is a shadow of the Take Screenshot dialogue box included in the image.



Things I do like:

  • Obvious widget to change the file type when saving.
  • Stays open after taking a screen shot.
  • Can be minimized.

Things I don't like:

  • Configuration options are hidden under settings (takes too much fiddling to change modes)
  • Capture mode titles mean nothing to me (Region vs Section of Window)
  • I don't know which type of screen shot I'm about to take. "Was this 'window under cursor'? Or 'region'?"
  • The bottom right corner of the screen shot shows a series of lines to indicate this was a selection of a screen. Although the lines don't show up in the final image, there is no way to know this until you close and re-open the file in a different graphics program.
  • You have to add a delay when doing Region because it just sort of kicks you into the select
  • You can't resize the section. As soon as the mouse lifts the screenshot is taken.



Things I do like:

  • Stays open after taking the screenshot.
  • File naming dialogue allows you to easily save the screenshot anywhere.
  • Visible configuration options that are remembered between sessions.
  • Resizable "Region" capture. LOVE this.

Things I don't like:

  • Cannot minimize the application.
  • Capture mode language: what's the difference between Region and Section of Window? I can never remember without checking first.
  • The bottom right corner of the screen shot shows a series of lines to indicate this was a selection of a screen. Although the lines don't show up in the final image, there is no way to know this until you close and re-open the file in a different graphics program.

Update #2: GScrot (referenced in the comments) is now renamed Shutter.

Hello my name is...

Hopping onto the "What's its name" band wagon started on Planet Ubuntu (well, more specifically by effie_jayx), here the names of my computers:

  • Bilbo (VPS server)
  • Gollum (laptop and primary work machine)
  • Smeagol (previous laptop and backup machine)

And for good measure I've also got a history of naming my cars:

  • Beowulf (current Golf VW) 
  • Grendel (previous Golf VW)

Obviously my next computer will be Frodo, and after that I'll need to find a new string of names to use. Although Beowulf is brand new my next car might buck the trend and go for the female name of Selma.

My bicycles have been mostly unnamed, although the last bike I had was The Ratbastard. It was red (my own spray paint job!) and had a "ratbastard" sticker from a Web site that has long since closed up. My current orange and blue Guru hasn't got enough miles to have earned itself a name.

PS And my router is called, "the_zoo." So named because of the cat, guinea pig and French angora rabbit that live with me in my home office.

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