Progress Bars Piss Me Off
Posted by FredFredrickson on 10/30/07 11:00 PM.

I am a computer technician, a programmer, and a purist. Unfortunately, this means that I'm faced with ugly and horrible practices on a daily basis. Such practices that cause me to wash my hands and wash my hands again and wash my hands again but I can never be clean.

So, in an effort to shed some light on a few commonly stupid issues that programmers just keep getting wrong, on behalf of computer users everywhere, please notice the following:

1. Progress bars are to indicate progress. They are of little value if they indicate progress of internal procedures that the user knows nothing about.

If an installer needs to put random files in random places, and then add some new values to the registry, that's cool. By no means do I care about any of that. I'm the user, I just want to know when it's done so I can use the product. So why on earth did the progress bar just tell me it reached 100%, but now it's "Registering Components" so the progress bar went back to 0% to let me know how far along it is doing a random operation that doesn't make sense to me anyhow.

But what has this random reset of the progress bar really done? It has ruined my faith in the progress bar. Now I don't trust it. Not only this, but it caused the user interface to act in a way unexpected to the user... which breaks the number one rule in software design. Don't do that!

What other damages has it done? Well it ruined it for other programmers. Why? Because now the user doesn't trust such a horrible progress meter, it won't be trusted even if it's in an application that uses it correctly. An inconsistent UI component is useless and should be retired. Too bad it's a very neccessary component. You guys f'd it up. Good job.

Also on my hate list: Progress bars that are just animations that indicate that something's happening. They never reach 100% because they don't know quite what 100% is. They just want you to know that despite the fact that they haven't given the user any useful information, they're still doing work back there, so don't.. uh.. worry.

The correct graphic would be the now-accepted spinny circles. Similar to the mac "wait" icon, but more web 2.0-ish. The point is, if you need to say I have no estimate of time, but I'm working- use a different graphic than the normal progress bar- which should indicate that you do have an estimate.

What have you done to UI? The only interface still trustworthy is the MAC interface! Are you TRYING to create MAC USERS?!

2. And lastly (yeah I numbered my two points): The SYSTEM TRAY IS NOT YOUR BITCH. For some odd reason, real player and quick time decided that they were the reason I turned on my computer. I, of course, would not be using it for word processing or internet browsing. I was using it to play music and videos. Therefore, their software must be required to start every time I turn on my machine.

What does this really do? Well it loads software that I'm not actually using into memory, taking precious system resources. You've done precisely the opposite of what a good programmer should do.

Am I going to use either program? Maybe eventually, but I'll decide that- not you. The system tray IS NOT the quick launch bar. It is not just a bunch of shortcuts to help me load programs from an easy to reach place. In order for an icon to show up in the system tray, it needs to be in memory.

Now, some programs are useful here. Having AIM minimize to the system tray is useful. Helps keep clutter off my desktop. Outlook gives me new email notices down there. And Microsoft thinks I need a clock.

But the rest of you have no place being there. Think you're the only software developer in the world who thinks, this is brilliant! I'll MAKE SURE that EVERYBODY MUST USE MY PROGRAM ALWAYS AND FOREVER AHAHAHAHAHAH! And so long as every hack that calls themselves a programmer puts themselves there, it'll get so cluttered that nobody will get any attention- and the computer will get so bogged down that nobody knows what to do and eventually they just go out and buy a mac.

Look what you've done- AGAIN! You're making your customer base even smaller, yet again! (Well, ok quicktime, maybe you've got a strategy. But Real Player? Shame on you!)

Your user installed your software because it was needed for something. (Or because it came with bloatware, you sell out f-heads). Your user should still be in control and be able to decide when and how frequently they want to use your software. Not the other way around.

Want to give your user quick access to your software? Add yourself to the Quick Launch bar. Oh no, what's that? You don't use that because most people leave it disabled? Then take a hint. The user doesn't want quick access to you. That's their decision- not yours.

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mynameisjonas @ 10/31/07
"I am sooo the first comment"

ThatSam @ 10/31/07
"progress bars, arent those a kind candy bar?"

Riev_Mordred @ 11/01/07
"I have to agree with both points, actually, especially the second one. When something is down there for me, its because I -want- it to be. I hate that quicktime loads there, I don't USE it every day, shit every WEEK. Also, fuck progress bars and counters that say 100% for copying 1 of 5000 files. Just tell me when you're at 2500 files so I know whats going on."

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Who am I? That's a good question. I am the creator of, and the writer of the front page column. My actual name is Robbie, but for whatever reason I like Fred better. If you read my column, thanks. Feel free to leave a comment or two. Chances are, I've pissed you off anyway.

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