It’s not Christmas: Nobody enjoys unwrapping your present

I don't know why it happens, but it happens with disturbing frequency. A customer wants to report a problem, and then illustrate it with a screenshot or two, but instead of attaching the screenshots, they paste the screenshots inside a Word document (and for some reason it's always Word) and then attach the Word document.

It's not a Christmas present. People aren't going to say "Wow, I wonder what's inside? I'm brimming with anticipation!" They're going to say, "Oh great, I can't even see the screen shot. I have to download the attachment, scan it for viruses, then load it into Word. Oh wait, this is a Word 2007 document and I only have Word 2003; let me run the converter first. Okay good, now I can open the document to see, oh, look, it's a picture." Most people won't bother. And then you're going to wonder why nobody answered your first message.

If you insist on attaching the pictures, just attach them directly. And use a compressed image format like JPG or PNG, please. Don't send uncompressed screenshots; they are ridiculously huge. Cropping the image to the relevant portion of the screen helps, too. (This is very easy to do with the Snipping Tool.)

In March of this year, a customer wrote, "I have attached a Word document that describes the problem." (Hey, here's an idea: Why not describe the problem in your email message?)

The Word document contained a screenshot.

The screenshot was of an email message.

The email message contained a screenshot.

Bonus remark from the customer liaison: "Once you open the document, you may need to zoom it further to read it."

Wooden table not included.

Comments (142)
  1. Chris Walken says:

    Part of the problem is most people have no idea how to save a screen shot other than paste it into Word. If the OS had a simple way to save a screen shot as a compressed image that would probably help the problem. Merry Christmas. Need more cowbell.

    [See: Snipping Tool. -Raymond]
  2. Rachael says:

    Yeah, what Chris Walken said. You’d be surprised how many people don’t know how to use a simple image program like Paint, or even don’t realise they have such a thing on their computer. Word is all they know how to use.

  3. Josh says:


    Paint has been around for a long time.  And it supports a number of compressed formats.  And it’s guaranteed to be on any Windows OS.  I’d think the knowledge necessary to even take a screen shot would usually come alongside a knowledge of Paint.

  4. Sam says:

    Gotta argue this one since Microsoft is so set on dumbing Windows down for the ignorant rather than forcing the ignorant to learn.  There is no easy way to take a screenshot, convert it to a compressed image, and paste it into an email.  It’s a multi-step/multi-application process with or without 3rd party software.

    Without: Press the “Print Screen” key (where’s that documented for the non-tech).  

    Find and run mspaint (it’s apparently not in my start menu by default and I need to know that it’s mspaint to use the run menu).  

    Paste image then save as a compressed file type, if user knows what one is.  

    Run email, create new, then add image as an attachment.


    Print Screen.  Paste into word.  Email word document.

    [Try the snipping tool. One stop shopping for screenshots. -Raymond]
  5. Adam says:

    I’m somewhat undecided on what method of taking screenshots I like better – pasting it to the clipboard (what Windows does), or directly saving it to a file (what OS X and Ubuntu (and probably other flavors of Linux) do).

    But for average users, I think it makes much more sense just to have the PrintScreen key save the screenshot to an auto-numbered file on the Desktop.  Then you don’t have this problem with Word documents.

  6. nathan_works says:

    You would think folks smart enough to figure out alt-printscrn (or control-printscrn) would be bright enough to paste the bitmap into paint or otherwise re-format the image.

    Alas, no. I routinely get 1MB bitmaps control-v’d into a RTF email. (I have lookout set to always display in plain text, which doesn’t move the bmp to an attachment, instead says "can’t display all of message"). Shame, and they are computer professionals.

  7. Sam says:

    Snipping tool?  Never heard of that.  Does it come with any flavor of Windows besides Vista by default?  How am I supposed to know what to look for in order to download it, if I even can, so I can send a screenshot.

    Chris: Paint has been around for a long time but for some reason it’s not in a lot of start menus and when it is it’s buried.  Paint.  Paintbrush. MsPaint.  Name changes. Location changes.  Also the first few incarnations didn’t support all those formats so many who long ago abandoned and forgot about it aren’t aware of the improvements.

    [Snipping Tool is new for Vista. And even without getting Paint involved, you can at least just paste directly into your email message. Save people one step.My theory is that these people think that resizing the image in Word compresses it, so they’re doing it as a “favor”. Doesn’t explain taking a screenshot of an email message of a screenshot, though. -Raymond]
  8. Karellen says:

    I think a number of people use Word to write their emails in the first place. So when they paste the screenshot, it just goes into the Word document they’re writing. Not that this is necessarily their fault; I think there’s some godawful option for this which can get enabled by without a user’s explicit action (or is it by default?) somewhere. Stupid, stupid, stupid…

    All they know is that they click “New Email”, Word comes up, they type stuff in, click “Send”, and off it goes. Which is how it’s supposed to work.

    (At least Word runs on your computer. Not all of us are so …. lucky? How is it that some people seem unable to understand that there are computers connected to the internet which do not run Windows? Or even Wine.)

    [I’m not convinced that most people click “New Email”, then “Insert File”, then find that email they saved from Word and include it as an attachment, then click “Send”. But I could be wrong. -Raymond]
  9. I’m with Sam and the others.  Most people don’t want to figure out how to do it the right way, so they do it the way they know how.  Getting screenshots in a Word document is much better than getting nothing at all.

    However, I do sometimes ask people to paste it into an Outlook e-mail rather than into Word.  One small step for me, one giant leap for users’ skills.

  10. AndyC says:

    "My theory is that these people think that resizing the image in Word compresses it, so they’re doing it as a "favor" "

    I doubt it. Most of the people who do this to me simply haven’t got a clue of any better way to do it. Snipping tool is great and I’m hoping as Vista takes off more people will use it, though I seem to remember it’s a bit hidden (been a while since I installed Vista anew).

  11. Dax says:

    Chris …

    If you’re using Outlook (or any other modern e-mail client), you can paste the image in the e-mail directly.

    At my work, we use one of these clients, and they STILL send it in a Word document. The "compressed format" doesn’t stand, as Word will save it as .bmp if the copy source was .bmp… which will be the case if you paste a prtScrn.

  12. KenW says:

    @Sam:"Press the "Print Screen" key (where’s that documented for the non-tech). "

    Ummm… Right on the text on the key? ;-)

    My 70 year old mother figured that out, and she’s about as far removed from "computer literacy" as you can get.

  13. ScottB says:

    I got a bug report that included code to reproduce the problem — as a screenshot.  Because the code didn’t all fit on the screen at once, I didn’t get all the code required to repro the issue.  (Luckily, it was pretty easy to repro once you had the idea, and you could make a decent guess at the rest of the code.)

  14. Sam says:

    @Raymond and Dax: When I wrote my first post I walked through it.  I’m on XP SP3 using Outlook Express and I cannot paste a screenshot directly into an email.  The paste option is greyed.  This is a fresh install and upgrade from a week ago on a stand alone computer so I can only assume this is not just broken here.

    @KenW: Print Screen doesn’t print your screen though does it, despite what it says.  Also, per above, if your mother had hit "Print Screen" then attempted to paste into Outlook Express she might have decided that the key didn’t do what she thought it did and never trie it again.

  15. JamesNT says:


    Raymond has touched on a very sore point with me.  Virtually all my clients send screen shots in a Word document – and most of them totally screw it up (picture to small, etc).

    My Dearest Lord Chen, I am in the same boat with you holding the other oar wondering how we are going to ever get out of this.


  16. Alex says:

    My theory is that these people simply dont know that they could paste the image into an email. But they know how to use Word. They are using Word documents every day, they send Word documents per email every day. So they are simply using the method that is known to work.

  17. David Walker says:

    @Kenw: No, "Print Screen" doesn’t say right on the key that it COPIES an image of the screen into some magical place, and from that place, the image can be pasted into various programs.  It says PRINT SCREEN.  The user doesn’t want to PRINT the screen, so using that key is not obvious.

    When I first pressed Print Screen, many years ago, I expected the screen image to be printed on my printer.  THAT’S what Grandma would expect to happen.

  18. Frank Schwab says:

    People who don’t understand computers don’t change.  Much as we would like them to, once they figure out or get told how to do something, they don’t want to do it differently.  

    No matter how convoluted or aesthetically unpleasant (to computer professionals) their solution is, that’s how they do it and they don’t want or need to devote any more brain cells to new solutions until they absolutely have to.  Someone taught them how to send screenshots once, and that’s how they’re going to do it until Word stops allowing a graphic to be pasted in, or hell freezes over.

  19. Whatever says:

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. At least I now know I am not alone in being frustrated by this bizarre behaviour. I even get it from professional testers…

  20. nisbus says:

    First of all it’s not possible to paste screenshots into Outlook Express (I use Thunderbird because of exactly that)!!!

    And how about renaming the Print Screen key to Screenshot?

    A do agree though that getting screenshots in Word documents is a pain :)

  21. mikeb says:

    The anecdotal evidence in this thread that this is a common problem indicates that there’s a real usability issue for capturing and/or emailing screenshots.

    Also I hesitate to start an MS bashing sub-thread, but aside from the apparent ineptitude of users trying to send screenshots, I find a certain level of irony in Raymond’s description of the problems receiving a Word document attachment poses.

  22. Tom says:

    Yes!  I see this happen all the time.  Screenshots pasted into Word documents.  SO ANNOYING!  And BMPs, and uncropped screenshots (why does Paint like to leave all that empty space?  gah…), and if someone actually manages to use JPEG, it usually would’ve been higher quality and smaller file size if they’d used PNG.

    I solved this whole problem for one product by adding a menu item the user could use to send us debug info, and there was a checkbox like "send screenshot".  That really worked out great.

  23. Andrew says:

    Here where I work, our file storage site (read: not a filesystem, even though we have network storage. …) started to run out of space. Why? People had been posting 200-300mb Powerpoint presentations filled with uncompressed 5 megapixel images. Instead of just uploading the JPEGs they got off the camera.

  24. Vista user says:

    "Snipping tool isn’t available in XP"

    "This doesn’t work in Outlook Express"

    Okay, so maybe there was a usability problem 8 years ago.  At least acknowledge the possibility that this may have become easier in the decade following XP’s release.  If Raymond argues that the customer sending this bug report should be using the snipping tool, it is reasonable to assume that said customer has access to Vista.

  25. Ryan says:

    Regardless of how useable the print screen is.  Recieving a screen shot in a Word document is about the most annoying thing ever and it happens all the time.  Perhaps I need to make a plug-in for my email client that detects word documents with just images and extracts them into a better form.

  26. Michael says:

    One time a remote co-worker couldn’t install a piece of UNIX command-line software that I wrote. Instead of sending a transcript of his bash session, he sent a 30-minute screencast video of him typing stuff into bash and the response. I just couldn’t believe it.

  27. James says:

    This has always irritated me, particularly when it’s done for collections of logos etc. What on earth is wrong with keeping them as separate files, preferably in vector form?! More difficult, I know, with so many apps geared up to assume everything’s a bitmap, but the results are so much better…

  28. John says:

    There are a couple guys in QA who occasionally attach Word documents containing screenshots into our bug reporting system.  The bizarre thing is that sometimes these same guys will post the screenshots without first inserting them into Word documents.  Sometimes I just don’t understand people.

  29. Mark says:

    Okay, so maybe there was a usability problem 8 years ago.  

    No.  There IS a usability problem TODAY. Unless maybe you live in a fantasy land where Vista is running on an order or two’s magnitude more computers than it actually is.

    At least acknowledge the possibility that this may have become easier in the decade following XP’s release.  

    No. It may be on the path to becoming easier since the release of Vista, but only a minority have started walking that path.

    If Raymond argues that the customer sending this bug report should be using the snipping tool, it is reasonable to assume that said customer has access to Vista.

    Except that Raymond didn’t argue that the customer should have used the snipping tool but that the generic "you" should crop the image and that this is easy with the snipping tool.

  30. mikeb says:

    >  Perhaps I need to make a plug-in for my email client that detects word documents with just images and extracts them into a better form <<

    It looks like you have several customers just in this thread – I see the potential for a new microISV product.

  31. alegr says:

    ScottB: "I got a bug report that included code to reproduce the problem — as a screenshot"

    That’s probably because of infinite visdom of Visual Studio 2001+. It provides clipboard in HTML format. Which is also broken. When you paste it into any RTF mail editor, the code looks like crap. You can jump through hoops, paste it into Notepad first, copy from there and paste unbroken text into an email. Or just hit Print Screen and paste it.

  32. operagost says:

    Sam wrote:

    > Without: Press the "Print Screen" key (where’s that documented for the non-tech).  

    Find and run mspaint (it’s apparently not in my start menu by default and I need to know that it’s mspaint to use the run menu).  

    Paste image then save as a compressed file type, if user knows what one is.  

    Run email, create new, then add image as an attachment.


    Print Screen.  Paste into word.  Email word document. <<

    That’s the same number of steps, despite your attempt to cook the books.  You left out the parts where the EU hunts for the Word shortcut, saves the document, and attaches the document.  By the way, Paint is under Start -> Programs -> Accessories and has been since Windows 95.  The shortcut is installed during the OS installation.

  33. Adam says:

    This is really something that Windows just needs to copy from OS X and be done with it. Command-Shift-4 and let go: your cursor changes to a band-box selector complete with live-updating X,Y screen coordinates. Click, drag, and let go. Now you have a png file on your desktop that you can easily drag and drop to wherever you need to send it.

    Give Vista or Windows 7 similar behavior when you hit the PrintScreen key instead of copying to the clipboard. The current method gives no user feedback at all that it did what you wanted or expected it to do, and it’s far more difficult to walk a user through opening paint and saving as a specific file format over the phone, email, or chat.

    [Change “Command-Shift-4” to “Click the Snipping Tool icon” and that’s what Vista has today. Assign the shortcut a hotkey and you’re all set. -Raymond]
  34. Sometimes a screen shot isn’t even necessary, but people still insist on using them. Just a few weeks ago a colleague was encountering some build errors with a C++ class that I maintain. I asked him to send me a list of the errors, and I got a Word document containing a screen shot of Visual Studio. Down at the bottom of the screen shot in the error window were the first few words of a series of error messages. Since this was a template class, the really interesting bits of the error messages were off the right side of the window, out of sight.

    Later that day I got another screen shot from another developer, for a completely unrelated issue. In a Word document.

    These guys had at least 40 years of combined development experience, so I know they know how to copy and paste text. Don’t tell me the problem has to do with Windows hiding the necessary tools.

    I do occasionally wish that the Ctrl-C feature for copying text out of a MessageBox window was more discoverable. I get a lot of those sent to me as screen shots (in Word documents) instead of text.

    Anyway, Raymond, thanks for addressing a problem that’s a constant source of frustration for me.


  35. szurgot says:

    A boss of mine a few jobs ago would take the screen shot, paste it into Word, and mark up the text of the picture (which at least gave some value add to the Word part)

    But… Word has the preview feature, which would throw off the formatting of the boxes and comments which took me the longest time to figure out.

  36. Luddite says:

    In my experience, the only thing that constantly exceeds the dim-wittedness of end-users is the arrogance of developers.

    You ought to be happy that:

    -Someone bought your software, or continues to subscribe to your software, which pays your salary.

    -Your users care enough to send a screenshot and a description of their issues with your work… perceived or otherwise.

    It is one thing to gripe if your department has well defined and communicated standards for submitting bug reports, but my guess would be that most organizations don’t go beyond, "Send in a written description, and a screen shot… if you can."  Otherwise, how do you expect each and every end user in your customer base to be able to foresee and address the grossly over-developed sensitivities of you and your fellow developers?

  37. JP says:


    Even though probably none of us do it, Word has built-in features for sending emails. I only have Word’07 here but I believe the feature was there earlier (others can correct me).

    Try this:

    Start Word’07.

    Click on the office symbol on the upper-left corner.

    Select send > email.

    Type email address, click "send".

    For the unsophisticated office worker who uses Word more often than email, this might be the simplest way (in their eyes) to get the job done.

    This said, I’ve received pictures as Word attachment before too and, yes, it’s irritating.

  38. actual Vista user says:

    > "Snipping tool isn’t available in XP"

    > "This doesn’t work in Outlook Express"

    Okay, so maybe there was a usability problem 8 years ago.  At least acknowledge the possibility that this may have become easier in the decade following XP’s release.  If Raymond argues that the customer sending this bug report should be using the snipping tool, it is reasonable to assume that said customer has access to Vista.

    Um Vista user, did you even try it out, like, on Vista?  Because I did and you still can’t paste pictures from clipboard to Windows Mail.  As for the snipping tool, I never even heard of it until now (although I know MSPaint so I guess I wouldn’t need it anyway).  And remember, it may be 8 years since XP’s release, but not even 2 years yet for Vista.

  39. AUTOEXEC.BAT says:

    alegr, you might want to check out the VS add-in CopySourceAsHtml. It lets the user choose between HTML and RTF, and handles all source colouring, including line numbers (crucial if your working on any large project).

  40. alegr says:


    VS 2005 apparently fixed that annoying RTF clipboard problem. Though I didn’t have opportunity to test it with Outlook Express which I use at home.

  41. Sam says:

    @operagost – Go back and check again.  There’s no attempt at cooking the books on my part though there’s some serious lack of smarts on yours.  Using paint requires saving the image then reloading the image from your email software.  Using word doesn’t require either step because you can email from word.  Word is simpler (but still not simple).

    BTW – Paint is NOT in my accessories menu and it is NOT in any of my other menus and this is a week old install.  Yes, paint does show as installed under the accessories in Add/Remove Programs.  That’s the first thing I checked as I walked through the steps before I posted.

  42. Bryan says:

    Sam said

    >BTW – Paint is NOT in my accessories menu and it is NOT in any of my other menus and this is a week old install.  Yes, paint does show as installed under the accessories in Add/Remove Programs.  That’s the first thing I checked as I walked through the steps before I posted.<<

    It certainly is, by default, installed under C:Documents and SettingsAll UsersStart MenuProgramsAccessoriesPaint on Windows XP (and various paths under other OSes).

    If it’s not on your OS then you have modified your installation to not install that default feature.

  43. Raymundo Chennai says:

    Oh, Raymond.  It boggles my mind that you obnoxiously insist that everyone who doesn’t use the “Snipping Tool” to provide you with clean screenshots is an idiot.

    First of all, what a pathetic name. Without context it doesn’t indicate in the slightest that the program has anything to do with screenshots.  Why not call it the “Screenshot Tool”?  Or anything else?  Did it ever occur to you that the unfortunate screenshot behavior arises from a number of usability problems?  (The “Snipping Tool” name should, however, be redeployed when Windows begins performing vasectomies.)

    Second, your advice presumes that everyone is running the most recent version of Windows, while criticizing other people for presuming that you run the most recent version of Word.  Maybe you don’t like Word 2007; lots of people don’t like Vista.  Moreover, whatever the reasons, Vista currently has an OS market share of around 15% according to wikipedia.  It’s probably worth keeping that in mind when you provide advice to Windows users.  Thank you, though, for finally acknowledging the Vista requirement in the comments section.

    Finally, and related to the last point, it is amusing that you consistently defend Windows’s (up to and including Vista’s) sometimes unreasonable behavior by reference to design decisions made 15 years ago.  Why not provide a backwards-compatible solution to this problem?

    [The snipping tool is a convenient option, but it’s hardly the only one. Feel free to use whatever technique you want. I’m sorry I brought up the Snipping Tool. I thought it was a nice plug for a new feature. Now I know that I shouldn’t mention new features. I should’ve just told people to keep using Paint. (And I guess you fail to see the irony in your last two sentences.) -Raymond]
  44. Jonathan says:

    I can’t believe nobody mentioned Rory Blyth’s "Excel as a Database".

  45. Malcolm says:

    I had this at work the other day … guy asked for a screenshot, I did Alt-PrtScr and dumped it into Paint and saved off a .png … mails me back and says ‘I can’t read it, put it in a Word document’… I’m like, ‘eh?’ …

    I think in his case it was a Blackberry thing i.e. it can display images in a word document but dumps all ‘inline’ images in emails …

  46. KevX says:

    Ok, I give up, where’s this ‘snipping tool’ you speak of?

  47. AC says:

    Paul M. Parks:

    Since this was a template class, the really interesting bits of the error messages were off the right side of the window, out of sight.

    Since it was a template class, the source code to reproduce the error would have been shorter than the message anyway.

  48. SuperKoko says:

    "Alas, no. I routinely get 1MB bitmaps control-v’d into a RTF email."

    Once I got a WPS containing two screenshots of text documents as Word.Picture.8 OLE objects.

    From the same person, I got another WPS containing some sort of arcane image format I could never open.

    I guess it contains an image in the OLE format provided by his scanner’s software package.

  49. Dmitry Kolosov says:

    This is my pet peeve. I receive all e-mail sent to our Tech Support group, you can imagine the zoo I’m seeing: uncompressed BMPs of Windows console, full-screen images for the sake of a small message box with one line of text.

    By the way, how many of you, computer professionals, know that JPEG is good ONLY for photos? Screen shots in lossy format – Raymond, I didn’t expect you would suggest that!

  50. Mark says:
    1. Hook Ctrl+PrtSc to do the following:

       a. During normal use, pop up the Snipping tool with an added burst option that captures directly to the Pictures folder.

       b. When there’s a full screen window, save a screenshot to Pictures.

    2. Add a Windows themed sound for snipping.

    This fits with the normal use of shortcut keys.  PrtSc without Ctrl can then be deprecated/reassigned.

  51. Dmitry Kolosov says:

    I believe this will be the winner in The Dumbest Attachment contest. I once received a computer screen photograph taken with a digital camera!

  52. Raymundo Chennai says:

    [The snipping tool is a convenient option, but it’s hardly the only one. Feel free to use whatever technique you want. I’m sorry I brought up the Snipping Tool. I thought it was a nice plug for a new feature. Now I know that I shouldn’t plug new features. I should’ve just told people to keep using Paint. (And I guess you fail to see the irony in your last two sentences.) -Raymond]

    The sarcasm, it burns my eyes!!11

    The normal way someone might plug a new feature in a relatively unpopular operating system would be to say, “Windows Vista provides an excellent solution to this problem with the Snipping Tool.”  The way you cast the issue, as you nearly always do, is that people who fail to use the Snipping Tool are idiots.

    There’s no irony in my pointing out the inconsistency in your problem-solving approach: if it’s a shortcoming on your (i.e., Window’s) end, you shrug and say that it’s backwards compatibility uber alles; the rest of us need to suck it up.  When it’s somebody else’s problem, you snarl that he should be using the latest and greatest Microsoft product to make your life easier.  

    Actually, since you also snarl that people shouldn’t be using the latest and greatest Microsoft word processor, I guess I should adjust and say that when it’s someone else’s problem, you expect them to read your mind (and guess your current software configuration) to avoid any inconvenience to you.

    I don’t even want to know how you react if you get a picture in PNG format.

    [“Windows Vista provides an excellent solution to this problem with the Snipping Tool.” That’s what I should’ve written in the first place, thanks for the rephrase. (And I misunderstood your comment. I thought you were saying “Windows needs to redesign the way the window manager works, so the PrtSc key does something different, but do it without breaking backward compatibility.” I didn’t realize you were talking about providing a workaround that works on older systems. Point taken. I never meant to say “You should be using the latest version and if you don’t you’re an diiot.” I meant to say “The latest version makes this easier.”) -Raymond]
  53. Qian says:

    Raymond, I think maybe we should actually applaud the users for figuring out how to do something using the knowledge they have.  Most people know Word pretty well.  They know you can put a picture in it and save it as a file that most people can open.  They also know how to attach files to email.  So why learn anything new?  It’s actually more efficient for them, if they don’t send screenshots out often, to do it this way rather than learning a whole new tool.

    This actually reminds me of an old joke:

    An engineer and a mathematician are having tea together.  Just as the water is boiling, the toaster bursts into flames.  The engineer quickly grabs the pot and pours the boiling water over the toaster, putting out the fire.  The next day, the engineer and the mathematician are having tea again.  Just as the mathematician is filling up the pot, the toaster catches fire again.  The mathematician calmly puts the pot on the stove and says, "Don’t worry, once the water is boiled we’ve got a previously solved problem."

    So maybe users just think more like mathematicians. :)

  54. Chunky says:

    GYAH. Exactly what Raymond describes has been hugely irritating me for the last few weeks. We did some contract work for {an obscenely large company that you’ve definitely heard of}. They’re QAing part of the software for us since they have access to far more hardware that it will eventually run on than we do.

    They regularly send screenshots in word documents, but recently they reported one crash and really drove me insane: They sent screenshots pasted into word of the whole process up to and including the Windows "crash detail" window… except they didn’t scroll the crash window so I could see the actual backtrace. A huge word document, full of screenshots, except the one piece of data that would have been useful, which could have just been copied and pasted into an email as text in the first place.

    Oh. While we’re on the topic, very same crew like to send me screenshots of linux terminals when I ask them to show me the output of a simple command. They could just paste the single salient line into an email, instead I get to wade through their terminal screenshots while I read all their tpyos and incorrect commands, looking for the one line that actually matters.

  55. Raymundo Chennai says:

    Let me focus my previous comment by saying this: if you’re going to plug a feature that is not in the operating systems used by most of your readers, it is helpful to note that explicitly.  Your linking to Windows Vista help doesn’t make that clear for a number of reasons.

    Just as it is reasonable for you to point out the many ways that people fail to communicate effectively when dealing with you, it is reasonable for your readers to point out when you fail to communicate information effectively to us.

    [Thanks for your feedback – it really was helpful (once it became less inflammatory). -Raymond]
  56. Thor says:

    Lots of discussion is on the fact that it is a screenshot and the various ways to deal with them.  But, to me, the crux is the pointless attachment— I think we have all seen $application$ attached documents that contain either only text or, possibly worse, text with a kaleidoscope of fonts/colors/sizes that add no communication value.  Let’s stew and grumble and shake our tiny fists about that more!

  57. Messiant R says:

    The snipping tool is a nice thing to solve this problem, but people do have to know it exists. I doubt many people actually read through the welcome screen they get when a fresh install of Windows has been done, so it’s safe to say people don’t know about it. Also, many people don’t really explore the Start menu or other parts of their computer, they just find a way that works to do a certain task. As this article shows, people don’t tend to find the most efficient way.

    I believe it would help if the snipping tool was included in Home Basic and people got informed about its use. If I ask anyone around me what the reasons are we should buy Vista, everyone says it’s for security and the eye candy. I don’t hear people saying there are new tools and games though, while these are usually of more interest to the average person.

    More relevant to the article itself: I completely agree that any professional person should be able to find a more efficient and direct approach to attach screenshots or other information to a mail. In constrast, I don’t expect low tech home users who just want to send emails to their friends and have a small blog/website to be able to figure it out. Sure, we all like to laugh about about someone who sends you an email with an email attached that has another email attached, but we should be quite aware now that people who send them don’t care about how it gets sent. As long as their friends can read the newest funny thing they just received, they’re happy.

    Now all we have to do is try to be constructive and find a way to get The Correct Method ™ in their heads. Then maybe I could mail some suggestions to the Engineering Windows 7 blog authors.

    [I agree that it’s a bit much to ask non-technical people do figure this all out, but in these cases, the senders are technical people who should know better. -Raymond]
  58. Aaron says:

    I also get Excel files for screenshots.  To me that’s even weirder than Word.

    I think it’s not a question of resizing or anything, it’s just that they probably already have Excel open and are too lazy to open anything else.  It’s hard enough getting them to submit a real bug report or change request as opposed to yapping at me from my office doorway.

    What makes it funny in my case, though, is that my apps helpfully provide a selectable textbox with a stack trace and a "copy to clipboard" button, and also a built-in mailer which sends a complete bug report including the trace with one click, and a little box where they can optionally type in what they were trying to do; somehow, they still find it easier to take a screenshot (which of course cuts off 80% of the trace), paste it into Excel, save the file in Excel, and attach it to their own bug report.  It’s truly mind-boggling how much work some people will do to avoid doing work.

  59. You’ve forgotten to mention that Snipping Tool is included in the "Tablet PC Optional Components", which, as the name indicates, are optional. I for example don’t have them installed on my machines.

  60. mikeb says:

    So now we’ve all been educated about the Vista Snipping Tool – but where’s the Sniping Tool that’ll help formulate the proper responses in weblog comments?

  61. $$$ says:

    Snipping tools seems to be avaialbe only on the premium SKUs.

  62. CMC says:

    <fun>Try adding a png image to an HTML-formatted message in outlook and then sending it to someone who uses lotus notes.</fun>

  63. Yuhong Bao says:

    "If I ask anyone around me what the reasons are we should buy Vista, everyone says it’s for security and the eye candy. I don’t hear people saying there are new tools and games though, while these are usually of more interest to the average person."

    Yep, almost every version of Windows have new features and bug-fixes that do not require any new hardware, nor add much bloat, yet how many people know about them? For example, I bet that 90% of the new features in the Vista kernel would resulted in only a minor increase in bloat, but some of which are nice, such as this:

  64. Martin says:

    A good thing about the new Office 2007 files is that you can just unzip them and access the attached images without any Office-reader at all.

  65. Sam says:

    @Bryan:>If it’s not on your OS then you have modified your installation to not install that default feature.

    I have done no such thing and, as I pointed out in the very comment you quoted from, it shows as installed.  Also, it is in fact installed as I ran it from the command line to verify before my first post – which I might add would be just as valid if paint were in the menu as if it weren’t.  I have not moved or deleted or in any other way eliminated the shortcut either because I occassionally use paint.  It has a neat feature that many other programs don’t – it prints an image across multiple pages.

    Feel free to offer a new theory why the shortcut isn’t where you state it is.  Perhaps it’s not visible to a limited user account?  I’m logged on in one but not going to bother checking myself.

  66. Michael G says:

    A Word document serves as a convenient container for multiple screenshots, and lets you easily annotate each screenshot if necessary.  

    It also allows you to arrange the screenshots with an unambiguous sequence.  

    It saves me the hassle of coming up with multiple meaningful filenames for each screenshot.  

    It saves me the hassle from having to create (and later clean up) a temporary file on disk.

    And who would’a thought that MS would complain that I sent them a Word doc?

  67. Robert Ames says:

    Vista.  It’s not Christmas.  Nobody enjoys unwrapping your present.  Print Screen: *.jpg on the desktop.  Whee.  Why is Vista even mentioned?  Why is this even an issue?  Where is the PM for the print-screen button?   I call the Enter Key (but not the "Any" Key).


  68. Plextor Neutron says:

    I cant find dilithium crystals with my iPhone. is anyone else having this problem? Print screen is working fine though.

  69. Thom says:

    If Raymond has co-workers like my co-workers then the next few weeks, even months, are going to be rough.  He’s going to get so many emails containing word documents containing screenshots of email messages that’s he’s going to stroke out.  

    You might as well get started writing a tool to deal with them Raymond.  Oh, and how about keeping a running tally for us :-).

  70. Marc says:

    A good point Raymond – but you seem to think the the people sending screenshots have nothing better to do all day.

    I am in the process of coding an online support application, where people submit support requests.

    It will replace email. Of course I allow attachments, but the users are so used to using Outlook, and pasting into outlook. Sometimes they are sing Citrix (without knowing it, they’re not techy) so saving to the desktop, from Paint and then using another desktop which has Net access to access the support site gets complicated.

    Our client’s response? Allow us to copy and paste into the web form!

    Bottom line: like you and I, the users have a job to do. Only they don’t see using new applications and everything techy as some sort of challenge. They just want to meet their deadlines, or earn their commission. They probably have a customer screaming at them to get X done now.

  71. Chris Walken says:

    Sam, Josh, and others….

    For the record, *I know* how to create a screen shot and convert it to a compressed image file and mail that. The problem is most users dont know how to do this and trying to explain how to get Paint out and use it is even a bigger debacle to explain to someone who thinks Google IS the browser. As far as complexity, they seem to be able to search the keyboard and find a button labled "print screen" and that rings a bell. But beyond that, they are pretty much lost. Many times, I find myself asking them "do you still have the box the computer came in? If so… go and get that."

  72. Marc says:

    Snipping Tool. Really,this should be launched when Print Screen is pressed.

    It works with desktop composition turned off as well. cool :)

  73. Bryan says:


    I didn’t take enough note of the fact that you said it was ARP, sorry.  However, the feature installs the shortcut, so something else is making that not happen.

    None the less, the directory in question provides Everyone read & execute permissions on a default installation, so I don’t think that it’s a permissions issue.  I tested quickly on 2 XP SP2 machines and the shortcut is there.

    I’m not sure why your shortcut doesn’t appear.  Do you see other similar tools e.g. calc, write, etc?

  74. Dave says:

    Just this week I had to walk a customer through creating and emailing a screen shot on XP. It’s a pain.

    As several users observed, the reason people embed shots in Word documents is the Outlook "feature" known as Word Mail. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time; tt wasn’t. (In Outlook: Tools, Options, Mail Format, Use Office Word to edit email messages.)

    Conversely, if users have selected plain text as their Outlook email format to be kind to recipients on Blackberries and the like, it isn’t even possible to paste a screen shot. That option only exists for rich text or HTML.

  75. Peter Seale says:

    Raymond, the reason everyone’s being so hard on you is because you’re being hard on your users for embedding screenshots in Word. Besides whatever Vista-only screenshot program that exists (and no one knows about), Word is the best cross-platform screenshot transport mechanism for the average user. Observe:

    1. Most users have embedded images in Word already. Thus they believe (in an emotional sense) that Word can successfully do screenshots. They don’t have this same emotional connection to snappy or Paint.NET or whatever other alternative program that is in reality far superior.

    2. Most users are unaware of the workings of MS Paint, admittedly the best Windows screenshot utility that comes with the OS.

    3. In Word, if you have a large screenshot, by default Word shrinks the image to fit the page. MS Paint does not do this. Cropping an image in MS Paint is painful for a novice.

    4. In Word, you can do basic annotations to the image without fuss using Shapes (arrows) and text (duh). Resulting annotations are ugly, but the user may not know superior alternatives exist. Doing so in MS Paint is relatively painful (especially attempting to undo or touch up something).

    5. Many users do not know what image format to save in, even if they knew Paint exists. I think Paint still saves by default to 24-bit .BMP which is ridiculous in the year 2008. 10 MB images here we come! Hope you’ve only got one to send!

    6. Word, on the other hand, uses a semi-compressed image format, much better than BMP. I think the specific compression algorithm depends on Office version, but whatever, the point is: better compression in Word.

    7. Attempting to directly embed an image into Outlook HTML is usually disastrous. It may work on the first go round, but if someone hits “reply” instead of “forward”, the image disappears. What’s different between images embedded in the HTML and images attached to the email is the attachment icon. You can’t use the Outlook client to do any image manipulation.

    8. Since someone has mentioned it above, I’ll point out that Excel as a screenshot tool is not bad either. It’s the only Office tool that will NOT shrink the screenshot.

    9. The original images embedded in Word are retained, no matter what shrinking/cropping is done in Word. This means that if someone sends you an image in Word, you can extract the original screenshot unmolested. E.g. if your user tries to “help you out” and does something bad, leaving the image displayed in Word unusable, you can still recover the original. Had they used MS Paint you wouldn’t have this option.

    In summary: Raymond, when you make fun of your users, make sure you’re right and they’re wrong. In the general case you specified (general user population embedding images in Word), it’s not the users who have failed you because they’re embedding images in Word, it’s you that have failed them because you didn’t make it easy or obvious enough to send you screenshots some other way.

    I wouldn’t care as much if you didn’t go out of your way to make fun of your users. Don’t fulfill the ‘Nick Burns, Your Company’s Computer Guy’ stereotype (which you are ABSOLUTELY DOING above).

    [As I’ve noted, I can understand non-technical users doing this because they don’t know any other way. My gripe is primarily with the tech-savvy people who should know better. -Raymond]
  76. JohnInMableton says:

    Thank your lucky stars they can do even that.

  77. JM says:

    Actually, it raises a good point. Why doesn’t Print Screen print the screen anymore? My educated guess would be that it stopped doing that when things went GUI and printers hadn’t caught up to full-res bitmaps yet.

    You could argue that in most cases actually printing the screen is the wrong or useless thing to do (it would only exacerbate the "wooden table" problem as users might now *scan* the printed picture, God forbid), but you have to admit it’s confusing.

    A "Windows created a screen shot when you pressed Print Screen. What would you like to do with it?" popup (with "Make this the default/Ask me every time") probably can’t be implemented anymore this late in the game, but that might have been nice to have.

  78. Penguin Pete says:

    In case anybody doubts you, I’ve complained about similar activity from clients. See number 8 on the list of “top ten reasons I did not big on your job”.

  79. wtfery says:

    The real WTF is they have Word installed.

  80. Stef Walter says:

    I’m a technical user, but at the same time hate working around dumb deficiencies in the OS, whether it’s by installing strange tools, or checklists.

    On other OS’s one can do something as simple as press <Print Screen> and be presented with a location to save the resulting PNG file.

  81. Randolpho says:

    You think *Word* wrapped screenshots are bad? I get Powerpoint shows of screenshots.

    I get EXCEL documents for screenshots. Who does that? Seriously, talk about the exact wrong use of a tool.

    And I agree with the general consensus — people use office documents for screenshots because they don’t know better and (likely) wouldn’t bother if they did know better. I mean, most of the people I get screenshots from have extensions turned off. That’s a fun file to get: screenshot.jpg.doc. Yeah, that doesn’t set my virus-meter off at all!

    Also, thanks Raymond for introducing us to the Snipping tool. Very useful.

  82. I can’t believe JING has not been mentioned yet. It captures images and videos and automatically uploads them on a site and you get a URL you can copy to people. Ridiculously easy to use.

  83. Chris says:

    at least everyone here knows how to use the sniping tool.

  84. Shog9 says:

    Oh… i hate this so very, very much. It’s even worse though: we have bugs in our bug tracking system where the meat of the problem, with screenshots, is left to an attached Word document. Or, perhaps because these documents end up being insanely large, a .zip file containing a Word document. Forget keyword searching… :sigh:

    Forcibly uninstalling Word from the system of anyone who did this would give me *great* pleasure. Is Back Orifice 2k still around…? :-/

  85. Tom says:

    alegr: I *like* Visual Studio copy-paste.  Syntax highlighting is *good* — it makes code easier to understand.  If you don’t want it for some reason, just hit the Paste context-menu and select "Convert to Text."  No need to round-trip through Notepad.

    Never had it screw up the code when pasted into Outlook.  Are you using a different mail program, or combining tabs and spaces in the same source file?

  86. gregg says:

    Didn’t have time to read all prior comments, but a  couple of thoughts to all you techies – if you took your own experience back to the beginning you might remember that Windows is not that intuitive.  "Screen shot".  Jargon and unknown outside the computer world.  A non-user might wonder what caliber gun to use.  Paint, compressed jpg – hey, I bought my computer to write a term paper because it was easier than a typewriter.  What’s this other stuff about?  Scolding unsophisticated users is like a race car driver beeping his horn at a car stopped at a green light.  It’s just plain rude.  A good support person, like a good doctor, learns to communicate in a way that his patient understands, and doesn’t scold his patients for being "uneducated".  And yes, why don’t keyboard manufacturers know that "print screen" (on my keyboard "print screen sys rq") is a totally useless label for a key.

  87. Mike Annonson says:

    To all those who complain about Word-wrapped bitmaps, thank you lucky stars they even bother sending in screenshots at all.  Where I work, we have problems even extracting information about issues from people.  Tech illiterate or not, there’s nothing hard about saying what you was trying to do when it all went pear shaped.  But we get gibberish about "I don’t know, just fix it!" or "I didn’t do anything, it did it on its own!"  And this is not just the technophobes, no; almost everybody around here does it.  Even the people who are doing technical things refuse to document anything about problems.  But I guess that’s what you get in a graphic design place, though.

  88. Ravi says:

    How about this the objective is to communicate the issue. What ever the form the customrer is comfortable with rules.

  89. 2fort says:

    this sort of complaint will never reach the target audience. instead, people ought to be instructed on proper usage of this functionality when it happens (e.g., if this is a common problem where you work: send a generic pre-written reply email that explains how to properly do screenshot attachments)

  90. Ennis Turquetto says:

    Raymond, if you as a Windows expert immediately react by suggesting the snipping tool which is not present on most folks’ version of Windows, how do you expect non-experts to figure out what to do?

    A lot of the people I know who are guilty of the screenshot-in-Word behaviour have never even used an image editor, much less MS Paint. They are entirely unaware that they have such a program, much less that it might somehow help them with the screenshot problem. The rest of the folks have asked at some point in their past how they could edit images and we all know what their computer “expert” friends told them… “use Photoshop!!!”. They were, of course, also assured that only subhumans would use anything but Photoshop and so the discussion ended. They still don’t know they have MS Paint. They may or may not have figured out that Photoshop could help them with the screenshot problem, but if they did they quickly realized how clunky that procedure is.

    As for those of you suggesting directly pasting a screenshot into an email message, you lead a sheltered life. Not all email clients support that (yes, dear experts, there are clients other than Outlook and Outlook Express). Moreover, even when they do, that functionality often disappears when rich text and/or HTML composition is disabled. IMHO, rich text and HTML email is bad for everyone, but I especially take care to disable this for the sort of people we’re discussing because they’re the most vulnerable to the sort of evil that takes advantage of such formats.

    I wish I could say I’m surprised at how completely out of touch so many of you experts are with the reality a typical user is faced with. There is now and never has been anything in any version of Windows or email client that explains or aids the typical user in providing screenshots, assuming they even know what that term means.

    [My target audience isn’t the “typical user”; it’s the tech-savvy user, the one that is writing an application and has run into a problem and has opened a developer support incident and describes their problem by taking a screenshot, pasting into an email message, taking a screenshot of the email message, pasting the screenshot into Word, and then attaching the Word document to an email message. If you’re smart enough to get the parameters to IUnknown::QueryInterface right, you should be smart enough to know how to send an image attachment. -Raymond]
  91. gregg: "Didn’t have time to read all prior comments…"

    If there’s anything I’ve learned here, it’s to at least scan for the little yellow boxes where Raymond responds to prior comments before I leave one of my own, in order to save myself a little bit of embarrassment.

    Just a tip.


  92. Matt D. says:

    I have Vista Home Premium OEM. Alas, I have no snipping tool. I do have IrfanView installed, which is how I prepare and save screen shots.

    I suggest you lie in the bed you made and open your word documents.

  93. Yuhong Bao says:

    "To all those who complain about Word-wrapped bitmaps, thank you lucky stars they even bother sending in screenshots at all.  Where I work, we have problems even extracting information about issues from people."

    Yep, another example is that there are many people who complain about Windows being crashy, but I’m sure trying to get a crashdump from them (to debug the crash) isn’t easy.

  94. daveadams says:

    Wow, really? If users, even technical users, are resorting to pasting into Word, then what that means is that Windows has failed, not the users.

  95. Anon says:

    Actually another thing that annoys me is people using JPG for screenshots of GUIs. JPG was designed for photographs, not images with sharp edges and a small number of colours. Either you get a huge file if you save it as high quality, or you could a slightly less huge file with noticable ringing noise around the sharp edges if you save as low quality. A GIF or PNG will usually produce a smaller, higher quality file. Mind you a lot of image editors screw up palettisation and dithering to make GIFs unusable.  Still I suppose anything is better than an uncompressed BMP file.

    Actually, non inline images annoy me too. An email with explanatory text interleaved with images (usually screenshots) is much easier to read than a bunch of text and a bunch of images with meaningless filenames if you’re trying to skim read it for importance to see if you should stop working on something else.

  96. harlequinsmurf says:

    Unfortunate as it may seem the helpdesk software that the company i work for uses strips inline screen shots out of emails.  They are actively told that they need to paste the screenshot into word and then attach the word document to the email support request.

  97. Lowering The Bar says:

    Microsoft is so set on dumbing Windows

    down for the ignorant rather than forcing

    the ignorant to learn

    I nominate this quote as the most profound statement in the entire comment thread.

  98. Stephen Jones says:

    ——"See: Snipping Tool. -Raymond"—–

    Nice try Raymond but we’re not going to install Vista just to be able to paste screenshots.

    If you use POP3 email then there is no trouble clicking on the attachment. As for Word 2007 documents requiring the Word converter then perhaps you could suggest to the big shots that they include the converter tool in automatic updates since the lack of it is causing considerable inconvenience in any place with a mixed 2003/2007 environment.

  99. Stephen Jones says:

    I agree about Print Screen. The first time I used it I expected the screenshot to print and it took half-an-hours searching to find out it really meant copy screen to clipboard.

    Paint is actually quite hard to find (it’s in the start menu in a folder called accessories).

    And pasting screenshots into Word does compress them. I’ve just tried it out and the file size was a reasonable 147KB. Now, if I save it as .rtf then it takes up 10.4 MB!

  100. Stephen Jones says:

    —–"I once received a computer screen photograph taken with a digital camera!"—–

    How else would you photograph the error message on a frozen blue screen?

  101. Stephen Jones says:

    The interesting thing about this thread is that Raymond has changed my behaviour. I have now realized that the easiest and most efficient method of sending screenshots is to paste them in Word, so I’m going to give up using Irfan View as I did before and just use Word.

  102. DaveShaw says:

    If your not a Vista user, MS OneNote also has a Snipping tool.


  103. philk says:

    I have to agree that the easiest solution to the problem would be a patch that installs a hook for the print-screen key that pops up a message box like when you press it. Maybe the message box only pops up after a few times pressing the key like with the "shift" key "feature" in XP.

    Also I did not know that you can ctrl-c the text out of any (standard) Windows message box until I read the responses here. Maybe its time to introduce another patch to make this more obvious in message boxes!

  104. AllenJB says:

    Windows needs a tool like KDE’s KSnapshot ( ) built-in and labelled something like "Screenshot creator" and put directly on the Programs menu (not hidden under Accessories or some other arbitrary category)

  105. Tomas says:

    Oh this is too much fun. Windows-boy complains about stupid users when as a matter of fact, this problem is Windows-exclusive, making Windows the problem to begin with. Windows-boy shrugs these facts away, as they always do. Users continue to be stupid because Windows continues to suck.

  106. Jim says:

    Some companies and government bodies I know do not allow e-mailing of jpeg and other images directly, so sometimes people have to send them in a word document to get around silly IT restrictions.

    The remainder of people who send you images in a word doc clearly are not very computer proficient.

    Rather than just complaining about it, a more helpful stance would be to inform people how to send a screen grab as an image, rather than in a word doc.

  107. Serkan says:

    I can accept that if the sender is no-techie, does spend most of his/her time with office tools..

    But, I cannot accept this in a software requirements document. I still cannot believe that this actually happened. In the requirements document, which is a word file, there is copy-paste email message, which has a thread of mails, and that message contains an attachment for which we actually opened the link in the first place. That was horrific.

  108. Yuhong Bao says:

    "Mind you a lot of image editors screw up palettisation and dithering to make GIFs unusable."

    GIFs was not bad for screenshots back in the days of 256 color displays, but with today’s 16-bit and 32-bit displays, PNGs are much better.

  109. Ned says:

    Stop. Stop. STOP!

    This comment thread is amazing. And by amazing, I mean retarded. Who’s grandmother is reading Old New Thing? Exactly which end users that cannot savvy "copy and paste" are dropping in to examine "If you return FALSE from DLL_PROCESS_ATTACH, will you get a DLL_PROCESS_DETACH?"

    The whole point of Raymond’s post was about *considering the audience*, not about gripe X. When you are working with a technical person on a technical issue, it is completely reasonable to expect that this person will understand how to take a screenshot and paste it into email. If they cannot do that, they will be incapable of understanding whatever you are troubleshooting anyways. The same way that a technical person should be able to form cogent email titles and take a swing at spelling and grammar. This is computer science, not pipe fitting.

    Stop apologizing for dumb behavior from people that know better. If a user can figure out opening Word and pasting in a screenshot, they can of course figure out just pasting into an email. Good grief.


    Side points:

    Yes, Outlook Express and Windows Mail suck. If you are not using Outlook 200X, install and use the excellent and free Windows Live Mail. Yes, it allows you to paste pictures into messages. Yes, it is far better than Eudora and Thunderbird.

    Snipping Tool also has a big shiny button that says ‘send snip’ that you can use to email as a picture or attachment. It is a great tool (the consistent complaint I hear from people running Win2008 as their desktop OS is "where is snipping tool?’. It’s been out for 2 years, let’s move on from XP people – your resume is suffering for it.

    The volume of response in this thread makes me suspect that most readers here don’t really understand this blog or its posts and were excited as hell to jump in talk about something they could finally comment on. But I am probably being too jerky. Which is weird, that’s supposed to be Ray’s deal, and he’s been remarkably restrained. -_-

  110. Steve0 says:

    Some people think copy/paste is a function tied to Ms Word. They have no idea you can use it everywhere in windows…

  111. Ned says:

    Sigh… yes you do Matt D.


    It is installed by default in *ALL* versions of Vista. If it’s not there, your OEM has  turned it off.

    To turn it back on, go to Control Panel -> Programs -> Programs and Features -> Turn Windows Features on and off -> add the Tablet PC Optional Components.

    Again, for the final time: Vista *ALWAYS* has the snipping tool when installed out of the box. *ALWAYS*

  112. Reader says:

    Does this blog have a mirror now?

    [Congratulations, you found one of the dozens of scrapers. -Raymond]
  113. Florian says:

    Wow. More than 100 comments in less than one day. Is this a personal record?

  114. Carl says:

    Is it just me, or do you also have problems to get the "Window snip" to work? It almost always get the entire screen, not just the window you point at?

  115. Dave H says:

    @Chris Walker

    When I first pressed Print Screen, many years ago, I expected the screen image to be printed on my printer.

    That’s exactly what my Dad expected when he asked me about this a couple of weeks ago. And he’s relatively technologically literate.

    At least he was able to grasp my walkthrough of how to print the screenshot straight away, which is something.

  116. pytechd says:

    Microsoft could make it so, so much easier. Press Print Screen, windows pops up a box — where would you like to save the screenshot, and in what format (with PNG or JPG already selected). Alt+Printscreen takes a shot of the current window; add Ctrl+ as a meta key to override the auto-save feature and copy the screenshot to the clipboard for advanced users.

    Also, get keyboard manufacturers to change Print Screen to Screen Shot or something.

  117. Ennis Turquetto says:

    @Raymond: I came to this article via Reddit. Don’t know you, don’t know your book, and am not sure the exact definition of your target audience. Yes, I see that your book pertains to Win32 development and your link to Amazon eventually tells me that you’re a programmer for Microsoft. So I can only safely conclude that the "customer" referred to in this blog entry is either a developer or an end user of Windows, but I see no obvious other information on this blog site to clarify the situation. I’m here though because you hit on a problem many of us suffer with. In my case, some of those "tech-savvy" users are brilliant mechanical design engineers that can dance circles around both you and me when using their CAD software, but still cough up Word-encapsulated screenshots when they’ve got problems to report. I mistook your article to be applicable to that scenario.

    @Ned: Perhaps the experienced Old New Thing blog reader would have guessed that Raymond’s "customer" was not really the sort of customer that buys the Microsoft products that Raymond has helped developed, but nothing in this blog entry makes that clear. If my technical users actually knew better, they wouldn’t be engaging in this "dumb" behaviour and since they *cannot* paste screenshots into our email client, knowing how to do it in Word doesn’t help them figure it out. We don’t allow HTML email (incoming or outgoing) and we’re hardly going to change email clients or configurations just to make it easier for users to figure out how to do something that Windows should have made obvious – seriously, how stupid would it be for us to change from an email client we’re very happy with (ie. doesn’t suck) to one we don’t like in order to solve this? As for moving from XP to Vista to solve the problem, exactly how out of touch with reality are you? We’ve got a lot of money invested in desktops that are still perfectly good for XP but will have to be replaced for Vista, which at this point addresses *none* of our needs or wants, and we could care less how many years old XP or Vista are. The day I spend millions upgrading our OS merely to spruce up my resume is the day I get fired for gross incompetence. Reality sucks, no?

    @daveadams: Spot on! I fear we aren’t being heard though.

  118. TiagoTM says:

    Check this strip, possibly based on a real case :)

    I don’t know how many times I had the same problems. And when it’s not a DOC or XLS, it’s an uncompressed 24-bit BMP. I am still waiting for a video-screenshot.

  119. Toukarin says:

    Being in IT Support I get loads of these daily from users who like paste their screen captures onto MS Word despite the effort to educate them to paste them into MS Paint, or even onto Outlook directly.

    It seems to be a user-born habit which, like many old habits, die-hard. Our local IT department had to purchase a small program that automatically saves captured printscreens into JPEG files to get rid of this issue.

    But how exactly did this problem start? My best guess is that the user, not knowing anything about what is the most suitable program to use, conveniently utilizes MS word to paste their printscreen – ‘Hey it works!’ – having only used that one and only program in their daily work – and thus developed the habit from there.

    Like all user-based problems in IT… it’s going to take quite a while to re-educate the user. The challenge is not just to make the correct software more obvious, but to rid the old habits off the seasoned non-IT-smart user.

  120. JeppeSN says:

    If you use Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 (default settings) this works fine:

    1. Copy the window with Alt + PrtScr.
    2. Paste directly into the body of the message you are composing.

    The message will then be sent as HTML (as usual with this mail client), and the image will be sent as in PNG format. Most mail clients display this easily. With some simple clients, you will have to click the PNG file to launch it in an image viewer.

    (Just tried this with Windows XP SP3.)

  121. Phil Wilson says:

    My experience with most screenshots in these situations leads me to this hypothesis: The primary motivation for sending screenshots is simply to prove that the problem really happened, for which a screenshot is presumably the best evidence. However it’s not a good substitute for accurate repeat steps or sample code, and sometimes seems to be presented with a "so there, it really is broken" attitude. Raymond’s case in the Windows UI is probably different, but the screenshots I receive are almost always useless as diagnostic information, which is of course what we really need.

  122. Duke of New York says:

    My goodness, is that "harder-to-use = better" nonsense still going around? I thought the dot-com crash put a stop to that.

    It could be worse, Raymond. I remember reading a story years ago (on Usenet or somewhere) from a small company dev who received a support call from a military installation. He wasn’t able to help the caller at the time because every approach he suggested to get more information  went against security protocols.

    A few weeks later he received a fuzzy video tape that showed someone typing a command and getting an error message.

  123. pytechd: "Microsoft could make it so, so much easier. Press Print Screen, windows pops up a box…"

    Until this interferes with existing software that expects pressing PrtSc to *not* present UI but rather silently capture the screen. There’s nothing easy when millions of applications exist for your OS, and you’re expected to never break any of them.


  124. mikeb says:

    > The primary motivation for sending screenshots is simply to prove that the problem really happened

    In my experience, the primary motivation for a screenshot is to prevent misunderstanding.  Too many times you get a description of a problem that goes something like, "I tried to save the file, and I get an error that says the file can’t be saved, but I have plenty of space", but the screenshot shows the problem is that when the user tries to print the file a connection cannot be made to the server the printer is on.

  125. 640k says:

    This is what happens when ms forcing fake "standards" on people. Why not use the old doc format in word 2007? No, that would not cause a strong enough vendor lock-in effect.

  126. NitramK says:

    First you guys tell your customers that it’s a good idea to send email attachments (such as PNG screenshots of bug reports) in a properitary format (TNEF). Then now this. Oh, the irony.

  127. Duke of New York says:

    Well, it’s like this. A Microsoft tech evangelist met Eric Raymond one day for lunch and asked him some questions. Amidst various rude remarks, Eric said that Microsoft should open the Office file formats. Since binary formats are inherently difficult to open, Microsoft made a new XML-based format that would be easier for third parties to work with. Supposedly, this would leave open-source fanboys with one less thing to complain about.

    Apparently not.

  128. harmony7 says:


    wrt the missing Paint icon in the Start Menu, I once had a similar situation where one day commonly-used programs like Paint and Microsoft Word disappeared from my Start Menu.

    Turns out the culprit was my father — For his convenience, he wanted links to Paint and Microsoft Word on his desktop.  So he dragged them out of the Start Menu and onto HIS desktop.  How was he to know that he was really dragging them out of the "All Users" Start Menu?

    (This, by the way, is something I consider to be one of the two most annoying problems with Windows Explorer — I don’t mind being able to drag Start Menu items around, but I see no merit to the ability to MOVE an item off of it)

    I don’t know if this applies to you, but it might be something to check.

  129. VovaG says:

    Raymond, become an Outlook developer and implement "Paste as attachment" function =)

  130. AndyB says:

    @Stephen Jones

    …is causing considerable inconvenience in any place with a mixed 2003/2007 environment.

    Why would the want to do that when they need the revenue from you upgrading to Office 2007?

    Perhaps the real WTF here is that someone sent Raymond a Office 2007 document he couldn’t easily read. After all, zipping the images would be just as bad (ie placing them in a container of some sort)

    As for OOXML format being easy, it isn’t. The OOXML standard document is 6546 pages long. The ODF standard is only 867 pages; all 9 parts of the SQL standard come to less than 4000 pages. There’s plenty wrong with it too:

    I wouldn’t want to be tasked with working with it!

  131. Duke of New York says:

    Each of those 6546 pages is there for a reason.

    If you have anything more to say about it, you can say it on Doug Mahugh’s blog.

  132. Duke of New York says:

    Point is, open-source fanboys like 640k don’t really want anything after all, except merely to blame Microsoft for something.

  133. Ennis Turquetto says:

    @Duke of New York: Please reread this blog entry’s comment threads. I just did, looking for *any* comments that sounded like open source fanboyism, not just by 640K, but anyone. Didn’t find any, other than your own. Set aside your hypersensitivities to open source and you’ll see that most commenters are here because of a practical real world problem that aggravates us all. Raymond raised it in the context of Windows, which is where most of us have to deal with it. While it may also be a problem in other OS contexts, we don’t care and we’re not looking to "blame Microsoft for _something_", but actually have a real and specific complaint that affects our jobs, some of us on a daily basis. Some of us are developers, some are IT folk, and probably some are end users. I don’t know what your role is, Duke, but please leave the politics and personal phobias out of it.

  134. K says:

    I frequently have customers sending me Word documents with screenshot in them. I do tech support for a GNU/Linux vendor…

  135. SuperKoko says:

    From Tomas:

    "Windows-boy complains about stupid users when as a matter of fact, this problem is Windows-exclusive"

    Could you show any evidence that this doesn’t happen on other systems?

  136. Igor Levicki says:

    One of the primary reasons that people send out Word attachments AFAIK is that Word is the default email editing application for Outlook. You guys dug your own hole, now jump in it.

    [Word is the editor, but that doesn’t mean that the email message is sent as an attachment. It’s just the editor used for composition/spellchecking/etc. -Raymond]
  137. Nusi says:

    My observation is that Japanese customers tend to send screenshots within Excel sheets, while European and American customers send within Word Documents.

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