Windows 7 Catch-up: Problem Steps Recorder

Screen-casting comes to Joe-Public!

“Typically, the most complicated aspect of troubleshooting is reproducing the conditions that demonstrate a problem, especially if the affected user is working remotely or communicating by telephone. If IT can’t reproduce a user’s problem, they can’t easily diagnose its source.
Windows 7’s solution to this impasse is the Problem Steps Recorder…”
This is a screen-casting and capture tool intended for ordinary users to record the steps leading to a problem so that IT support can replay it and diagnose the problem. Users are supposed to run the recorder to log the steps taken when a reproducible problem occurs. Click Start Record, reproduce the problem, enter comments where appropriate, click Stop Record and then send the recording via e-mail or file-share to their support desk.

This is not quite a standard screen-caster application; it uses an arbitrary frame-rate, dependent on actions; every time a user clicks or types, a screen-shot of the action is recorded, along with accompanying logs and software configuration data. Users are supposed to enter text comments to describe something happening on the computer that isn’t automatically recorded. Microsoft’s examples given are “poor responsiveness or excessive paging.”

The Problem Steps Recorder creates a .MHT file, a type of HTML document that only Microsoft uses, which wrappers images and text attachments in a single file, which is then compressed in a zip archive. The support team are supposed to review the .MHT file to diagnose the problem.

While this is an interesting step, I do question the viability of the Recorder as a prevalent tool.

  • how many problems are reproducible?
  • how many of these benefit from a recording when a phone call will do?
  • how many users have the patience to run the Recorder when they just want someone else to fix the problem
  • how many users will actually get how the recorder works without being shown?
  • who’s got the time to run it and annotate the problem recording? That’s a whole bunch more typing
  • every support team I know find it ultimately more productive to just walk down the hall to see it for themselves.

Where I can see it used is in supporting remote workers where there is no support team in the building or on the road – but there again, that’s how Goto My PC, Log Me In or good old-fashioned VNC pay their way. I’m just not as excited about this thing as Redmond.

According to Microsoft, the Problem Steps Recorder can save the support team ‘a significant amount of time.’ I’d question ‘significant.’ The part I do like is “it helps overcome language barriers, allowing IT professionals to diagnose problems regardless of language differences.” Not many text annotations there, but in that case, a picture really could be worth a thousand words. AJS

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