How To: Windows Tips

Troubleshoot from afar with a Windows 7 tool.

Troubleshoot from afar with a Windows 7 tool

Whether you’re a support specialist or the tech guru for family and friends, you know how frustrating it can be to fix other people’s PCs. The task is even more difficult when you’re not sitting at the machine, and you have to rely on verbal explanations from a nontechie. The Problem Steps Recorder (PSR) tool in Windows 7 simplifies remote troubleshooting.

PSR captures screenshots whenever the PC’s user moves or clicks the mouse. The utility compiles the shots into an MHTML file that the user can send to the person providing support. Recording events To launch Problem Steps Recorder, click the Start button and type problem steps recorder or psr in the search box; then press <Enter>.

Let’s say that someone is having difficulty connecting to a wireless network. You can’t isolate the problem over the phone because the user claims to be performing every step and following your guidance explicitly.

Direct the user to start PSR and then re-create the process that leads to the difficulty. During recording, the user can click the Add Comment button and insert notes.

After the tool captures the event, the user should click Stop Record and indicate where to save the MHTML file. To make the file easy to locate, I recommend placing it on the desktop.

As the instructions at the beginning of the MHTML file explain, the user should review the file to ensure that it clearly captures the events in question, and that it does not contain sensitive or confidential information. PSR simply takes screenshots and has no means of discerning passwords, account numbers, or other sensitive data that might be displayed.

Reviewing the file Once the user has e-mailed you the MHTML file, you can open that attachment and view the events. One note: Although many browsers support MHTML, the format has not been standardized, so the file may not render properly in browsers other than Internet Explorer.

Each screenshot has a label with the date and time, plus brief explanatory text. PSR compiles the MHTML file as a single web page, so you can scroll through the shots; alternatively, you can use the Next and Previous links. If you click on a shot, you’ll get a larger version, along with a magnifying-glass tool that you can use to zoom in.

In our wireless-network scenario, you could review the image where the user typed the WPA security key, and realize that they misread it: Whereas the user entered “7742415625,” the correct key was “77424lS625”—with a lowercase L in place of the 1 and with an uppercase S in place of the first 5.

Problem solved. True, you probably could have handled this particular issue over the phone if the user had told you character by character what they were entering, but this is just one example. For more complex matters, the bottom of the MHTML file contains details about the application versions being used, as well as the files and processes involved. A training tool You can also use PSR as a training tool. Think about some of the most common help-desk calls – problems connecting to a VPN, adding a printer, configuring e-mail. Rather than waiting for people to encounter such issues and then call you for help, you can use PSR to record these tasks, and develop a library of tutorial files.

Using this utility can help support techs operate more efficiently, and it can reduce the time and costs involved in going on site to troubleshoot and resolve problems, leading to better-satisfied, more productive users.

Configure Windows Update to reduce annoyances

Despite its importance, Windows Update can be an annoyance, as it regularly creates unwelcome pop-up alerts. You can configure the tool to provide less information, and you can even turn it off.

Step 1: Click Start, and then open the Control Panel.

Step 2: Click the Windows Update icon (in Classic View) or the Check for updates text under the Security heading (in the new Control Panel menu).

Step 3: In the Windows Up­­date menu, click View update history to see all previously installed updates. Double-clicking any of them will produce details, including the date and time installed, plus information about the function that the update performs. You can also get more information by clicking on the link.

Step 4: Click Change settings on the left side.

Step 5: Under the ‘Important updates’ heading, you can change the frequency of updates. In the drop-down menu you can tell the tool to install items automatically, download updates but not install them, only alert you about new updates, or ignore updates. You can also choose the date and time at which your PC performs these tasks.

Step 6: Below the ‘Recommended updates’ heading, choose whether to receive updates that are recommended but not important.

Step 7: Check the box under the ‘Who can install updates’ text to enable all users to install updates. Unchecking this box will permit only the administrator to do so.

Step 8: Use the ‘Microsoft Update’ setting to control up­­dates to Microsoft products other than Windows.

Step 9: When you’re finished, click OK to return to the Windows Update menu.

Step 10: Use the Restore hidden updates link if you decided not to install updates when they first became available and now wish to install them. From the ‘Restore hidden up­­dates’ menu, pick an update and click the Restore button.

You can change Windows Update’s settings to reduce its alerts.

Hide unwanted updates

Want to be rid of unwanted Windows updates? Hiding them is simple – at least if you’re using Vista or Windows 7. Unfortunately, this tip doesn’t work in XP.

In the list of updates, right-click one that you know you’re not going to want to install, and select Hide update. The update won’t go away immediately, but the next time you visit the Windows Update list, it won’t be there.

To undo hiding, click Restore hidden updates in the first Windows Update screen (the one that tells you how many updates are available but doesn’t list them); this will open a list of hidden updates so that you can unhide them.

Remove unwanted software from your PC

Few things are more frustrating than booting up a new PC and finding that it’s littered with junk. You can zap “crapware” through Windows’ Control Panel: Double-click Programs and Features (in the Classic View), or click Uninstall a program (in the new Control Panel). Select an unwanted program, and click Uninstall/Change.

Alternatively, the downloadable PC Decrapifier ( is an easy and effective tool. On its ‘Select Items’ screen, you can sort through the software that it has identified as possible junk. The tool can create a restore point to fix any problems, too. Even so, pay attention to which items you remove, since the utility has trouble differentiating between trial versions and paid-for apps. If you have upgraded or manually installed any of the programs listed, deselect them so that PC Decrapifier does not remove them.

Turn off automatic window resizing and docking in Windows 7

Microsoft touted this new feature, but not everybody wants it. Turning it off is surprisingly simple – though finding the ‘off switch’ isn’t.

When Windows 7 debuted back in 2009, one of its most celebrated new features was automatic window resizing: If you dragged a window to one edge of the screen, it would “dock” there while resizing to fill half the screen. If you dragged a window up top, it would enlarge to full-screen size. If you dragged it down again, it would return to its original size. And so on.

It’s a pretty cool feature – and one that I use from time to time – but not everybody likes it. Indeed, some users might prefer to turn off the feature entirely and go back to resizing windows manually as they see fit. There’s just one problem: Where in Windows 7’s sea of settings do you find the one that controls automatic window resizing?

The answer: It’s in a place that you might not expect. Here’s where (and how) to look.

1. Click Start, type Ease, and then click Ease of Access Center.

2. Scroll down a bit, and click Make the mouse easier to use.

3. Scroll down to and enable the last checkbox in that window: Prevent windows from being automatically arranged when moved to the edge of the screen.

4. Click OK, and you’re done!

Henceforth, your windows won’t attach themselves to the edge of your screen or resize themselves when you drag them to the various hotspots in Windows 7.

Check this box to halt window resizing and docking in Windows 7.

Windows Firewall: on or off?

Firewalls are a critical part of a system—yet applications, malware, or even people sometimes turn them off. Most third-party firewalls will tell you when they are off, but the built-in Windows Firewall can be harder to read. Follow these simple steps to ensure that Windows Firewall is on.

1. Check the Taskbar: Look at the bottom-right corner of the screen for a red shield icon. If you see one, click it to determine if it indicates that your PC’s firewall is off.

2. Open the Windows Security Center: Even if the taskbar icon reports that your firewall is turned off, it doesn’t tell you much more. For additional information, click the Start button and go to Control Panel. Once the window is open, click Security Center. Alternatively, click Start, select Run..., type firewall.cpl in the box, and click OK.

3. Check Windows Firewall: In the Windows Security Center, you’ll see an area to manage settings for the Windows Firewall. A green light indicates that the firewall is on. A red light means that it’s not connected, in which case you need to click the On option.

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