Sneak a Peek - Animated GIF recorder

Updated: October 12, 2019

Now and then, the sun rises above Gondor. And by Gondor, I mean Linux. And by that, I mean, occasionally, fresh new software is born, and it is indeed as fresh as a brioche just taken out of the oven in a small, remote village somewhere in Normandy. The holder of the challenge seems to be Peek, a software designed to help you create compact, high-quality demo animations of desktop activity.

Being able to record your desktop isn't a new thing. I've written about this many times in the past, covering programs like recordMyDesktop, Kazam and friends. Even Spectacle can do this for you, and if you're handy with the omnipotent ffmpeg, then you can do whatever you fancy. Sounds like a simple recipe that would be hard to beat. But this article proves otherwise. After me.

Teaser

Grab the software & get going

There are several methods you can use to obtain the program. Running neon as the test instance, I went with the PPA option, and soon enough, I had the latest version of Peek running. The program's purpose is quite narrow, which I think allows it to be very accurate and precise in what it does. Indeed, the good ole UNIX KISS principle. Small tools that do one job, but do it well.

You have a transparent rectangle that represents the recording area, and through which you can click with the mouse cursor. You can resize the area as you see fit. This is very handy if you need to grab only a specific portion of the screen, or if you want to create a nice frame around an application window.

Main area

Resize

Then, you can choose the output format. Peek supports several - it's not JUST a GIF recorder, although this is its primary purpose. You can go for GIF, APNG (I guess this stands for animated PNG), WebM, and MP4. Sounds like a nice range of file options.

Record formats

Preferences

In the preferences window, you can make additional adjustments. You can tweak the shortcut that starts and stops the recording, confirm or change your output format, and then adjust the framerate, resolution and the initial delay - this allows you to get everything ready so you don't need to crop anything from your final output file. And that's it. Simple, elegant and yet powerful.

Preferences

Peek in action

Works as advertised. Very nifty. I framed a konsole window, hit Record, waited the default three seconds and then the recording started. Once I was done, Peek did a bit of background rendering (with ffmpeg), and soon enough, I had the GIF ready.

Rendering

The really cool thing is that a 10-sec animation took only about 130 KB of space, and yet, it looked very sharp and clear. No fuzziness, no loss of color. Well, you can see for yourself:

Peek animated GIF demo

Conclusion

Peek is a really nice creation. It's easy to use, it's robust, it works well, and it produces high-quality output. There's just the right balance of everything. I would like to complain, but there's nothing to fault. The only improvement that I can think of would be to auto-frame windows on mouse-click, so it saves some resizing. Other than that, there's nothing else here. In fact, it's very easy to enhance the feature set, but that might actually disrupt the finely tuned elegance and refreshment.

If you're a software tester, or you need to share mini-tutorials with family, friends or colleagues without going overboard with full video creation suites plus something like a Youtube account or alike, Peek is the tool for you. Within seconds, you can render tiny projects that looks clear and sharp, and should be small enough to email. Just what you need in an age of over-complicated abstractions. Well done, highly recommended.

Cheers.

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