Problem Steps Recorder: Windows 7’s hidden support secret

Being a road-warrior is great, since with a suitable laptop and data connection you can work from almost anywhere, free of the shackles of a desk and the often depressing environment of a corporate office. It’s liberating to be away from those flickering fluorescent lights and the inevitably bitchy office banter.

Problem Steps Recorder: Windows 7's hidden support secret

Such freedom does come at a price, however – in particular, you’ll probably find it more difficult to support the users of any applications or web-based tools that you’ve created. In the office you can just pop round and watch over someone’s shoulder while they break your lovingly crafted software, but if you’re sat in a coffee shop enjoying a caramel macchiato, attempting to debug user problems over the phone or via email makes it more difficult to spot what’s going wrong.

PSR really is a brilliantly simple yet effective remote support tool, and what’s better is that it’s already sitting there in every copy of Windows 7

Of course, there are tools available that allow you to connect to the user’s computer and take over their desktop, but there are typically two problems with these. The first is that because the user knows they’re being watched, they may not behave as they normally would (in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s a pretty nerve-wracking experience having to use an application while knowing that an “expert” is watching your every move). The second problem concerns connectivity. You can guess the story: just as your user is about to break your application, the 3G signal will fall out and you’ll miss the key events. Well, if users are running Windows 7 there’s now a really handy tool built in that can help you with these remote support requests.

It’s called the Problem Steps Recorder, and the easiest way to find it is to ask your remote user to click on the Start button, and then type “psr” in the search box. When they run it they’ll see a simple user interface with an obvious Start Record button. They simply need to press this and the PSR utility will keep track of whatever they do, recording details and screenshots of the last 25 events (you can increase this limit via the settings, but 25 seems about right for most problems). When they’ve finished they just hit Stop Record, and everything is saved into a zip file, which they can then email to you.

If your user is the type of person who will find it a struggle to even attach a zip file to an email, there’s even a “Send to email recipient…” option within the tool’s own user interface.

PSR really is a brilliantly simple yet effective remote support tool, and what’s better is that it’s already sitting there in every copy of Windows 7, so there’s nothing extra to install. I’m just amazed that so few people seem to know about it.

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