When trying to diagnose a computer problem, there’s an old saying that is still true: a picture is worth a thousand words. If that’s the value of a picture, then a series of pictures must be worth a million words. In many cases where a verbal description just doesn’t quite cut it, seeing a sequential series of screenshots of what is happening can make it crystal clear.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could just start up a built-in screen recorder, then go and do whatever is causing the problem, and send a series of actual screenshots to your tech support person? Yeah, that would be wonderful! And this is something that is conveniently built into Windows 7 and Windows 8. For Windows XP or Vista, you will need to use third-party software to do this.
The application is called Problem Steps Recorder. Gotta hand it to Microsoft for giving their software practical names. If you are having a problem with your computer, and you need to show someone what is going on, this program records the whole thing for you.
Here’s how you access it:
Windows 7: Click the MS logo – in the search field, type PSR – at the top of the menu click on “psr.exe”
Windows 8: Move the cursor to the top right corner of the screen to make the Charms bar appear – click on search – type PSR – click on “Steps Recorder”
When the program starts running, you will see this little window appear:
As you might guess, your next step is to click the “Start Record” button. You won’t really see anything happen, but it’s working. Just go through whatever process you want to demonstrate. If you have to take a break partway through, you can click to pause the recording. When you are done, click on “Stop Record”. What happens then depends on if you are on Windows 7 or Windows 8.
In Windows 7, you will see a new window that pops up and asks you to save the recording. You can save it anywhere you want, just make sure you remember where you saved it so that you can get back to it. Once it is saved, you can compose an email to me (or whoever you want to send it to) and attach the recorded file to the email. The saved file is inside a .ZIP folder to make it as small as possible for emailing.
In Windows 8, when you hit Stop Record, a new window will pop up showing you all of the screenshots in your recording, and listing all of the individual steps that were taken during the recording process. So if you want, you can scroll down through the screenshots and make sure that they are showing what needs to be shown. At the top of the window you have the option to save it, or to start over with a new recording.
Both the Windows 7 and Windows 8 versions offer a button to email the recording from within the program itself. In Windows 8 you will see it immediately, right alongside the “Save” and “New Recording” options. In Windows 7, you have to save the file first, then click the drop-down arrow at the right end of the PSR window, and click on “Send to E-mail recipient”. HOWEVER – this automated email option only works if you have an email application already configured on your computer, such as Outlook, Thunderbird, Windows Live Mail, etc. If you get your email by logging on to an email service website such as Gmail.com or Yahoo.com, the automated email is not an option for you at this time.
If you are using Windows XP or Windows Vista, the process is not as simple. This is because neither of those Windows versions have a built-in function like what is described above. That means you will need to use third-party software to be able to record your screen.
In a blog post a few years ago, I wrote about a web-based screen recorder called “Tell me what’s wrong” and it seemed to work well. However, I cannot recommend it now because it requires the use of Java in your web browser, which is extremely unsafe currently.
I did come across a different program that might do the job, but I have not installed or tested it thoroughly. If there is enough interest, I could review it in a future blog/podcast. If you want to check it out yourself, you can get it here. If you try it out (at your own risk since I don’t know anything about it yet), let me know what you think of it.