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Screenshots from Windows Vista Update

Published by Martin Kleppmann on 24 Nov 2007.

Jimmy sent me some screenshots of Windows Vista which exemplify my complaints about unclear labelling of buttons – a usability problem which occurs so frequently that I’ve named this whole blog after it. He was running Windows Update, which was installing a bunch of software updates:

Screenshot of Windows Update running

It turned out that he didn’t actually want to install those updates now, so he hit the “Stop installation” button. Up pops a dialog box:

Screenshot of dialog box: Windows needs your
permission to continue. Continue, cancel.

Now what does this mean? Does continue mean “continue stopping the installation”, or does it mean “continue the installation”? If we press cancel, will this cancel the request to stop installing updates, or will it cancel the installation process itself? And what does the red X button in the corner do? (The temptation to press X in cases like this is huge: I consider it to mean “shut up, go away, I don’t want to think about what you are asking me”.)

But there is still hope: a “Details” button, which will surely reveal the answer and tell us what button to press. So we click “Details”:

Screenshot: the details of the operation
are revealed to be a string of letters and numbers.

Oh, that was really useful. You know, we love hexadecimal numbers. Thank you, Microsoft!

But Microsoft are not the only offenders in this regard. Barbara Ballard is having similar problems with OpenOffice.