Screencast-o-matic is a popular web-based screencasting tool that lets you create movies of your computer screen right inside the browser without requiring any software. It runs as a Java applet and can therefore record movies of any Windows, Mac or Linux machine.

Now most screencasting software can output movies in popular video formats like MPEG-4 or Windows Media – you upload the video to YouTube and then use Flash or HTML5 based player to embed that screencast back into your website or blog.

That’s the popular approach but in certain situations, like when the recording is short (see example), an animated GIF would make more sense than a video based screencast. They load quickly, work across devices and you don’t have to hit play to watch the screencast.

Commercial screencasting tools like Camtasia Studio can output screencasts in animated GIF formats but if you are looking for a free solution, check out Screencast-o-matic again. They have recently added a new option to help you export screencast videos in GIF format which you can then embed in any web page using the regular image <img> tag.

The quality of GIF screencasts created by Screencast-o-matic is quite good, no frames were dropped though the file size would have been better optimized. Also, if you are using the free version of Screencast-o-matic, it adds a big logo which is really evident when you are recording a smaller area.

Here’s a quick video screencast that demonstrates how to create GIF screencasts. One more thing. If you want to quickly capture a short movie sequence on YouTube for creating cinemagraphs, this tool can be handy as well.