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Using the “secret” Windows 7 Problem Steps Recorder to Create Step by Step Screenshot Documents

When I show this tool to developers or QA guys, their eyes light up with excitement. When you work in Application Compatibility, you spend a lot of time documenting problems ;-).  In this post, I’ll talk about some of the tricks and tools I use for documenting issues.

There’s a slick new tool called the Problem Steps Recorder that is included in Windows 7.  It’s intended for users to capture step by step actions and screenshots to illustrate a problem. It’s a great tool for its intended use. However, if you create a lot of documents with screenshots or need to document a procedure, this tool can save you a lot of time.


Finding PSR

The biggest issue with PSR is finding it.  Since it’s intended as a troubleshooting tool, the tool is not directly exposed in the Start menu or Control Panel. When I demo PSR, my corny joke is “You need to use PSR to show people how to find PSR.”

Here are two ways to launch the tool:

  1. Launch the executable by typing psr.exe from a command prompt or the search bar.
  2. Type the keyword “record” in the search bar:


“Leveraging” the Output

After you record your steps, PSR saves the report in a zipped MHTML file. This is so you can easily send the report to someone via e-mail. Within the MHTML file, the screenshots are jpg files. Just right click and “Copy” the images from the report to paste into your own documentation. I’ve had mixed luck with trying to copy and paste a section of screenshots.  I prefer pasting a single screenshot into a Word document.  Try both to see what works for you.


Missing Screenshots

Before you create a nice long capture showing your Mom how to configure her mail client, there are a few common problems that may result in lost screenshots.


“No screenshots were saved for this problem step” issue

By default, PSR only saves the last 25 screenshots to help reduce the size of the capture file. If you will be capturing more than 25 screenshots, increase the “Number of recent screen captures to store” setting.



“There are windows on your desktop that are running as administrator” issue

PSR launches as a standard user and will warn that there are applications that are running elevated on the desktop.  If PSR is running as a standard user, it won’t be able to capture any screenshots or interactions with applications running elevated.  To fix this issue, follow the advice PSR gives you and run PSR elevated.


Don’t Forget about the Snipping Tool

For quick screenshots, I like the Snipping Tool (snippingtool.exe). It originally started as a PowerToy and has been included in all editions of OS beginning with Vista. It can capture window, rectangular, free form, and full screen snips. It’s quite handy.  I used it for the snips in this post.


Snip Tip:

You may have noticed I captured the Start menu in one of my screenshots.  This trick is outlined in the Snipping tool help. To capture a menu: Start the tool; Press Esc; Display the menu; Press Ctrl+Prnt Scrn and then use the snipping tool to capture the menu.


Capturing Dialog Box Text

Okay, this has nothing to do with PSR but I use this all the time when describing a problem, creating documentation, or searching for known errors. If you press Ctrl-C when a dialog box is active, the text is sent to the clipboard.  For example, if I press Ctrl-C when this dialog is active:


The clipboard contains the following:

 Problem Steps Recorder Warning

There are windows on your desktop that are running as administrator.

If you want to record your interactions with them, you may have to run the Problem Steps Recorder as administrator as well.

You can do this by clicking on the shield button next to the time counter on the Problem Step Recorder UI. Please note that your current recording session will be discarded if you do so.

I hope this helps. Happy documenting…