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Troubleshoot Windows 7 with the built-in Problem Steps Recorder

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, Greg Shultz shows you how the Windows 7's Problem Steps Recorder works and how it can help you troubleshoot.

Last week, I read Brandon LeBlanc's Windows Blog extolling the fact that Microsoft Windows 7 has sold more than 350 million licenses in the 18 months since it was released. Then, this week I saw stunning graphic on the Net Applications site showing Windows XP with a whopping 54.39 percent of the operating-system market while Windows 7 has only a mere 24.7 percent. So, it would appear that even though Windows 7 is selling like hotcakes, it's going to take a lot more sales to overcome the 10-year head start that older brother Windows XP has.

That started me thinking about all the great new Windows 7 features that those folks still running Windows XP are missing out on. For instance, that means that more than half of all the Windows users in the world won't be able to take advantage of the extremely handy Problem Steps Recorder for helping to solve technical support problems.

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 an end user can then e-mail to a technician.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll show you how the Windows 7's Problem Steps Recorder works.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download.

Getting started

You can launch the Problem Steps Recorder from within the Troubleshooting section of the Control Panel or by typing PSR in the Start menu's Search box and pressing [Enter]. The user interface for the Problem Steps Recorder is very straightforward, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

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

Making a recording

To begin a recording operation, you just click the Start Record button. 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 you want to document.

As you can see in Figure B, I accessed the Control Panel and launched the Power Options 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 a time counter has been displayed.

Figure B

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 that, 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, 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 C.

Figure C

The Add Comment feature makes it easy to annotate the problem area if additional information is required.

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Once I finished and closed the Power Options tool, I clicked the Stop Record button. At that point, the Problem Steps Recorder displayed the Save As dialog box, shown in Figure D, and prompted me to name the file, which it then saved as a Zip file.

Figure D

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 E.

Figure E

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 display the screen shots along with the step-by-step account of the entire procedure, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

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

What's your take?

What do you think of the Problem Steps Recorder? Have you used it yet? Will it be something that you will use in Windows 7?

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.

19 comments
dayen
dayen

I see a lot of water down programs in windows 7 will never believe it better then XP tell it fixed dosen't work well on my networks search is crap, note pad and wordpad water down says my modem too old ! yes I understand that dosen't like my hex editor, hates my servers lose my printer & network like Windows ME did and it a learning curve for the new interface, yes XP the Big brother who in School and getting A's while Windows 7 has not made it to pre school yet and dosen't know it ABC or count to 10, I am going to learn Mac an Lunix

dan man
dan man

wow great help i didnt even know we had that option there. this is a great time saving tip for windows problems thank you

Angel_Tech
Angel_Tech

I always try to create how-to instructions of programs that most users use, I've used screen/region captures to make it simple (an image says more than words).. this will certainly help a lot.. I didnt know it came out of the box with Win7.. thanks for the tip.. Cheers

jfuller05
jfuller05

I'm definitely going to use this tool in the future.

cplusplusguy
cplusplusguy

Did not know it was there til now! Seems useful. Thanks!

jwebfoot2togo
jwebfoot2togo

I don't seem to have it tried the Control Panel method and the Search method neither bought up the app. Was it inclyded in an upgrade I may have missed or what?

hkacz
hkacz

Is it possible to edit the narrative of the steps that comes along with the recorded steps to personalize it for In-Service trainings?

sparent
sparent

I have successfully used Windows Media Encoder in the past. I plan on using its replacement, Expression Encoder, to create some training podcasts. The advantage is that EE shows all screen movements and allows you to add vocal annotations. Unfortunately, the free version of EE is limited to 10 minutes. Still, I find it useful to talk someone through the steps.

ironwolf
ironwolf

Yes! I have clients make use of it all the time to help me remotely resolve issues more quickly than the client trying to explain the problem and not succeeding. This tool has been a real time saver when troubleshooting machines.

Amalgam
Amalgam

That is really useful, thank's Greg. One of those Windows 7 tools I have never got round to checking out, but will certainly use instead of my normal practice of hand writing notes during troubleshooting.

hartwick
hartwick

What happens when your windows 7 machine will not boot after it updates. Don't you need windows working to record your problem?

VorsterE
VorsterE

I have, it saved me hours in when making a how to manual to show a remote user how to use a function in a program

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

The Problem Steps Recorder can be a useful tool for troubleshooting, have you used it? Why or why not?

Bomber1JZ
Bomber1JZ

I also didn't know it was there... It will make my life SO much easier!!

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...be included in every edition of Windows 7 right out of the box. What edition are you using?

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

Like anything it has limitations, but for common user error type problems I imagine that it can save time and effort to solve a problem with a remote user. Bill

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...sound right that Problem Steps Recorder wouldn't be included in the default installation of Windows 7 Professional. Is this a enterprise system? If so, I suppose that your IT department could have purposefully removed Problem Steps Recorder. Possibility?