It’s a huge pain having to constantly juggle multiple windows and apps to get the information I need to reference for the task at hand. Whether on a tiny MacBook Air or a spacious two-monitor desktop setup, I often have to rapidly switch from text editor to App Store to any of a dozen browser tabs while I work on an article.
With ScreenFloat those days are now largely behind me, as I can float screenshots of the pertinent information atop other windows. It’s easy to use, surprisingly versatile, and a huge time saver. And it lives right in my menubar (although there’s also an option to show the Dock icon instead, if you’re out of menubar space).
Creating a shot is as simple as pressing Command-Shift-2 (or your own hotkey of choice) and selecting the area you want snapped. Shots can also be made directly from a file (images or PDFs only, I was sad to learn) or the clipboard. A floating, borderless window containing your new shot pops up on the screen. When you’re done with it, mouse-over the floating image and click the X. You can also make it behave like a regular window, save it to a specified location on your computer, copy it to the clipboard, delete it, or open it in another app — all from the drop-down menu that lives in its top-right corner.
Another hotkey (Control-Option-Command-H, by default) hides or shows all open shots, while scrolling up and down on a shot changes its transparency. Shots can be resized, but only from the bottom right corner (even in Lion), and only to a size smaller than the original. You can also drag them into/onto other apps for immediate use (via the image icon that appears in the bottom left when you mouse over). I use this to share a shot online (via Droplr) or to attach a shot to an email.
You can customize the behavior of your shots. They can be deleted by default when closed, follow you around as you switch spaces, or double-clicked to open Preview or some other app. You can choose between PNG, TIFF, or JPG for the export format.
“Work mode” makes shots temporarily disappear when you mouse-over them, allowing you to look at whatever lies beneath. This is particularly useful if you floated a shot over the controls or file browser or toolbar and suddenly need to use that part of the app. This setting can be temporarily reversed by holding the option key.
There’s also library management, courtesy of the ScreenFloat Browser (which, like most things in this app, can be opened via hotkeys). This is where you’ll find all closed shots that haven’t been deleted. When a shot is opened, it disappears from the library view (which can instill a fleeting moment of panic if you forget that the open shots are set to hidden). The library supports collections (both smart and regular), search, renaming, and tagging, along with the actions described above. It’s pretty barebones, but it does the job.
As a writer and technology/games journalist, I use ScreenFloat primarily to plaster my screen with notes, quotes, and app details. For one recent story, I pulled key information from five different documents and (literally) covered every part of my screen except a small portion of my text editor’s main window. I never once had to switch to another window or app. Before ScreenFloat, I would have thought that impossible.
Other uses might be editing a document — put the old version in a floating shot for cross-reference while you make changes — or copying bits of information from the settings of one image or video clip to another. Artists and designers could get great use out of using ScreenFloat for reference images and spec sheets, while coders might grab shots of key method definitions from several different source files while working on a class that references them.
You don’t realize or appreciate just how handy floating screenshots can be until you try the app. I went from skeptical to evangelical in a day of using ScreenFloat. And I can’t remember the last time a new app got me excited as I used it more. That’s not to say ScreenFloat is perfect, mind you.
There are some counter-intuitive oddities to the app’s behavior. If you want to close one shot and leave the rest open while in work mode, you need to first hold down the option key and mouse over the shot in question. You must then release the option key before clicking the close button; otherwise all shots will be closed (because that is what happens when you option-click the close button). The same issue arises with using the “double-click to open in external app” feature.
I understand the benefit that comes from using one modifier key for most extra features — it’s easy to remember that the option key does all the fancy stuff — but this overloading of functions only serves to confuse. I’m not sure how to solve the problem — perhaps it would be better to spread the functions across the other modifier keys; perhaps it wouldn’t. But it causes me untold frustration, as time and again I forget to lift my finger off the option key and a dozen shots (I use a lot of them at once) suddenly close.
ScreenFloat has clearly made great progress since its initial release more than a year ago, but there’s still some work to do to push it up from “great buy” to “must have” status. There’s no support for annotations or editing, although it is now exceptionally easy to export to another app. It’s sorely lacking cloud support — specifically auto-syncing and auto-uploading options for people hopping between multiple machines or wishing to share with others.
This is on the way, thankfully, with iCloud (and potentially also other services, namely Dropbox and CloudApp) support locked in for an upcoming update. At the time of writing, a maintenance update to fix a few outstanding bugs is awaiting Apple approval.
A Brilliant Tool
ScreenFloat nestled its way into my workflow in between other screenshot tools LittleSnapper and Droplr, and if it adds options to auto-upload to a cloud service, it could push both of those off my menubar. It transformed my workflow overnight. ScreenFloat’s elegant design, ease of use, and brilliant concept make for a powerful tool that makes screenshots more useful than I ever thought possible.
A screenshot utility that keeps information always visible, no matter which application you're in, by floating shots above all windows.9
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