We’ve all been there. A friend calls up, saying that they’re having a problem with their computer. Every time they open a particular document file, the computer hangs.
As the troubleshooter on the other end of the phone, you probably start with the 2 basic questions. Firstly, “what precisely were you doing when the computer hung?”. Secondly, “what did the problem actually look like?”.
The user will, of course, provide 2 perfectly sensible answers. But they will both be wrong. When they listed the steps that they were doing to make the PC crash, they forgot a couple of key actions. And they’re almost certainly mis-quoting the error message.
Wouldn’t it be handy if there was a simple way of recording a user’s actions leading up to a problem? As a troubleshooter, you can ask the user to create the recording and send it to you to analyze. As a power user, you can make it easy to file bug reports about other people’s software by simply creating a recording and sending it to the relevant company or department. Then there’s no way they can deny that the bug really did happen.
As you might expect, from the nature of this column, such a tool exists and it’s free. What’s more, you don’t even need to download or install it because it’s actually built right into Windows. It’s been there since version 7 and it’s still there in 10. It’s called the Problem Steps Recorder, or PSR.
To find it, the easiest option is to type PSR into the search box on your PC. Once it’s running, click on the Start Recording button and then carry out some tasks on your PC. When you’re done, stop recording, and you can then review the playback. What you get is a scrollable list of actions (such as “user clicked on Save button”), plus a collection of screen shots. You can view the report right away, or save it and send it to someone else.
PSR is a really handy tool. I have no idea why Microsoft doesn’t publicise it more.