Windows 7 Cool Feature – Problem Steps Recorder

by Daniel Petri - February 12, 2009

Folks, it seems that Microsoft is coming up with something quite interesting in Windows 7. Feature is called “Problem Steps Recorder”.

Problem Steps Recorder can be used to automatically capture the steps performed by a user on a computer, including a text description of where they clicked and a picture of the screen during each click. This capture is then automatically saved to a file that can be used by a support professional to help the user troubleshoot the issue or understand what steps were taken by the user.

Note that they’re still in beta, and this feature is not complete. For example, it won’t record typed text, which means it is TOTALLY USELESS for command prompts or PowerShell commands or even outputs, but if properly guided, the user can add his own comments for any screenshot.

It’s worth noting that unlike enterprise-wide visual recording solutions like ObserveIT, Problem Steps Recorder is not designed to capture videos, centrally store the captures, or even allow for indexing of the content by users, computers or applications. It will be probably used as a personal solution aggregator for help desk and support scenarios.

In any case, PSR is more than just a screenshot capturing tool. Besides automating the capturing of what’s going on the screen, it will also highlight the user’s mouse clicks, and, most importantly, will provide a detailed textual metadata with a description of what the user is doing.

Note: Remember, Windows 7 is still under development. The version I’m working with to grab screenshots from is beta build 7000, and things might (and probably will) change by RTM comes along.

I especially like the detailed metadata that is textually recorded by Problem Steps Recorder. For example:

  1. User left click on "Items View (list)" in "Libraries"
  2. User keyboard input in "Libraries" [... Alt]
  3. User left click on "Tools (menu item)" in "Libraries"
  4. User left click on "Folder Options... (menu item)"
  5. User left click on "View (page tab)" in "Folder Options"
  6. User left click on "Hide empty drives in the Computer folder (check box)" in "Folder Options"
  7. User left click on "Hide empty drives in the Computer folder (check box)" in "Folder Options"
  8. User left click on "Hide extensions for known file types (check box)" in "Folder Options"
  9. User left click on "OK (push button)" in "Folder Options"

Problem Steps Recorder will create a ZIP file containing a compiled MHTML file. It will display the screenshots as SEPARATE images, and NOT as a video. This file is actually 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 by using Internet Explorer, or as a slideshow. If you need to, you can even dig into the raw XML to expose greater detail like the X&Y coordinates of the mouse.

To run Problem Steps Recorder (or PSR for short) please type psr in the Start button’s search area:

psr_1

You can also open Control Panel and type in problem in the search box, then click on the “Record steps to reproduce a problem” link:

psr_4

By default, PSR will record only 25 screenshots, but this can be changed to any number. Click on the small down-arrow next to the help icon, and then select Settings:

psr_2 psr_3

To start the capture simply press on the “Start Record” button:

psr_5

During the recording, when adding a comment, click on the “Add Comment” button:

psr_6

To stop the recording click on the “Stop Record” button:

psr_7

You will be prompted to save the resulting ZIP file:

psr_8

After saving the file, if you send it by e-mail or any other method to the support professional, after double-clicking on the ZIP file (or extracting it by using another method), they will be able to view the attached file:

psr_9

When opening the file, you’ll see something similar to this output:

Click on the following link to download a sample zipped MHT file.

We need this!!! I hope Microsoft will go through the required steps of creating PSR as a built-in tool in Windows 7!



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