Help for help desks and beyond: the amazing Windows 7 Problem Recorder tool

November 20, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Posted in Microsoft | 1 Comment
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Have you ever had an exchange like this when trying to assist a user with a technical support issue?

User: My Frizzapp is not working.

You: Okay, tell me how it happened.

User: Well, I got this ugly error message and then it froze up and when I tried to close it I got another message and then it all just went away.

You: What did the error message say?

User: I dunno, something about a .dll or something. I’m not a technical guy, you know.

You: I guess I’ll have to come over there and help you.

About this time you are thinking, I wish this guy could just tell me accurately what the heck happened, and maybe I wouldn’t have to go all the way to his computer to fix this. Okay, maybe you’re thinking something a little more explicit, but there are entire web sites devoted to IT horror stories (“No, it is NOT a coffee cup holder!”) and you’ve probably got them bookmarked, so you don’t need my help there.

I’m happy to report that the Windows 7 developers must have worked the trenches of the help desk front lines, because  the IT support tool you’ve been waiting for is built right into Windows 7! It called the Problem Steps Recorder, and it’s very simple to teach the end users how to work it. You can even use the tool to create a tutorial for the tool itself. In a nutshell, the user starts the recorder and then duplicates the steps that caused the problem. The tool doesn’t just record all the steps taken by the user, but also records information about the files and applications used during the process, and creates a zip file that the user can send to you. Then you can view the file with no special software (uses Internet Explorer) and get a precise snapshot of the issue.

To open the tool, just hover over the Windows 7 orb in the lower left-hand corner. In the Search box, type “Recorder.”

Search field in the Windows 7 Programs list

From the search results, choose “Record steps to reproduce a problem” under Control Panel.

Choose the Record steps to reproduce a problem option

Select it and the tool will open on the desktop, as shown below. To begin recording, click the red Start Record button.

Problem Recorder icon and toolbar

Now that you are recording, you can simply perform the steps that caused the original problem reported by the user (or the user can begin trying to repeat the problem). In this demonstration I’m just going to see if I have Internet access.  So I clicked record, opened the browser, closed the browser, and then clicked Stop recording. The tool asked me where I wanted to save the .zip file, which I named “Internet” and stuck on the desktop.

The end user can do the same thing I just did, and then email you the zip file containing the problem details. When you unzip it, you’ll see a MHTML document that can be opened with a browser.

Zip file contents (MHTML file)

The different shots below come from me scrolling through the contents of the report, which includes

  • A short of each click
  • A description of each step
  • A list of files used at the end

Screenshot 1:

Problem Recorder results 1

Screenshot 2:

Problem Recorder results 2

Screenshot 3, the kicker, has the complete recording session details:

Problem Recorder results 3

What a cool tool. It is designed to record problems without leaving out the important details that users never remember. As I was going over the tool for this blog post, though, it occurred to me that it could also be used to show users how to perform a task – an instant, detailed tutorial created simply by clicking “record” and then e-mailing a zipped file to the end user.

Let’s say that there’s been a change in how to connect to a commonly used resource in my organization’s network. Instead of making multiple screenshots or trying to type out a list of steps, just turn this thing on, record yourself going through the new configuration, and send the zip file to everyone.

How sweet is that!

There are more neat things about Windows 7 that we’ll cover in later posts. Until next time, this is Troy over and out!

-Troy McMillan

1 Comment »

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  1. I really enjoyed reading that article. I feel really enlightened thank you.

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