Problem Steps Recorder control panel

Problem Steps Recorder: Documenting Windows Errors the Easy Way

Screenshots and and programs that create them are one of the most useful tools in the tech support arsenal. Being able to see the exact error message goes a long way toward knowing what’s actually happening on a user’s system. Even more helpful is seeing the exact steps that a user followed to get the error message and the conditions that existed when it appeared. Screen recording software can be expensive, however, and is generally unavailable on personal computers.

A new utility in Windows 7 and 8 offers a handy compromise between the single screenshot and a full screen recording. Problem Steps Recorder (PSR) creates a report that shows all the steps taken by the user, complete with screen images and annotations describing each user action. This comprehensive report is self-contained in a single web page viewable in Internet Explorer which can be copied to tech support for analysis of the problem. It’s also easy enough for users at all skill levels to work with.

To run PSR –

In either Windows 7 or Windows 8

Run

Use the Windows+R key combination on your keyboard to bring up the ‘Run’ dialog box, type “psr” and click OK to load the program.

Problem Steps Recorder control panel

Then, it’s as simple as clicking on the ‘Start Record’ button and following the necessary steps to get whatever error message or other condition needs to be resolved. Each time you click the mouse or take any other action, PSR will automatically capture the screen and highlight the windows that you’re working with.

Once all the steps are complete, click the ‘Stop Record’ button in PSR and the program will prompt you to save the report.

psr003-save1

The report is saved as an MHT file, which is a web format viewable by Internet Explorer (but not other browsers). The screenshots are encoded within the file so everything is kept in one file. This file is automatically compressed into a ZIP file by PSR so it can be easily sent through e-mail.

PSR Report showing screenshots

The first half of the report shows the screenshots captured by PSR. As you can see in the sample above (click the screenshot for a full-size view), PSR accommodates multiple screens. The second image in the sample is a comment that I inserted into the report using the ‘Add Comment’ button on the PSR control panel.

PSR report showing text detail of steps taken

The second half of the report is a detail of the steps taken and includes program and version information which can be very helpful when trying to determine the cause of the problem.

In addition to tech support, PSR could be used for basic demonstrations and documentation of procedures. Despite the encoded images, the MHT files are still HTML files so a knowledgeable user could edit the titles and explanatory text as needed or use PSR as a quick method of grabbing all of the required screenshots for other documentation. If you play around with the program, you’ll see it does a pretty good job of highlighting specific actions.

The only drawback is that the MHT files are only viewable Internet Explorer so Chrome and Firefox fans will have to grin and bear it but for such a useful utility, it’s a small price to pay.