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Collecting Tech Support Data – Thinking Outside the Box

Tech Support Tips

Written by: Bryce Hooper, Application Engineer

Sometimes we just can’t collect enough or the right data to determine what our issue may be. In that case, we have to think outside the box to capture what we’re doing or how things are crashing.

Luckily, Microsoft provides us with 2 ways to do this in a Windows environment.

Microsoft Steps Recorder

Sometimes, we just need to show the exact steps that we are taking. Click by click, this can be hard to put on paper.  Microsoft has helped us along with this as of Windows 7 with the application called ‘Steps Recorder’. This is a part of the standard Windows installation and should be available on most machines with Windows 7 or greater in both Server and Desktop products. Official information can be found here. But as Microsoft likes to change their links very often (so we apologize if that link becomes outdated), we’ll cover it in this article as well.

To record the steps that we’ve taken click by click, we first need to launch the Steps Record application. This little gem is hidden in the Start Menu under the Windows Accessories folder. Once launched, we find a small dialog with only a few options.

Microsoft Steps Recorder

To start recording, hit the left most button “Start Record”. The tool is now recording all of your mouse clicks and keystrokes. Any application that you touch, will be noted and recorded. At any time during the process you can stop the recording to finish, pause it to stop collecting data for a moment, or add comments as to what is happening at that point. When finished, the report will be displayed for checking before saving.

Save Steps Recording

The resulting file is a zip that will contain all of the documents that would make the report into a working MHT (Web page archive) format. This will open in most modern browsers for review on any machine. It will detail a step by step of our actions along with any notes regarding errors that happened. If we happened to pause the system and so have missed steps, the application will note that some steps may be missed. Any comments that were made will show up as a user action with the note of “User Comment”.

By default, the recorder will only record the last 25 screenshots it takes. If the process is a long process that may require more, you can adjust this in the settings. These are accessible using the arrow button by the Help in the top right corner. If you would like to turn off screen captures all together, this is also available here. All actions will still be described in text in this case. Any settings that you make will only be for this instance of the application, closing and restarting will change them back to default.

 

Collecting Windows Dumps

PDM is an integration and add-on to Windows Explorer. As such, they are tied together when they fail. As one crashes, so does the other. This can be used to an advantage when diagnosing PDM issues that take the form of full Explorer crashes. Windows OS has a handy method of capturing information specific to each crash of an application.

Normally these dumps are sent to Microsoft using the Windows Error Reporting (WER) service. However, these dumps can be captured in a folder locally and then analyzed to determine patterns of failure. Information for this can be found in greater detail through many Microsoft sites or in the knowledge base under Solution S-070173. Steps to implement this are as follows.

  1. Go to the Start Menu and go to Run. Enter ‘regedit’ and press enter.
  2. Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\Windows Error Reporting\LocalDumps
    1. If the process is a 32-bit process such as Office, then the registry key to edit would be located at HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\Windows Error Reporting\LocalDumps
  3. If LocalDumps is not there, create a new key for it.
  4. Add a new Expandable String Value named DumpFolder and give it a value of C:\CrashDumps. The dumps will be stored in this location going forward.

Note: This will capture all dumps of all applications. We may want to monitor this closely to avoid missing good information and having it replaced by crashes of applications we aren’t specifically concerned with.

This will collect the last 10 dumps that we experience. If we want to collect dumps over a longer period of time, we can adjust this with a DWORD value named DumpCount in that same registry location. The default value is 10, but can be set to any integer value.

If we want to collect information on specific processes, we can use this method with some alterations.

  1. In the registry key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\Windows Error Reporting\LocalDumps create a new key and name it with the application executable that you wish to capture.
    1. For example, if we wanted to see all SOLIDWORKS crashes, we would name the key ‘SLDWORKS.EXE’
  2. (Optional) Create a new DWORD named ‘DumpCount’ and supply it with a value for the number of crashes we want to collect.

 

Have additional questions on collecting Technical Support information specifically for PDM? Check out last week’s blog article.