[tool] TimeSnapper - Never lose work again - Jon Galloway

[tool] TimeSnapper - Never lose work again

TimeSnapper is one of my favorite applications. It does one thing and it does it well - it takes a screenshot every few seconds, then lets you browse through your history by date and time. Most people focus on this as a way to simplify filling in time sheets, but I've come to rely on this program as a safety net. This thing has saved my butt countless times:

  • I'd spent many long hours working with Roiy on the Monoppix project, but since we're separated by about 7500 miles I doubted we'd ever get to meet in person. We finally had a chance - he had a brief layover on a flight through Los Angeles, so we planned to meet for sushi. Roiy sent me his contact information via MSN Messenger. I normally use Skype chat, which I have set up to log chat transcripts, so I assumed my chat was logged. Two weeks later, when it was time to leave for the two hour drive to LA, I realized that I'd never set up Messenger to log my chat transcripts. I thought I was screwed, but then I remembered that I always have TimeSnapper running. It took a couple of minutes to find the chat window with all the information I needed.

  • I'd been working for a while on a difficult SQL query which needed to clean up and import some really ugly legacy data. Since I work from home, I decided to bang on it late one night (both the benefit and peril of working from home) and I got it working. It was late, and I forgot to save my work. The next morning, Windows Update had rebooted my computer and the work was gone.1 Rather than try to recreate the work, I just viewed the previous night's work on TimeSnapper. Done and done.

  • I'm frequently involved in deploying my own work to both staging and production servers. I've always viewed staging deployments as a practice run for for the production deployment, but lately I've begun using TimeSnapper movies from the staging deployment as a guide to the production deployment. Of course, it's not the only tool in my deployment toolbox - I automate as much as possible, pre-stage whatever I can, and write up deployment plans. However, it's hard to think of more functional deployment documentation than a video showing each step of a successful deployment.

  • We recently helped a client to migrate several older sites to a new server. I handled everything via Remote Desktop. The move went well, the client signed off, and the old server was decomissioned. A while later, the client had a question about the configuration of the old server (which they'd since decomissioned and re-formatted). I was able to answer their question by scanning through screenshots of my computer while I'd been working on the remote server.

  • Often, I'll get so caught up in leaving a comment on someone else's blog that I end up putting more effort into it than a post on my own  blog. Then I'll submit it and it just goes away. Is it awaiting moderation? What's going on? I'll check back a few days later and it won't have been posted, but other comment spam's there so I doubt it's been moderated. Who knows... at least with TimeSnapper, I can OCR the comment and either resubmit it as a comment, or turn it into my own blog posting. This is a kind of trivial example, but it's a good example of how you never have to lose work of any kind when everything's automatically journaled.

  • I'd helped my 5 year old daughter draw a picture on my computer. She was really proud of it, so we printed a copy. Some random household disaster struck and we closed the program and commenced bailing water or cicling the wagons or something. Later I realized that the printer had been out of ink, and the picture hadn't printed. Fortunately, I was able to bring up the masterpiece in TimeSnapper and re-print it before anyone found out. Crisis averted.

The point of all these stories is that TimeSnapper is useful for so much more than filling in time sheets (although that's what got me started with it). Like backup and anti-virus software, TimeSnapper is the kind of application that hums along quitely in the background until you really need it; at that time you're either happy you've had it running or really sorry you haven't.

I've been planning this post for a while, and happened to finally get to it on the weekend that TimeSnapper Professional was released. TimeSnapper Classic has been and apparently will always be free, and was what I was using for all of the above stories. I highly recommend you give TimeSnapper a try.

Notes:

  1. The main objection I hear when I show off this program is disk usage. It is possible to fill up a drive if you're taking high resolution screenshots, but this isn't really a problem if you make proper use of the image format and archival options. I run my main computer at 1920x1200 resolution (it's a 24" widescreen), and I've found that 100% quality EMF images are around 300K. TimeSnapper only takes a new screenshot if it's changed from the previous one, so that works out to 400 - 600MB for most workdays. I keep 24 days2 of history, which is probably excessive, but the stories I've listed above (and countless others I'm not mentioning) have convinced me I'd rather be safe than sorry.  That means that my current ScreenShots directory is just under 14GB. Again, I'll remind you that I'm running at a high resolution and keeping over three weeks of history, but even at that, so what? 14GB costs less than $20, and it's already saved me way more than that in terms of lost work. Most computers come with 160GB minimum these days, and I'd argue that this is a very good use of that enormous amount of space.
  2. TimeSnapper stores the screenshots as images rather than video. That's a little less space efficient, but it makes sense for the history browser interface, which lets you quickly look up an arbitrary time (e.g. last Thursday at 10:46 AM). It's also worthwhile when you really need to see exactly what was on the screen to have a full quality image rather than compressed video.
  3. Disclosure: I haven't been asked to write this review, and I'm not getting anything for it.
  4. .NET developers may be interested in knowing that TimeSnapper is a .NET application. It was the Grand Prize Winner in the great Larkware Contest of 2005.
  5. The title of this post is a perhaps a little bit extreme. It's pretty hard for me to lose work with TimeSnapper recording everything that's happened on my screen for the past 24 days, but I'm not going to tempt fate by saying it's impossible. It covers the thing that regular backups and good source control use alone won't catch.

1I since learned to prevent Windows Update from both rebooting your computer and nagging you to reboot every 10 minutes.
2You can set it up to keep a certain number of days archived, or set a maximum amount of disk space to allocate.
Published Monday, September 11, 2006 2:45 AM by Jon Galloway
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Comments

# re: [tool] TimeSnapper - Never lose work again

seems like it would be a bit intrusive of performance? could you talk to that issue?>

Monday, September 11, 2006 11:23 AM by james governor

# re: [tool] TimeSnapper - Never lose work again

@James - Performance isn't a problem at all. The interval between screenshots is configurable. I use the default, 10 seconds, and it's not even noticible in noticable if I watch the CPU utilization. Of course, you can disable it temporarily if a 5% CPU hit every 10 seconds is getting in the way of other work, but that would be tempting fate.

Monday, September 11, 2006 12:47 PM by Jon Galloway

# re: [tool] TimeSnapper - Never lose work again

Cool idea to use timesnapper as a "black box" for your PC. Somehow I suspect there's gotta be a better technology solution than taking regular screenshots.. seems so ghetto. But hey, if it works, who am I to judge?

I tested TimeSnapper and it was taking 1 megabyte screenshots (both PNG and EMF were roughly the same size) on my 3 x 1280x1024 monitor array. So that's 6 megabytes per minute, 360 megabytes per hour, 8.6 gigabytes per day.

Monday, September 11, 2006 1:29 PM by Jeff Atwood

# re: [tool] TimeSnapper - Never lose work again

I set mine to use JPG at 100% and got it down to 350K per shot and it looks goody good. Ghetto?

Monday, September 11, 2006 2:45 PM by Rob Conery

# re: [tool] TimeSnapper - Never lose work again

@Jeff - Funny that you say that - "TimeSnapper - My Black Box" was my original title for this post. Yeah, that's a lot of screen space. If you do use EMF, be sure to use 100% resolution. A 90% EMF actually takes more space than at 100%.

There are some options for controlling disk usage, though. Depending on how you use your screens, maybe you'd only want TimeSnapper to back up one screen. You can cut the usage in half by changing the frequency to every 20 seconds, and you'd still probably get most of the benefit. You can cut the number of days you archive - even 2 days of backup is a great safety net.

Your estimate is inaccurate, too, because it only saves the screenshots when the screen has updated. On a very busy day last week (activity from 8 AM to 10 PM, no meetings), it took 2400 screenshots. That put you off by a factor of at least 4.

Monday, September 11, 2006 2:56 PM by Jon Galloway

# re: [tool] TimeSnapper - Never lose work again

TimeSnapper have any sort of support for OCR?  Would really be nice if it could run an OCR on the images and then you could search for some specific text.

Thursday, September 28, 2006 2:48 PM by Ken

# re: [tool] TimeSnapper - Never lose work again

I’d like to know if you’ve had any memory issues or memory leak experiences with TimeSnapper.  The last time I had it in my old computer, my system became slow because it takes long time on HD swapping.

Thursday, November 29, 2007 11:42 PM by portrait artist