Utility Spotlight: Gather troubleshooting data

The Microsoft Product Support Reports tool collects information on a misbehaving system to help you (or Microsoft) diagnose the source of the problem.

Lance Whitney

A troublesome PC with a problem you can’t resolve is terribly frustrating. It helps to know as much as you can, but that’s a challenge when it’s difficult to diagnose the problem in the first place. The Microsoft Product Support Reports (MPS Reports) tool can be a helpful ally for capturing information to help you resolve the problem.

MPS Reports can run an array of diagnostics on a client or server. Its findings can help you uncover the source of the software or system error. The tool can collect data on the following components and services: General, Internet and Networking, Business Networks, Server Components, Windows Update Services, Exchange Servers, and SQL and other Data Stores (Microsoft Data Access Components, or MDAC).

Depending on the symptoms of the problem affecting the PC, you can run diagnostics on all of the supported components and services or choose specific ones. MPS Reports generates reports as XML and TXT files. You can save them all as a single compressed CAB file, which you can view through the MPS Reports Viewer 2.0. You can also send the data to your Microsoft support team for evaluation.

To get going with MPS Reports, download the tool from the Microsoft Download Center. Choose the mpsreports_x86.exe file if you’re running a 32-bit version of Windows, or the mpsreports_x64.exe file if you’re running a 64-bit version.

The executable file is self-extracting, so there’s no installation process. Double-clicking the file displays the license agreement prompting you to agree to the terms. MPS Reports then asks if you want to run the diagnostics on your present computer or on another computer not connected to the network (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 First, you’ll select the system you wish to diagnose.

Choosing the first option displays a list of the different diagnostics available (see Figure 2). If you choose the second option, you’ll be prompted to download the required Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 and Microsoft PowerShell to install on the other PC. You can save these onto a USB stick or external drive to install on the non-networked PC.

Figure 2 There are several available categories of diagnostics.

Assuming you choose the first option, you can scroll down to view the different components and services on which a report can be run. Clicking on the Link to more info setting under each one brings up a text file showing you the specific filenames, event logs and other information that will be captured (see Figure 3). Select the diagnostics you wish to run and click Next.

Figure 3 You can pick and choose which components you need to diagnose.

After you’ve had MPS Reports collect the data, it will display a screen offering you three options (see Figure 4): e-mail the results, save the results, and open and view the results.

Figure 4 You have a simple choice after running your diagnostic.

The first two options compress the data into a single CAB file. The third option saves each diagnostic report in the original format in its own separate folder.

Choosing the first option opens a new e-mail message with the CAB file as an attachment. Choosing the second option prompts you for a target folder in which to save the CAB file. The third option creates the full folder structure so you can open each individual XML and TXT file on its own.

In most cases, the second option is the most flexible. You can always send the CAB as an attachment to Microsoft support and still view it yourself using the Microsoft Product Support Reports Viewer 2.0.

Download the Microsoft Product Support Reports Viewer from the Microsoft Download Center. Double-click the downloaded MPS Reports Viewer 2.0.msi file to install the program and create a Start menu shortcut to launch the viewer. In the viewer, click the File menu and then choose the option to Open Report from CAB file. Browse to and select the saved MPS Reports CAB file to view its results (see Figure 5). The filename includes the name of the PC for easy identification.

Figure 5 The primary report format gives you a full rundown of system information.

The Microsoft Product Support Reports Viewer displays tabs for general system information, specific report data, and a list of drivers and other Windows system files. The objective is to scour through the data to look for any red flags. In some cases, you might luck out and find a specific failure message (see Figure 6). In other cases, the cause of the problem may prove more challenging to locate. That’s when you might need to reach out to Microsoft support.

Figure 6 If there’s a specific issue, MPS Reports will show you with a specific error message.

The MPS Reports tool is officially compatible with all desktop versions of Windows from Windows XP through Windows 7. I ran it on Windows 8, though it wouldn’t work under the Microsoft .NET Framework 4 (I had to install the 3.5 version). The tool also supports server versions of Windows from Windows Server 2003 through Windows Server 2008 R2.

The MPS Reports tool is a handy utility for gathering troubleshooting data. Anything that makes the troubleshooting process a bit easier is a welcome addition.

Lance Whitney

Lance Whitney is a writer, IT consultant and software trainer. He’s spent countless hours tweaking Windows workstations and servers. Originally a journalist, he took a blind leap into the IT world in the early ’90s.