Desktop recording made easy with Byzanz in Ubuntu

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Have you ever been chatting on a website forum and been totally unable to describe an action you’ve performed on Ubuntu? “Click the top bar---the grey thing at the top, you know. And then drag the icon. The blue icon. Drag it to the desktop...

The fact is that it can be hard describing in words what are simple procedures with a mouse. A solution is at hand, however.

The Byzanz application lets you record your desktop, a window, or a de?ned area of the screen as a movie. The resulting ?le is an animated .gif, so is viewable in almost any web browser ever made. You could attach it to a forum posting if you’re asking for help, for example. The only downside is that the resulting movie ?le can be large, depending on the area you’ve de?ned and the length of the movie. Full desktop recordings can easily run in at double-digit megabytes, in fact.

In Ubuntu Hardy, the package can be installed using Synaptic---search for byzanz. Once installed, right-click a blank spot on the top panel and select Add to panel. Then select Desktop Recorder from the list. Note that Byzanz won't work correctly if desktop visual effects are enabled---to disable them, click System ---> Preferences ---> Appearance, and then click the Visual Effects tab. Then click the None radio button. When you've finished recording using Byzanz, repeat, and click the Normal or Extra.

Once the application’s icon appears on the panel, click the small down arrow to select to record the desktop, an area of it, or a particular window. When selecting to record an area of the desktop, the screen will turn black and you should click and drag to de?ne where you want to record (the screen turning black is an unfortunate bug, and you’ll have to try and remember where on the desktop it is you want to record). If you select to record a program window, the mouse will turn to a crosshairs---just click on the window you want to record.

Following this, recording will start. The Byzanz icon will turn to a red circle to indicate this. When you’ve ?nished, click the red circle to stop recording. You’ll then be prompted to save the movie ?le.

Bear in mind that resulting movie .gif ?les won’t play in Ubuntu’s default image viewer (Eye of GNOME), which will open when you double-click the ?le. You’ll see nothing but the ?rst frame. Instead, you must play them in Firefox to see the full animation. To do this, right-click the ?le, and select Open With ---> Open with "Firefox Web Browser".

Here's an example I just recorded---a few seconds of shell work. Click to make bigger. It comes to just 64KB. Not bad. Certainly sendable in an email to somebody to show them how something is done, or postable on a forum without being guilty of overloading the server.


Keir Thomas is a full-time author of computer books. The above tip is taken from his book Ubuntu Kung Fu, which contains over 300 other tips, and he recently published the third edition of Beginning Ubuntu Linux. He runs and formerly edited LinuxUser & Developer magazine. He has been writing about computers and operating systems for over a decade.

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7 Responses

  1. Brett Howard says:

    Slick lil app! Nice post.

  2. TankerKevo says:

    What about XVIDCAP? When I first saw this post I thought for sure that was the software that was going to be discussed. But Byzanz is quite nifty considering it if GIF based. XVID supports avi and mpeg.

    To install XVIDCAP:

    sudo apt-get xvidcap

  3. DickeyWang says:

    It seems Byzanz doesn’t work properly if Compiz is running.

  4. Paul Mohr says:

    Tried the application and it is interesting and could be useful. I think that you have some kind of snafu going on as various occurrences of “fi” in the page are now “?”.

  5. Bill says:

    Where do I find Byzanaz in intrepid please.

  6. obstriegel says:

    @ Bill: Byzanz is currently in intrepid/universe repository (byzanz 0.1.1-4).

    But personally I also would recommend XVIDCAP. That can even capture a small following area of the screen if you got a greater resolution and a slower machine like I have…(3360×1050)

  7. Zero says:

    I install the Byzanz but doesn’t appear in any place and in the Application menu.

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