Windows Tools to Help Us Help You

Having been in software support for many moons, it is safe to say that the hardest part of a support rep’s job is understanding the issue that a user is experiencing and determining if that issue is caused by the software, setup, or the user.  The best way to get to the bottom of an issue is to see it in action and try to reproduce it.  After we have a better understanding of the steps involved to reproduce the behavior in the software, we can then perform our sleuthing magic and help users resolve the problem so they can continue on with their daily lives. There are several tools built in to Windows that are available to users that can help us understand the issue.  The first tool, one which I personally rely on daily, is the Snipping Tool (Windows Vista and 7).  I’m sure you’re all aware of this fantastic feature, but there’s nothing better than being able to select any portion of your Windows desktop and simply copy/paste that image into an email or document.  A high-quality error message can really get us pointed in the right direction on our road to resolution.  It is also very helpful when providing step by step instructions in which users will need to follow; "Click this button, highlight this row..."  Windows XP users will need to rely on 3rd party Snipping-Tool addons, or the old [Alt]&[PrntScn] option which screen caps the entire window in focus.

Pro Tip: If you want to use the Snipping Tool to take a screen shot of a drop down menu:

  1. Open the Snipping Tool and click ESC to hide the white over-layer.
  2. Open the menu you want to capture.
  3. Press [CTRL]&[PrntScn].
  4. Click the arrow next to the New button, select a snip type from the menu, and then use your mouse or tablet to capture the menu screenshot.

Drop down menus will normally close when you focus on another the Snipping Tool, so this can be helpful in bypassing this.

The 2nd tool that can be very helpful is the Problem Steps Recorder – type “prs” into your start menu to locate the prs.exe (Win7 only). This tool will take a continuous run of screen grabs as you navigate around on your computer and is excellent for when your ECC rep asks “What steps did you perform to get this software behavior?”  Simply start up Problem Steps Recorder, launch Online5, and do what you did to recreate the issue.  Each mouse click will be recorded and a description and screenshot of each of the user’s actions is created.  Click Stop and you will be asked to save the output file in a .ZIP folder automatically.  Although this is a great tool, each mouse click creates an image of your screen, so the final output file can get very large.  In a test I ran, a 6-click PSR file was 1MB; not extremely large, but large enough to cause issues with email filters or attachment size limits.

Below are links to these nifty tools that I hope will help us all in future troubleshooting tasks.

Snipping Tool

Problem Steps Recorder

If you have any handy tools that you can’t live without, leave a comment below.  I’m sure we’d all like to hear about them!