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January 30, 2004  |  More on dialog boxes  |  20179 hit(s)

Ever since a few days when Eric pointed out the badness of dialog boxes, it's been on my mind as I work in Windows. I've seen several dialog boxes in Internet Explorer that specifically illustrate Eric's point about how illusory the notion is that the dialog box is offering the user anything like a useful choice.

I've also been seeing them in Word, which is a product I spend a lot of time in. Word 2003 has a thing where they don't pop up a dialog box. Instead, they open up a "task pane" that helpfully clutters up the workspace offers options relevant to your current context. One I noticed in particular is the "document recovery" pane. When I open Word sometimes, it tells me that it has "recovered" one or more documents (such as normal.dot). Do I want to keep them or discard them? How the heck would I know? I have no idea what it's asking. Please, just make the pane (haha) go away.

When I close Word, I get this:

Well, gosh, I don't know. What changes did I make? Until I know that, I don't really know whether I want to save them. But as you can see, there's no option to "Examine Changes."

As it happens, I'm reviewing the text and UI for a new feature in Visual Studio. Among the text strings for proposed dialog boxes I find this:

There were conflicts during while retrieving files from the remote site. Do you want to continue updating?

[Yes] [No]

Hmmm, do I want to continue updating? Beats me. What would you choose?

Paul Laudeman   27 Apr 04 - 4:58 AM

Of course I would choose "No", but I'd rather choose "Rollback" to rollback any changes that had been made but failed because of the conflict. Now, unless I know exactly what happened, my data is in an inconsistent state and now it is up to me to manually go through and fix everything.

Even better, why not some mechanism to resolve the conflict when it happens instead of aborting the process altogether?

Or how about the infamous "LAME!" button from the early days? <g>

secretGeek   27 Apr 04 - 11:14 PM

hiya Mike

one dialogue (or dialog, if we must) i hate the most is after the windows update service has finished installing things and i must decide whether to reboot immediately or reboot later.

I have no idea what advantage or disdvantage there is to rebooting -- will aliens invade my machine if i dont? will my instance of IIS be attacked by the latest Trojan Virus? and there is no link to inform me of the risks. but i'm expected to make a decision, which is invariably -- "reboot later 'gator".

meanwhile, some of our planet's best technical authors are languishing in the ranks of the unemployed (i imagine).


Paul Laudeman   28 Apr 04 - 5:04 AM

Now that's an extremely good point. One might think that installing certain fixes may leave your system vulnerable until they are applied by a reboot, but there is simply no way to tell.

What would be cool is if the dialogue said something to that effect, and optionally gave you the ability to disable your network stack if you had to continue working until you rebooted.

As it stands now, that dialog remains mysterious, and maybe for a good reason!