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Free screencast recording software from Microsoft

Teachers ask me about software for making screencasts explaining procedures to their students. I have not googled for free screencast recorders recently, since I have been happy for many years to use (or rather work with extensively, and recommend) Windows Media Encoder 9 on MS-Windows. Allegedly as of end of 2010, this software is not linked on Microsoft’s website anymore (but can still be googled and downloaded). Even though not officially supported on this OS any more, I have also used it successfully on Windows 7 (64-bit) (after Vista (64-bit) and Windows XP)).

The official replacement screencast recorder from Microsoft is Windows Expression Encoder (of which I still use the inexpensive Version 3), which is available here (Version 4 SP1) for free. Media Encoder is almost 10 years old, so Expression Encoder is clearly superior – however, the free version is somewhat crippled, most notably in this context I seem to remember the time limit for screencasts is 10 minutes.

Both Encoders are somewhat technical in nature. In particular, I suspect the reason why considerable experts did not know Media Encoder as a screencast recorder (which is not the same as a documentation and training maker: its post-editing capabilities are limited and not specialized for documentation, unlike e.g. Camtasia), was that its default settings for screencast recordings are low quality.

To “uncork” the real possibilities of this software, your first need to alter the compression settings within the WME configuration file that your screencast is based on (you can do this from within Windows Media Encoder itself). Moreover, for this change to stick, you need to alter an underlying PRX template file also. This file is hidden away in the depths of the Encoder install directories; after installing Windows Media Encoder, search your programs folder for a file named schia.prx, it is an XML file that will open with the Windows Media Encoder utilities.

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