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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