Windows 7 Problem Steps Recorder: miracle tool

[flv:psr.flv 600 420]

If you’ve ever offered technical support to other computer users, you might find yourself losing a slice of your sanity over their inability to describe the problem clearly. And most times it’s not the fault of the user, it’s just difficult to describe what you see with words. A feature new to Windows 7, called “Problem Steps Recorder” looks to be the missing tool for documenting where it all goes wrong.

What the tool is a simple but advanced variation of a screen capture software. Think of it as an automated “Print Screen” plus a little monkey in the background documenting all the mouse clicks, key strokes and gathers some technical reading material, who then ties up everything in a neat box and saves the results. The neat little box you get is a zipped MHTML report page which can be sent off directly to the help desk.

The report page is where this tool really shines. It actually is an XML page documenting each step of the user’s actions complete with a screenshot with the item highlighted. You can view the report as is, or as a slideshow, or even dig into the raw XML to expose greater detail like the X&Y coordinates of the mouse.

Here’s a report I prepared earlier for your viewing pleasure. You must use Internet Explorer to view MHTMLs.

To try the “Problem Steps Recorder” for yourself, type and select “psr.exe” in the Windows 7 start menu.

68 insightful thoughts

  1. Really interesting to see this in action; as I haven’t tried it yet in the beta. It’s good to see Microsoft is going in the right direction in terms of helping users who aren’t very computer savvy accurately explain a problem they are experiencing. From corporate level through to the family “computer guy” it seems like a very useful tool to have included. No doubt it has also been created with specific intentions of streamlining bug fixes and suggestions in the Windows 7 public Beta. Kudos for forward thinking MS.

  2. Sounds useful for the reverse situation too – trying to explain how to do something to the user. A series of screenshots indicating where to click/what to do with appended comments (essentially an automatically generated tutorial) is probably easier to follow than “okay now do you see the little icon that looks like a phone on the screen? it should be kinda near the top right of your window next to the one that looks like a microphone.”

  3. Awesome find, and definitely a useful addition since I spend most of my time at work helping find and document these types of issues.

  4. Wow Long that is just awesome. How were you able to find out about psr.exe ?
    I searched high and low and couldn’t find it without typing psr.exe in my start menu search

  5. Wow ! that’s what I love about your blog long … i always discover things incredible that where just there all along …

  6. Al, the problem step recorder is part of the feedback tool (the “Send feedback” link on the desktop). It’s not so hard to find psr.exe by going through the feedback tool and keeping an eye on the process list in taskmanager.

    I expect this tool won’t be in the final version though, as it’s part of the bug reporting infrastructure in the beta.

  7. Sven, So we should all put a feedback in Seven to imply that it is “the” key feature of windows Seven :p

    It can be found searching “record step” in the “orb” search.

  8. I don’t know if this has been mentioned or found before, but there is isoburn.exe, where you can just burn an ISO, which automatically opens when you double-click an ISO file.

    Another interesting thing that I found is credwiz.exe, where you can backup and restore both usernames and passwords in an encrypted form. There’s also PrintBrmUi.exe where you can import and export your printer queue. Plus, there’s the nice Win+P projector switcher at DisplaySwitch.exe.

    While I was in here, I also noticed that the on screen keyboard has been redesigned. It is pretty, but it no longer has menus or anything. Also, Snipping Tool has a slightly revamped UI.

    – Nicholas

  9. @Sven: The Problem Steps Recorder is not part of the bug reporting infrastructure, it is part of the troubleshooting platform. It will be in the final release.

  10. Seems like a good idea, though it needs to be better advertised. I can’t see a link to the tool on the Troubleshooting page in the Control Panel.

    But… that interface is just horrendous :(

    Strange background colour, ugly help icon, low-res program icon on the taskbar when recording, legacy font for the recording time – how can such a tiny window have so many flaws?

    But I guess it is still a while until RTM, so there is time to fix it~

  11. Great idea for troubleshooting through screenshots minus the hassle of uploading relatively large screencast videos. They could have added a “Macro recorder” function as well, so that stuff plays back exactly like it was done. Windows 3.1 had it. Btw, does this use the Windows.Automation API? Seems to be using that.

  12. In the next version of Windows, 8, this tool might get a Ribbon refresh ;)
    Great thing for those who support others in software, if both client and support have Win7, which I doubt for the known reservations to early adaptation of new OSes.

  13. It looks like a really useful tool; trying to get a user to describe what is happening on screen is a fine art, and an exercise in patience.

    I wonder if the tool will ship with the ability to blank out certain parts of the uploaded screenshots, so you don’t distribute the contents of your address book, or your bank account details, or your excessive use of Kazaa

  14. Did not know this was there!

    Sent feedback to MS that they are stinkers for not saying!

    Able to use it immediately to record and add note that ‘there’s no right click – cut, copy, paste in any ‘search’ box. So, it’s typing from now on in.

    I pinned this little tool to the Taskbar – that all you can do.

  15. Sweet! Maybe I _will_ encourage my parents to upgrade. (The XP -> Vista switch was more confusing to them than I expected, but this + some of Win7’s other UI changes may make it worth it in the long run.)

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  17. Ummm No event log info = fail. If they really wanted to do this right they should append the app and windows logs from when it starts to when it ends. Otherwise they are bypassing a huge set of data to be checked. Its a cool app but an incomplete one IMHO.

  18. Some days back I sent your guys an email in regard to the problem on my operating system “Window 7″
    The problem is the automatic shut down. When I click on SHUT DOWN the monitor goes dark but the computer is stil running so I have to shut the computer off manually with the switch on the back of the computer.
    Please advice how to rectify the problem or is it time for a MAC

  19. I think this is awesome and plan on using it as much as possible at home. But for work it will be a while before windows 7 is rolled out. Is there there anything like this for Windows XP/Vista?

  20. This is great for documentation as well, as I do a lot of. It will also record your clicks inside an RDP session, but not inside VMware. Another thing it will not do is record your steps if you use shortcuts. You’ll need to actually click for it to take a screenshot.

  21. This seems like an okay tool. I’ve got Camtasia Studio though, so it kind of trumps this. I can see where this would be VERY useful for the average user to supply detailed information to the developer. It really should be tied into Windows Error Reporting (WER). WER should track if it has seen a specific crash bug before on the user’s computer. If so, have a checkbox in WER that offers to start this tool when it restarts the application so the user can perform the same actions again to generate the crash again. This should then be bundled with all the other WER information and sent to the developer. That would be pretty slick.

  22. How long can you record? My HP Pavilion that I just bought keeps shutting down, I am not sure if it is Windows 7 or if it is the computer. I have had it checked by tech support at Office Depot and they could not reproduce the problem.

  23. If you right-click on the file generated, you can extract it.
    You can edit the extracted file w/ MS Word (I’m useing Word 10). It works really great for making tutorials.

    There is no ‘length’ of recording. It just takes a snap-shot of the screen when you click on something.

    While it’s recording, you can click on ‘comment'; it lets you highlite a section of the screen and type in a comment for that ‘step’.

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