Scott Hanselman

Help your users record and report bugs with the Problem Steps Recorder

October 9, '12 Comments [43] Posted in Bugs | Tools
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A few weeks back I ranted in Everything's broken and nobody's upset and it found its way around the web. Some called it a poorly  organized straw man and others felt it was a decent jumping-off point for a larger discussion about software quality. It was likely both of these and more.

On the subject of bug reporting, there's a wonderful gem of a program that ships with Windows 7 and Windows 8 that you and your users can use to report and record bugs. It's the Problem Steps Recorder and it's like TiVo for bugs.

Hit the Start button and type either "Steps" or even "PSR" or to run the Problem Steps Recorder.

Problem Steps Recorder

Click Start Record and reproduce your bug. You can even click "Add Comment" to highlight an area of the screen as a call-out.

Problem Steps Recorder records your clicks

It's kind of a poor-man's screencasting tool. Rather than a heavy full screen video, the Steps Recorder is taking a screenshot on each click or action.

The user can then save the whole thing as as ZIP or just click "Email." I plan on using this the next time my non-technical parents have an issue they want to report.

Since this little app ships with Windows, why not launch it directly from your product's interface or 'Send Feedback' link? Then you could automate the receipt of these recorded problems and directly inject the resulting files into your bug reporting system.

What do you think?

Related Posts in this Three Part series on Software Quality

  1. Everything's broken and nobody's upset
  2. A Bug Report is a Gift
  3. Help your users record and report bugs with the Problem Steps Recorder

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2012 8:14:25 PM UTC
Nice tip, passing it on to some customers now.

Have you seen how Google does their "Give us feedback" functionality? You can highlight or blackout areas of the page you're on while submitted feedback/bug report from within the webpage itself. Very nifty.
Tuesday, October 09, 2012 8:22:04 PM UTC
Try Jing. Better functionality.
Pat
Tuesday, October 09, 2012 8:34:53 PM UTC
HOW DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS TWO YEARS AGO???? *passes out from anger*

Anyways - this is awesome. Wonder if I could start it from a webapp?
Ryan
Tuesday, October 09, 2012 8:53:37 PM UTC
This is awesome. One of W7's best kept secrets. How many more tools are there like this in W7?
Tuesday, October 09, 2012 8:55:13 PM UTC
Is there are reference for the "Additional Details" at the bottom of the page?
Jonathan Beerhalter
Tuesday, October 09, 2012 8:59:11 PM UTC
Good idea, Scott. Psr is too well hidden and people seem oddly resistant to using it. I think that putting a link in the user interface to launch it for the user makes a lot of sense.
Tuesday, October 09, 2012 9:42:49 PM UTC
Can't believe I've never heard of this before. I'll be passing this around the rest of my QA team in the office once our long overdue upgrade to Windows 7 arrives as a quick way to track those hard-to-repro bugs.
Martin Costello
Tuesday, October 09, 2012 10:00:56 PM UTC
I used this all the time when I worked in a computer lab back in school. A real time saver!
Tuesday, October 09, 2012 11:23:53 PM UTC
In a word. Awesome. So why didn't you tell us sooner? :)
Taki
Tuesday, October 09, 2012 11:52:16 PM UTC
This is great for capturing step-by-step screenshots for quick, one-pass documentation as well, not just for recording 'problem steps'.
dan
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 12:56:59 AM UTC
I noticed that it captures all desktops. I wonder if there is a way to specify only to capture one desktop.
Brian K
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 2:54:27 AM UTC
oh it's Great for Users ;)
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 3:03:11 AM UTC
Beats taking screenshots and using ms paint any day. Would be really nice to see an article on lesser known tools that ships with windows that can be really useful.
Sivakumar Kailasam
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 3:19:18 AM UTC
Just keep in mind that in some fields (medical, legal), sending any kind of screen makes it incredibly easy to inadvertently release confidential information (say a patient's record that's on screen at the time, or a contract to a potential rival). That can get you into hot water really quickly.

On the other hand, for helping my parents out of a jam, yeah, this could be really handy!
Darin
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 5:32:57 AM UTC
Its a step in the right direction.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 7:09:57 AM UTC
@Pat:
Jing may be fine, but you are missing two points here:
1. This is already installed on most of the clients.
2. The information is strictly shared between the user and you, it doesn't take a roundtrip to the Jing servers.
Palle Due Larsen
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 9:03:01 AM UTC
What a great feature, thanks for letting us know.

I guess I'll add a link to run psr.exe in my applications' help zone, to make it easier for my users to start it up when I need them to.
Kev Winchcombe
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 10:09:48 AM UTC
Nice one! It's a shame that this feature isn't better known. Thanks for the article, I'll be sure to pass this along!
Ronald Zarīts
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 10:17:25 AM UTC
This looks to be very useful, but I'm working on a Silverlight app at present, pretty sure I can't launch this from a SL app.
CB
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 10:20:53 AM UTC
We use this at work for some finicky issues. For a freebie it's good enough, but I think there are some other alternatives around.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 12:45:07 PM UTC
This would be great... if my company could be bothered to upgrade everyone to Windows 7. But until XP is dead, Screen Recorder will just be another fantasy.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 12:52:21 PM UTC
Very nice Scott... like everyone else said.. too bad it isn't better known
Gregg Coleman
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 1:31:03 PM UTC
This is a great solution if your user base aren't the entire web. For example, if you have a limited group of user like for an Intranet. Nevertheless, for a worldwide web application, it might be cumbersome for novice user just to launch the application. It would be great to have something within the webpage like a scriptlet to do the same.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 1:39:20 PM UTC
Hidden gem!! will pass this on to our QA team

Channa Mydur
Channa Mydur
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 2:10:57 PM UTC
@CB - If you're in an "out-of-browser" SL app with "full trust", you can launch other executables
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 7:01:41 PM UTC
I don't see the mail option on my Windows 7. Also, it would be nice if you could pass some settings via the command line to help automate it further when running it from your own app.
Al Gonzalez
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 7:20:22 PM UTC
I don't remember reading about this in any feature overview at the time Windows 7 was launched. It should have been in.

Thank you Scott for unveiling this wonderful tool.
Joris Spriet
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 9:34:16 PM UTC
@Al Gonzalez - the email option is a little hidden. Once you have recorded and saved the steps ZIP file, you hit the little down arrow next to the Help icon (or Alt+G) and select Send to Email Recipient.

@Scott - thank you, this has made my day, I only wish I had known about it earlier!
ChristianB
Thursday, October 11, 2012 1:42:34 AM UTC
Thanks Scott, I'm surprised that Windows had that feature already. I'm following too many tech blogs for years and this is the first time I've heard about that feature. I'll use it a lot. Thanks again
John Kaplan
Thursday, October 11, 2012 1:55:05 AM UTC
screencast-o-matic is another good screen recorder and it works out of a browser.

http://www.screencast-o-matic.com/
Ryan
Thursday, October 11, 2012 4:06:05 AM UTC
Good also for doing tutorials ;-).
Thursday, October 11, 2012 5:19:46 AM UTC
Instead of this, I'm using timesnapper (http://www.timesnapper.com) all day long. It takes a screenshot in a fixed interval, like every 5 seconds and plays it back like a movie.

I'm using it for both time registration, productivity (see what you actually spent your time on), restoring that blog post that you just lost from a crash and finally bugs; when you can't reproduce that bug you just saw, just play back the movie. (and email the screenshots)
Thursday, October 11, 2012 5:42:03 AM UTC
Weird that it captures the screenshots with its own window present as well.
manoj
Thursday, October 11, 2012 8:30:26 AM UTC
Did I miss it, or is there a way to launch this from a web-page (without using a plugin)? If so; how?
Thursday, October 11, 2012 10:15:33 AM UTC
Excellent information Scott.
Thursday, October 11, 2012 3:17:15 PM UTC
Nice utility but it doesn't work. When adding a comment it says "An error occurred while attempting to add a comment." I also do not get any screenshots from the zip file.
Jason Thorpe
Thursday, October 11, 2012 4:47:14 PM UTC
THIS is why I read your blog! Another gem I wasn't aware of. Thanks Scott
David M
Thursday, October 11, 2012 5:00:21 PM UTC
no creativity in this solution ,may be MS has to pay for some one to get more creative idea of how to report the error in Windows .
Sam
Thursday, October 11, 2012 5:17:21 PM UTC
It is a decent tool if your users know how to reproduce the issue they are having. However, I have found that often users aren't paying attention enough to know what it was that they were doing when the issue happened.
Davin Studer
Thursday, October 11, 2012 8:16:27 PM UTC
I am curious to see what improvements they have made to this tool. When my organization upgraded to Windows 7 we were using this to help troubleshoot user problems. It could have been user error, but we did get a lot of PSR recordings that were missing steps and screenshots or some that would be totally corrupted and we could view them at all, especially when using with older applications running in XP mode.

It is a nice little tool and did help narrow down issues with users most of the time. I have also used it in the past to document steps for new user tutorials.
Bryan
Tuesday, October 16, 2012 12:28:22 PM UTC
I found a bug in Windows 8 and recorded it using this useful tool. Now, I cannot find a good place to report Windows 8 bugs!

Even this SuperUser.com query seems to indicate that Microsoft does not have a place to accept Windows bugs from normal users:
http://superuser.com/questions/432288/how-to-submit-windows-8-bugs-on-microsoft-connect
Thursday, November 01, 2012 11:06:16 AM UTC
<rant> Just tried submitting a bug report for Visual Studio 2012. And give up after 15 minutes. First it wanted me to sign in. Fine. Tried siging in and got "we need to verify you". Not a problem - got text message, verified account. Tried again in VS - suggested to use the Feedback tool. Installed it in VS, siging in there and it tells me that my Microsoft account is not Connect account. And to get that connected I was asked to create a public profile. Public profile for bugreport??? and asking my birth date and address for public profile?? seriously? I just want to submit an ecking bug report, I don't want to hand out all my private info.

Given up. MS still does not want feedback from their users. </rant>
trailmax
Friday, October 11, 2013 2:22:14 PM UTC
After clicking on 'Start Record' in PROBLEM STEPS RECORDER, I am getting the error as "An error occurred while attempting to start recording". Can you please provide the way to resolve this error.


Thanks in advance,
Johnseema
Johnseema
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.