Documentation tips: Capturing Palm Pilot screen shots

In a previous Daily Feature, Mike Jackman explained how to capture screens in DOS and Windows. But what if you need Palm Pilot screen shots? In this Daily Feature, Mike shows you how.

Recently, I wrote a how-to guide to help you create effective documentation (see “Documentation tips: Getting the screen shots you need”). These solutions are great for working with DOS and Windows. If you have VMware, you can even capture Linux screens. But what if you need to document Palm Pilot apps? In this Daily Feature, I’ll show you two programs you can use to capture Palm Pilot screens.

POSE for a screen shot
POSE stands for Palm Operating System Emulator. This program is more than just a screen capture utility; it’s a development environment that lets programmers test, debug, and run Palm software. But it’s free, and it can capture your screens. Download it from the Palm Web site. Different versions of the emulator run within Windows, Mac, or UNIX.

To run POSE, you’ll need a ROM image from a Palm Pilot. Because of licensing issues, Palm does not make its ROM images easily available. However, POSE comes with a Transfer ROM utility you can use to capture a ROM from your own PDA. You can get ROM images from Palm if you join the Alliance Program and send a signed copy of your agreement to Palm. Read more about obtaining ROMs here.

Once you set up POSE and add a ROM image, the program lets you install Palm apps into the emulator from your desktop. They’ll run in this environment within Windows just as they would run on your hardware.

Capturing the screen
You have two options for capturing Palm screens. One option is to use any Windows screen capture technique I discussed in my previous article to get a snapshot of the active window. This technique lets your readers view an image that looks like a Palm Pilot device. For writing documentation, this has at least two advantages. First, your illustration shows the information in context, and second, you can refer to Palm buttons if you need to. Figure A shows a capture of POSE running Memo Pad.

Figure A
Capture the active window to present illustrations in context.

Notice that Figure A shows a Palm Pilot Professional model. Since this might confuse your readers, you’ll want to download different skins for depicting the models you use at your company. Download the skins here.

Your second option is to use POSE’s built-in Save Screen option, available by right-clicking within a POSE session. Using this choice, only the picture of the Palm screen is saved. As you can see in Figure B, the image is small. Save Screen captures are useful when you don’t have a lot of space, when you don’t need the context, or after you’ve already established the context for your users. Save Screen images are in bitmap (.bmp) format. You’ll want to convert them to .tif, .jpg, or .gif using the techniques I described in my previous Daily Feature.

Figure B
Use Save Screen to capture a bitmap of just the screen area.

Hack a screen shot
Since you might not have time to learn to use an emulator, download a ROM, and set up Palm apps before you can start capturing screens, you’ll be happy to know there’s a simple program for taking screen shots right off your PDA. The program, called ScreenShot Hack, is available from LinkeSOFT for $10 (U.S.). Although the application is referred to as a hack, you won’t be doing anything illegal. A hack is a tiny application that interfaces with Hackmaster, a Palm OS interface written by Edward Keyes. To run ScreenShot Hack, you’ll need to also install Hackmaster. You can read all about this inexpensive and useful interface, and what it lets you accomplish, in my article, “Hack your Pilot legally.”

Once you install ScreenShot Hack, you can capture any screen by using one of the less often used Graffiti strokes. When you hot sync your PDA, the capture is saved to Windows. Once it is saved, you can use the provided converter tool to change your screen shots to .bmp or .gif files. From there, you can work with those files in any Windows application. Figure C shows the same memo I used in Figure B. This time, I captured the memo using ScreenShot Hack right off my Palm IIIx.

Figure C
With ScreenShot Hack, you can capture screens directly from your Palm PDA.

Note that with this application, the screen shots are in black and white instead of having the green background used in POSE. However, ScreenShot Hack captures grayscale as well as color screens.

In this Daily Feature, I’ve shown you inexpensive solutions that allow you to capture screens of a Palm PDA. The two programs discussed here let you create accurate illustrations you can use to document Palm programs for your users.
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