Using the Windows 7 Problem Steps Recorder

Find Problem Steps Recorder

The Problem Steps Recorder can be found by typing in its name in Windows 7's search window.

One of the best new things about Windows 7 is the Problem Steps Recorder, a fantastic troubleshooting tool. Let's say you're having problems with a program that's crashing. Instead of calling a computer-savvy friend or your company's Help Desk and trying to describe what's happening, you can simply turn on Problem Steps Recorder, go through the sequence that's causing the trouble, turn off the Recorder and email the problem for diagnosis.

Problem Steps Recorder takes a picture, also called a "screengrab" or "screenshot", of every action you take. It compiles those into a little slideshow, complete with a written description of each action (you don't add that -- the program does it for you). When it's finished, you can easily email the slideshow to anyone you need to.

The first step is to left-click the Start button in the lower-left corner of Windows 7 and type in "problem steps recorder" in the search window at the bottom (the window says "Search programs and files" and has a magnifying glass to the right). The top result is shown in the screenshot above. Click on "Record steps to reproduce a problem" to open Problem Steps Recorder.

Start Problem Steps Recorder

The main Problem Steps Recorder interface is simple and clean.

Here is the Problem Steps Recorder bar. The main things you'll be using are "Start Record", "Stop Record", and the downward-facing triangle at the far right (discussed later).

Left-click the red "Start Record" button, then go through the steps you took that were causing the problem. For purposes of this article, I recorded the steps I took to open a graphic in a free image-editing tool called Paint.NET. Let's assume I had a problem with opening a graphic, and wanted to capture the steps I took and send them to a friend who's an expert in this program.

Record Your Steps

The Problem Steps Recorder records everything you do. This shows a typical screen that the problem-solver would see. Click the image for a larger version.

After starting Problem Steps Recorder, the program will record everything you do, right down to scrolling up or down in a window to find something. The best part is that you don't have to do anything manually; all the steps are automatically recorded, and notation added that describes what you did in each step.

Notice how in the screenshot here that Problem Steps Recorder outlined the step in green. At the top (which I outlined in red), it records what step number this was in my sequence (Step 10), the date and time, and the narrative of my action (in this case, double-clicking on the Paint.NET icon to open the program.)

Stop Recording or Add a Comment

After recording begins, you can pause or stop the recording, or add a comment of your own.

When you're done, click the "Stop Record" button. You can also pause the recording at this point, and add notes of your own; just click the "Add Comment" button and spell out any difficulties.

If you add a comment, Problem Steps Recorder pauses your sequences an puts a sort of white veil over the program. You can highlight a problem area on the screen (by dragging a rectangle around it) and inserting your comment. That will be added to the slideshow; it may help the troubleshooter to better understand something you saw or did at this point.

Save the File

Save your file to any location, and give it a name before emailing it.

After you've stopped recording, you need to save file Problem Steps Recorder made. The dialogue box shown here will pop up automatically. Save it to a location on your hard drive: I recommend saving to your desktop, as shown in the red rectangle at the top of the screen, because that will make it easier to find.

Next, you need to give it a filename. Make it as specific as possible, so that the person fixing your issue will have some idea of the problem. In the example here, outlined in red at the bottom, I've named it "UsingPaint.NET."

Accept the default "Save as type" setting; no need to change that.

Select Email Option

After saving your file, choose the option to email your problem to someone.

After saving the file on your desktop, go back to the main Problem Steps Recorder bar and click the downward-facing triangle. You'll be presented with a drop-down menu. From this menu, select "Send to E-mail recipient". This will call up your email client.

Send the Email

Problem Steps Recorder makes it easy to email your new document to anyone for assistance.

Problem Steps Recorder takes the hassle out of emailing your document to whomever you want. It opens your default email client (in this case, Microsoft Outlook) and automatically attaches the file created in Step 5 (the attachment is outlined in red). It adds the "Subject" line for you, although you can change this if you want it more specific or personalized. For this example, I've added a bit of detail that may help the problem-solver. Click "Send" and you're done.

Learning to use the Problem Steps Recorder can save hours of time over the typical phone call scenario. Getting familiar with it is something you should do early on in your Windows 7 experience.

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