Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I want to take Bill Gates out for a beer

I never, ever thought I'd say this, but I want to kiss Microsoft. Right on the mouth.

I document software as most of what I do to pay the bills and it has been getting harder, and harder, and harder as operating systems advance to find capture software that can perform the simple task of taking a screen cap and extracting the text from it. Given that 90% of the time, this is a standard sans serif font like Arial, you'd think this would be a piece of cake by now. But apparently not. One by one, heavy hitters that have been doing this for years, like SnagIt and HyperSnap, have been dropping text capture support from their apps. Their excuse? Getting just too hard to maintain the functionality as Windows matures.

Oddly enough, Microsoft itself has a solution that seems almost like an afterthought. OneNote, which is part of its Office suite, can haul the text out of a screen capture like a dream, with something close to 99.5% accuracy, at a guess on my part. I'm a $100-a-year subscriber to Office 2013, but my company is using Office 2010 and didn't opt for OneNote.

I've been going crazy most of the day trying to find something that will do the trick, and looking for an alternative to OneNote, I happened to read that right about this time last year, Microsoft made OneNote a free application. I guess this is similar to when Internet Explorer became free once Netscape started eating up its install base... only this time it's things like Evernote. So, I downloaded it, installed it, synced it with one of my accounts, and crossed my fingers. Now that it was free, would it have the one feature that would make having it worthwhile?...

Yes! It does! It captured an area of our application and then sucked the text out of it and got only one letter wrong out of around a hundred. It's going to save me hours of having to type out our myriad parameters for attributes tables. Like I said, right now, I want to kiss Microsoft.

Update: Here's an example, taken from a page in OneNote itself. The "text" on the left is actually a screen capture. It's a genuine image; just an array of pixels. Despite what your eye can see, to the computer, there's not "text" here. But if  you right-click the image and select Copy Text from Picture, you instantly fill the clipboard with text OneNote recognizes in the image, which I pasted to the right. That is, in fact, editable text now. And as far as I can see, it didn't get a single letter wrong.


Jim Grey said...

I was in tech writing for half my career and I didn't know sucking the text out of a screen cap was even a thing!

barefoot hiker said...

Hiya, Jim. :) Yeah, SnagIt used to be pretty good at it but other folks have added so many things that manage text that apparently TechSmith just shrugged and gave up on it in the latest version. HyperSnap, too, is saying they have it but it mostly doesn't work and they'll be dropping it. How OneNote manages it but the others can't, I don't know, but if it's of value to you, OneNote's free now. It's also a great place to cut and store screen caps and write little notations about it. It's a lot like having a digital sprial wire notebook, especially if you're working with a computer with a screen you can draw on (I'm not, but...)