How to Use Problem Steps Recorder (PSR) in Windows 7

Arguably one of the best features to be introduced in Windows 7 has been the Problem Steps Recorder (PSR). Windows 7 has been out for a while now, though it’s surprising just how few people know that this helpful application actually exists.

Essentially, Problem Steps Recorder makes a visual and text-based documentation of everything that happens on your system while you’re recording. This documentation is contained in a .ZIP format (for easy transport) on a single MHTML file. This file can be opened by virtually anyone, and gives them all the information they need to see and/or replicate the problem. This includes any executables you handle, clicks you make, and versions of various applications you interact with during recording. Each step is catalogued with a high-resolution screen shot and accompanying text.

Problem Steps Recorder is a great way to troubleshoot a problem, or have the problem addressed by a remote technician. That isn’t where the usefulness of this application ends, however. In this article, we’ll address how to use Problem Steps Recorder and some alternative ways to put this handy built-in Windows program to work for you in other fields.

How to Launch PSR

Launching Problem Steps Recorder is pretty easy. There are two basic ways to launch it, including doing so with standard and administrator privileges. Here is how to launch it with standard privileges.

  • Click the Start Button on your Desktop.
  • Type PSR in the Search field.
  • Click the psr application that appears under Programs in the results.
  • Problem Steps Recorder is launched and ready to use.

Using standard privileges will give you basic access to do most of the things you might need to do. It will record your steps, allow you to make notes, etc. The restrictions come when you run an application that requires administrative privileges to run, such as a program installer or various parts of the Control Panel. PSR can’t record the steps taken in those programs. The solution is to run PSR with higher permissions so that it may properly track the issue.

Here’s how:

  • Click the Start Button on your Desktop.
  • Type PSR in the Search field.
  • Right-click the psr application that appears under Programs in the results.
  • Select Run as Administrator.
  • Approve the permissions request that appears.
  • Problem Steps Recorder is now launched in administrative mode.

You can alternatively activate this mode by clicking on the drop-down icon on the right side of the window and selecting Run as Administrator. This will relaunch the program in admin mode so you can record more.

How to Use PSR

Adding Comments and Highlighting
Problem Steps Recorder is incredibly easy to use. Not only can you record your activity through screenshots and track your steps, but you can add notes with focused screenshots by selecting Add Comment on the main PSR Window. This will give you a text field where you can type in a comment and also give you the ability to click and drag your cursor over the area in question. This will help the technician focus his/her attention on that key concern.

Setting an Output Directory
You can also set the file name and directory before you start recording so it’ll automatically populate the completed .ZIP file once you hit Stop Record. This can be a great time saver, though you will want to make sure you don’t have a file with the same name already in the directory — or else it will override the previous document.

Here’s how to set that up:

  • Select the drop-down arrow located on the far right side of the PSR window.
  • Select Settings.
  • Set your Output Location by clicking Browse…
  • Choose a directory and file name for your recording.
  • Select OK.
  • Once your recording is complete, the file will generate automatically.

Turn Screenshots On/Off and Set a Limit
This settings menu will also allow you to toggle whether or not you want to include screenshots in the file. Less screenshots means a smaller file, which can make it easier to email. Just a few screenshots at 1080p resolution can bring the file size up into the hundreds of KB in size.

You can also set the desired number of screenshots to capture, making it easier to limit the size of the resulting file.

Basic hotkeys make using PSR a little easier. You can start and stop recording, and add notes with a hotkey rather than switching between windows.

Here are some useful key combinations:

  • ALT+A — Start Record
  • ALT+O — Stop Record
  • ALT+C — Add Comment

Other Purposes

PSR can help you with a lot of things that aren’t technically support related. For example, how-to bloggers can speed through a process and check PSR as a virtual note to help them translate the steps into a blog post or video.

Software designers who want to provide a step-by-step guide might also be able to put Problem Step Recorder to good use for that purpose, as well. That isn’t to say you should post your recording to a site and call it a day, but it can give you a visual guide that you can use to help form your post.

Problem Steps Recorder can also be a great way to quickly give detailed instructions to a relative or other individual who might need a little extra help in doing so. In a sense, it can act as a reverse problem recorder that provides solutions, instead.

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Ryan Matthew Pierson