Windows

Explore the Problem Steps Recorder in Windows 7

The Problem Steps Recorder will record each and every step a user takes and document the entire operation in both screen captures and step-by-step details. Greg Shultz introduces you to Microsoft Windows 7's new tool and shows you how it works.

If you've ever worked a help desk and become extremely frustrated while trying to coax an end user into accurately describing the problem that has been encountered, you are going to love a new tool in Microsoft Windows 7 called the Problem Steps Recorder. When started, this new tool will essentially record each and every step a user takes and document the entire operation in both screen captures and step-by-step details. When stopped, the Problem Steps Recorder will save the recorded information as a compiled HTML file and package it up in a ZIP file that the end user can then e-mail to the help desk.

In this issue of the Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report, I'll introduce you to Windows 7's Problem Steps Recorder.

Note: Keep in mind that this is a Beta version and that the look and features of the Problem Steps Recorder that I will discuss here may very well change between now and the time that Windows 7 is actually released.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download. The download also includes a sample Problem Steps Recorder Zip file.

Launching the tool

At this point in the beta, finding the Problem Steps Recorder is a bit tricky because it really does not have a prominent access point. That may change as the UI matures a bit, but then again, it may remain hidden until needed -- such as when a help desk tech tells the user to run it.

In any case, you can launch the Problem Steps Recorder in the beta by typing PSR in the Start menu's Search box and pressing [Enter]. However, I also located it in the Control Panel by searching with the keyword "Problem," as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Clicking the Record Steps to Reproduce a Problem link launches the Problem Steps Recorder.

Recording a problem

The user interface for the Problem Steps Recorder in the beta is very straightforward and bears a close resemblance to Sound Recorder, as shown in Figure B. To begin a recording operation, you just click the Start Record button.

Figure B

The Problem Steps Recorder's user interface is very straightforward.

Once the Problem Steps Recorder has begun recording, its title bar flashes the words Recording Now and the icon on the Taskbar shows a red flashing dot. At this point, you can begin carrying out the steps that lead to the problem.

To experiment with Problem Steps Recorder, I'm going to simulate an error condition by setting the screen orientation to Portrait (flipped), which is a setting that my monitor doesn't support.

As you can see in Figure C, I right-clicked on the desktop and launched the new Screen Resolution tool. If you shift your attention to the Problem Steps Recorder, you'll notice that the Start Record button has been replaced by the Pause Record button, the Stop Record and Add Comment buttons are now active, and the time counter has begun counting.

Figure C

Once you start a recording operation, the buttons on the Problem Steps Recorder change.

Right next to the counter there is a UAC shield icon. Clicking this icon will, of course, yield a UAC, which, once responded to, will allow the Problem Steps Recorder to run as an administrator and make it possible to record interactions with programs that are running in administrator mode. In other words, the Problem Steps Recorder will be able to keep running in the background while you respond to the UAC.

Getting back to my example, as I began working through the steps of changing the orientation, I clicked the Add Comment button, which allowed me to highlight a particular area of the screen and annotate it with a command, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

The Add Comment feature will make it easier for users to annotate the problem area if additional information is required.
Once I completed my test and closed the Screen Resolution tool, I clicked the Stop Record button. At that point, the Problem Steps Recorder displayed the Save As dialog box, shown in Figure E, and prompted me to name the file, which it then saved as a Zip file.

Figure E

The recorded session is automatically saved in a Zip file.
When you open the Zip file, you'll see the compiled HTML file, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

When you open the Zip file, you can see and launch the compiled HTML file.
When you double-click the compiled HTML file, Internet Explorer will launch and open the recorded session and display the screen shots and a step-by-step account of the entire procedure. Figure G shows the beginning of the file, but you can download the Zip file and view the entire session in the accompanying TechRepublic download.

Figure G

You can then view the entire recorded session with Internet Explorer.

What's your take?

What do you think of the Problem Steps Recorder? Do you think that it will be a valuable tool? Will it be something that you will use when you begin supporting Windows 7?

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About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

31 comments
DNicoli
DNicoli

I like this tool, I only wish that it would only record the active window(s) instead of the entire desktop (I have 3 monitors, and this can get frustrating). Otherwise, good job!

webigration.com
webigration.com

Awesome. Might you be able to use this for any application other than MS running on W7? For instance an ERP application? You coudl create a voiceless manual very quickly with little fuss or muss.

dardello
dardello

The end user does not want to be smarter. They want to do nothing, and have the issue resolved for them. This tool is based on a false premise!!

Jeff.sergeant
Jeff.sergeant

For remote users, who know enough to be able to identify what they've done to cause a problem; but aren't able to describe it over the phone, this will be great. For people on the same network as the admin, free tools like VNC or Terminal services shadowing will do the same job. For remote workers who either have no clue what they've done, or can explain what they've done concisely over the phone this won't work either. Probably of more use for application support in multi-tier helpdesks for very specific problems; also in beta testing and in testing teams in large programming companies. But again only in specific cases. I'm sure it will be used; but i'm equally sure it wouldn't be missed if it's not in the final release. Jeff.

musab_20
musab_20

So micro$oft knows already that their OS will have problems as usual. I love linux

ajscomp
ajscomp

Great Tool for Help Desk!!! Not so great for security!!! As noted above, keylogger on the cheap?

hancockrob
hancockrob

What a great tool. Getting a correct explanation of a problem can be difficult at times. Slideshow will make it easy to view the steps.

eScoop
eScoop

The output file also has a link which will show all the steps in "slideshow" mode. Sweet!

bboyd
bboyd

Built in logging for malicious use... Oh wait I'm just paranoid. Considering that 99.9% of the windows messenger service use I've seen involved spam messages for various enlargement services I'm sure MS has learned the lesson and will not leave this on by default.

Slayer_
Slayer_

This will be a huge help. Often lenders just simply do things weired and break stuff, this will help a lot when they send us requests via email. I can tell them to record their steps first.

GSG
GSG

We implement quite a few applications that require extensive user training. I wonder if we could use this to document the click by click step required to perform certain tasks and include them in a user manual. Currently, for the systems that I implement, I develop my own user manual, documenting each step and taking screen shots. This can be quite cumbersome. Otherwise, I could see using this for those users who always SWEAR, that they didn't do something, only to find out later that yes, they are doing it.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

What do you think of the Problem Steps Recorder? Do you think that it will be a valuable tool? Will it be something that you will use when you begin supporting Windows 7?

artlife
artlife

This follows exactly the MS oblivious user upgrade path, as now the user does not have to even attempt to explain what they did, or what they thought they did, but only do it again (which should not be a problem). :)

setantapc
setantapc

I concur, the ability to see all steps and stuff can be valuable but what the demo didn't show was one of those .. when I'm in Word and I type this ... then that comes out, so what output comes out when typing vs clicking is involved ? So then as previous posters indicate it will save keystrokes as well as clicks etc ?? It has potential in a helpdesk environment in that as long as "issue" isn't a show stopper, run the recorder and then fire an email off to helpesk@whatever.company then wait for a reply. And as an aside I am posting this with Knoppix because "something" killed Windows in my house and I can only get on the Internet now with a Knoppix Live Boot CD

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

Try 15 minutes. No doubt the "Problem Step Recorder" will be broken by then. Didn't take long for UAC and Windows firewall to get broken through either...

spacewarp
spacewarp

If MS implements it like my former company, it will be a non-problem as we refused to record password fields. It was done to ensure that passwords were safe. It didn't protect non-secured passwords transmitted via ASP.Net applications, but that's not too bad.

neil.bergman
neil.bergman

This should be extremely useful for remote helpdesk support. I wish Windows had incorporated this tool starting with Windows XP.

StealthWiFi
StealthWiFi

I just tested it in my Beta and it works nicely. might be a good SOP to add to users start menus/desktops what ever in a office enviroment. I know my users will love it (if i ever switch them to 7, still on XP Pro and loving it) Cheers,

ppieklo
ppieklo

GSG, I have used free CamStudio App and "Snippy" to make training materials.

artlife
artlife

As soon as I read what this tool does, I thought what a great way to document anything, especially as a teaching tool.

Jeff.sergeant
Jeff.sergeant

can these files be converted/exported as video files or ppt files?

spacewarp
spacewarp

I worked for a company that had this same technology (including the code version included in the new Visual Studio 2010). I was literally screamed at when I mentioned that kind of application to one of our managers as a potential sales tool. They sell it for tens to hundreds of thousands dollars a pop, and MS is going to include it in for free. Kinda takes the sting out of some of the departure.

drdoug99
drdoug99

This tool seems to be very well done, and the output of the recording is easy to understand. This can potentially be excellent where remotely connecting doesn't work or is slow....the user can just quickly record and shoot an email out. Don't see how anyone can complain about it, it's a useful addition, when or if it becomes necessary.

ray.menzel
ray.menzel

Great tool but what happens when a users experiences problems but cannot replicate the issue for PSR? Either way, for techs on the road, this tool will be a real time saver for sure!

briggch
briggch

Is this going to be a permanent tool in Win7, or did MS include it for beta troubleshooting? As for security concerns, I haven't played with it myself, but does is just show what's happening on the screen, or does it actually capture keystrokes? If no keystrokes are captured, I don't see a security concern as passwords are almost always masked.

Wcoyote1
Wcoyote1

I'm of two minds as well on this one. One one hand it will be great for the help tech to recreate/analyze the problem that an end user is having. On the other hand, security is going to be an issue with this readily available and already loaded on a machine. Granted, from the example, it seems as though you're going to have to enable and start the application to get it to work. But what I'm wondering is what security measures are going to be enabled to ensure that an outsider isn't able to remote in, activate this and then pull the data out to use is for "other" purposes?

williamrgoodall
williamrgoodall

Hi, I think this would make sense to integrate into error message displays. - error (bla) - broken (some stuff) - Click here to launch the _Problem_Steps_Recorder_ and perform this action again. Then send the scenario to your helpdesk team to have the problem evaluated.

mikeshears
mikeshears

Clicking this icon will, of course, yield a UAC, which, once responded to, will allow the Problem Steps Recorder to run as an administrator and make it possible to record interactions with programs that are running in administrator mode. 1.) A user without admin rights will be able to grant Admin rights!? 2.) So this tool will only be helpful only on the few occassions when a user can duplicate their problem?

Evertech108
Evertech108

Yes I was just playing around with this after I reading the article and I can see the usefulness of this tool as a multifaceted point of reference. I'm pretty sure more little goodies like this will be found as time passes by. Great stuff!

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

This is a link to the screencast/video that discusses the Problem Steps Recorder. It indicates that the screencast will run on Vista and XP.

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