Utility Infielder

by Wayne M. Krakau - Chicago Computer Guide, September, 2000
This month I’ll be covering some interesting, and quite handy, utility programs that are of interest to both system administrators and some of the more sophisticated end-users. (I’ve always wondered whether the term "end-user" was purposely invented by the original mainframe geeks to allow for obvious, derogatory puns.)

The first handy utility is Screen Shot Deluxe from Parson’s Technology (www.parsontech.com), now a part of The Learning Company (www.shoptlc.com), which in turn is now a part of Mattel Interactive (www.mattelinteractive.com). Whew, what a mouthful! Did you get all that?

As a side note, I have dealt with products that have been through as many as five corporate acquisitions within the last ten years. I am convinced that, at some point in the not-too-distant future, all software products will be owned by Microsoft and all hardware products, excluding actual computers, will be owned by Cisco. Then, large companies will refrain from competing with these giants due to non-compete agreements (signed for their own survival). From that time on, hit teams will be dispatched upon the emergence of any small, independent, startup companies in either category. It will be some like some weird mix of Fahrenheit 451 and The Running Man. It will probably take a few more years to get to the style of living presented in The Matrix, but I am already somewhat suspicious of the growing, socket-like dent in the back of my head.

Despite its mixed heritage (or perhaps because of it), Screen Shot Deluxe turns out to be quite an effective utility. Its basic, underlying task matches its name - it does screen shots. That is, it takes a graphical snapshot of the screen and then prints it, just like the old Print Screen key did in the old DOS days.

In Windows, the Print Screen key is limited to dumping the resulting picture to the Windows clipboard. Then you have to manually paste the picture into another program before you can print it. That other program is also required if you decide to manipulate, annotate, or modify the picture in any way. Since the clipboard is designed to handle only one item at a time, you end up switching between programs a lot if you need multiple screen shots.

Screen Shot Deluxe, however, automates the printing and adds a lot of other options. Using the default key assignments, pressing the Print Screen key by itself produces a printout of the whole screen. Pressing the Alt-Print Screen combination prints just the active window, something that is frequently much more useful.

One major option is the destination of the captured image. You can automatically print the image, save it to the clipboard, save it to a file, save it directly into an image-editing program, or just pull it straight into Screen Shot’s own editing screen.

Another is the shape of the capture. In addition to the whole screen and active window, you can grab a designated region, the object under the mouse pointer, or even a geometric shape. You can also do timed screen shots, which can be used to see messages that are going by so fast that you normally can’t read them.

You can use Screen Shot’s own editing for most common functions. That includes both text and image annotation, various types of size manipulation, and brightness/contrast adjustment.

I initially started experimenting with Print Screen replacement programs in order to create documentation but have since found that they can be used for some not-so-obvious tasks. For instance, the timed capture function is useful in debugging. Also, many programs have screens which have present precisely the information you need in an easily readable format, but lack any simple way of printing that information. The answer is to use Screen Shot to dump the image to your printer. In addition, when you get a Web page that simply won’t print correctly no matter what you do, just nail the Print Screen key and Screen Shot will grab the screen for you, exactly as formatted.

Finally, Screen Shot Deluxe is the only screen capturing program that I’ve found that doesn’t fight with other programs or spontaneously blow up.

The other program that I’m recommending (conditionally, in this case) is Go!Zilla, a download management program by Aureate Media (www.gozilla.com), which is now a part of Radiate (www.radiate.com). (Can’t tell the players without a scorecard!) Go!Zilla is the first download manager that I have used that both works as advertised, and doesn’t fight with other programs

The primary reason that I started using download managers was to continue interrupted downloads. Go!Zilla (Wow, is that a pain to type!) automatically resumes downloads with a minimum amount of overlap of new versus previously downloaded data. In addition, just prior to starting or resuming a download, it searches out the most efficient source for the file, taking into account how busy the various available Web and FTP sites are. This means you will always get the most out of your Internet connection.

Normally, Go!Zilla automatically intercepts download requests made by clicking on a file name on a Web or FTP page. If the page is itself automated in such a way as to prevent autodetection by Go!Zilla, you can right click on the file name and copy the shortcut or link, depending upon whether you are using Internet Explorer or Netscape Communicator. If Go!Zilla (Did they make it purposely hard to type?) is already active, it will grab the file name immediately. If it’s not, you can activate it and paste the file name into the Add File window.

Once Go!Zilla has a file name, you can optionally redirect the file so a different, non-default directory, and then decide on whether to download now or later. If you want to download later, you can manually start the download process of one or more files, or schedule downloads for specific dates and times. You can even select download cutoff times to avoid time-based phone or link rate hikes.

Because Web sites are not perfect, and file management is always an issue when you do lots of downloads, Go!Zilla can be valuable even to those who have high speed links to the Internet.

I have had as many as twenty Go!Zilla downloads going at once on an unattended PC using a dial-up link. When I went back to the PC, I could still use other programs without appreciably slowing or worse, blowing up the download sessions. Go!Zilla (After this article, I’m never going to type that word again!) Never even blinked when Internet Explorer crashed (Gee, what a surprise.) and subsequently took several other programs down with it.

Now comes the catch. The reason I’m making this recommendation conditional is the Go!Zilla uses Radiate’s technology to pass information on what you are downloading back up to Radiate’s database in a supposedly anonymous format. The anonymity of that format is currently in dispute. While nobody has yet caught anyone using this type of technology doing anything nefarious with the collected data, the potential for future misuse of sensitive data is there. In the future, I will be writing more about this trend of using what’s being called SpyWare.

Just for your information, uploading a file that was previously downloaded doesn’t erase it from a SpyWare database any more than running the car in reverse in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off cranked the odometer backward. I just thought I’d warn you.

�2000, Wayne M. Krakau