If you ever encountered application problems in the field, you know how valuable it is to obtain an exact description of what happened from the customer. If you’re into production debugging, you also know that a dump file can be of enormous help, but often it is simply not enough.
Imagine that there is a bug in Microsoft Word which causes it to crash if, after modifying the document properties, changing the default heading style, selecting a line and clicking the ribbon copy command – you click Alt-F4 to close the main window.
How easy do you think this problem would be to reproduce from a crash dump?
For accurate reproductions of what exactly the user did to cause the problem, we often resort to talking to our customers over the phone, instructing them to take a screenshot of the application time and again until the problem occurs.
Fortunately, Window 7 finally gives us a built-in ability to streamline this process – with the Problem Steps Recorder (a.k.a. “Record steps to reproduce a problem”).
Type “problem steps recorder” into the start menu search box, and click on the first result from the Control Panel. You will get something like this:
Now, press Start Record and play around with your system for a short while. Switch between windows, type text, click some buttons. At the end, press Stop Record and choose a destination for the report file, zipped up and ready to be sent to the support personnel.
Inside the zip file you will find an MHTML document, which contains exactly the steps that were performed between the time you clicked Start Record and the time you clicked Stop Record. The specific window, the text, the user actions – it’s all captured in the report. For example:
Problem Step 4: User left click on "Format (menu item)" in "Windows 7 Problem Steps Recorder – Windows Live Writer"
Problem Step 5: User left click on "Align (menu item)"
Oh, and the best thing? It comes equipped with screenshots! Here’s an example from my report (note how the context of the user’s action is highlighted in green):
There’s also a textual representation of all the steps at the bottom of the report, perhaps to facilitate parsing by automatic support and classification programs.
By the way, if you happen to be authoring courses, hands-on labs, demos and other stuff of that ilk, you will LOVE the way Problem Steps Recorder can streamline screenshot generation and demo steps for you. It’s not just a Problem Steps Recorder, you know.
This is huge – not because there was no software that could accomplish this task, but because Problem Steps Recorder is built into Windows 7. It will be there on any customer’s computer. Waiting for you to run it. Waiting for you to receive a concise repro of the problem with your application, to capture a series of demo steps, to explain to someone how a certain task can be accomplished.