Assaulting users with dialog box after dialog box

Date:May 26, 2006 / year-entry #180
Orig Link:
Comments:    61
Summary:Increasingly, I'm seeing solving problems by adding more dialog boxes. Asking the user too much is as bad as not asking enough. "You clicked on the Notepad icon. Do you wish to run Notepad?" Okay, nobody would write a dialog box that stupid, would they? But the following dialog boxes don't really help much either:...

Increasingly, I'm seeing solving problems by adding more dialog boxes. Asking the user too much is as bad as not asking enough.

"You clicked on the Notepad icon. Do you wish to run Notepad?"

Okay, nobody would write a dialog box that stupid, would they? But the following dialog boxes don't really help much either:

"You clicked on an mp3 file. Do you want to open it with that program you just installed?"

"You clicked on an avi file. Do you want to open it with that program you just installed?"

"You clicked on an mpg file. Do you want to open it with that program you just installed?"

"You clicked on a wmv file. Do you want to open it with that program you just installed?"

"You clicked on a wma file. Do you want to open it with that program you just installed?"

A phenomenon known as "Dialog box fatigue" quickly sets in (with a big dose of "You stupid computer" thrown in for good measure). The system today is already filled with so many dialog boxes that users are conditioned just to click "Yes" to everything. If you click "Yes", then the computer does the thing you told it do. If you click "No", then nothing happens. In other words, users have already learned to interpret these dialog boxes as saying "Click Yes to do the thing you want to do or No to give up and cancel." Why would anybody click "No"?

Moving to the specific case of programs that display media content: I am led to believe that all the media players include a page in their install wizard that list the file types they are capable of playing and give you a chance to check/uncheck the ones you want them to assume responsibility for. I believe this was the armistice that resulted after a bunch of industry wrangling wherein companies were busy accusing each other of sabotaging each other's file types. The upshot is that all reputable media players have already gotten your permission to take over playback of those media types. Why ask the user to confirm something they have already confirmed? "Stupid computer."

Okay, so those dialog boxes are unnecessary for reputable media players. What about the disreputable ones? Well, once you've established that you're dealing with disreputable media players, they're just going to go in and hack the settings to say, "Oh, the user already confirmed this take-over, don't bother asking. It's all good."

So you now have a dialog box that (1) is redundant with reputable media players, and (2) has no effect for disreputable media players. What did this dialog box accomplish again?

Comments (61)
  1. Peter Ritchie says:

    My favourite is the dialog "Are you really sure you want to quit." after the "Are you sure you want to quit." dialog.

    In the context of partial trust environments (like IE and the Web) the dialogs asking if you want to run the file you just clicked on makes sense.  Those dialogs usually provide the ability to set a preference to avoid the dialog in the future, which isn’t too bad.

    I do agree, there is a tendency to simply start banging the Yes button without reading the dialog.

  2. Graham Bradshaw says:

    Dialogue box fatigue? After playing with the Vista beta I’ve got dialogue box complete exhaustion.

  3. kokorozashi says:

    My favorite culprit here is Microsoft Entourage on the Mac. (Entourage is like a hybrid of Outlook and Outlook Express.) It believes that it’s bad to quit with a network operation in progress, so it asks the user to confirm that’s what she wants. Of course, there’s ALWAYS a network operation in progress. To add insult to injury, there’s no downside I can detect to quitting with a network operation in progress.

  4. Dewi Morgan says:

    "Click Yes to do the thing you want to do or

    > No to give up and cancel." Why would anybody

    > click "No"?

    Because sometimes they interpret it to mean "click No to save yourself from that accidental mouseclick, click Yes to screw up your machine."

    That’s on dialogs like "shutdown", "delete", "run 1,500 selected files at once", "let a new app access the net", etc. Even with delete, it can get annoying. If I already clicked yes to delete, why should I also click yes to delete a system file, then yes to delete a program file, then yes to delete a hidden file, only then to be told that stuff can’t be deleted after all because the file is in use? Man, I hate that.

    Almost as much as I hate dialogs grabbing the focus when I’m typing, then taking whatever word I was in the middle of typing to be an answer to their question.

    Usability tip: if your process-interrupting dialog is important enough to be worth reading, it is important enough to disable all buttons until there has been no keyboard input for N seconds. Not everyone is a touchtypist, has speakers on their computer, has sounds turned on, or has working ears. Yet the only application I have ever seen this feature on is Firefox, and some shareware, on dialogs that come up instantly after selecting an option, so are unlikely to be affected by accidental focus-grabbing from a textarea.

  5. Typhoon87 says:

    Time delays are pretty much useless most people just get annoyed they cant click yes.

  6. BryanK says:

    Unless they’re in the middle of typing, that is.  Then it’s a sanity-saver, because the program didn’t go and do something they weren’t expecting.

    What we need is some kind of input device that can read the user’s mind and tell what they’re doing, or what they’re planning on doing next…  ;-)

  7. Alun Jones says:

    The "typing over a new dialog" thing is something that frequently irritates me.

    Most frequent letters in the English language… E, T, A, O, N – okay, so every dialog that ever steals focus away from another window (even, and I want to make this absolutely clear, even if it’s responding to a user’s action, unless the focus has already been locked into this operation) should accept that "N" will be hit randomly, and unintentionally, very frequently.

    Perhaps it would be simple enough to say that when the focus changes, a tenth of a second is required after the last keystroke before the next keystroke will hit the dialog.  Yes, that would irritate a few people, but it might save more frustration.  The same, of course, is true of the enter key, or the space bar, which are going to feature significantly in the frequency distribution of characters typed.

  8. Ilya Birman says:

    Outlook’s way to get in front of you without stealing focus from current app is something that people think is smart. But reality is that then every time for years I get frustrated with the fact there’s no way I can get rid of it. Because, Alt+Tab will Alt Tab me from Word to, say, Excel. And Outlook will still stay on top with its dialog.

    Why wouldn’t it pop up as a semi-transparent box above the notification area as it does with email? So that I could "cancel" it by just thinking "Oh I don’t care". Not a question to you Raymond, I know :-)

  9. Robert Kozak says:

    Have you even tried Vista yet? I installed Beta 2 yesterday and I can’t believe how many security popups there are .. talk about over load.

    One program I tried to launch came up with 4 different security popups.


    — Robert

  10. zzz says:


    Welcome to the Vista Experience, Clear, Confident…

    I guess the confidence is in not allowing any accidental clicks to go through and having to confirm everything.

    Have you yet tried moving batches of files? In some cases you have to do ~10 clicks before the operation is fully "approved".

  11. Alun Jones says:

    @Robert Kozak: Was this an application, or a Vista component?

    If the application requests elevation so many times, do you start to think about whether the application needs to be changed, or is it all the fault of the OS?

    Vista is the latest step in at least a ten-year mission to try and get application developers to stop acting as if everyone is administrator.  Your duty in that mission is to complain about applications that unreasonably expect to be an admin!

  12. Dmitri Chatokhine says:


    It’s certainly not a ten-year mission. Windows 95/98/ME didn’t give much incentive to developers to avoid "admin" mode. Applications could even use priviledged CPU instructions. Win NT 4 is irrelevant, it wasn’t positioned for "home" applications. Before WinXP, most developers wouldn’t realize there might be an issue with admin mode.

    It didn’t help when Microsoft showed some bad example. I was really angry when MS Money 2001 required an admin account to run – they should have known better.

    Addressing the issue in Vista (finally!) is a bold move. Hopefully it works out in less than ten more years.

  13. Anonymous says:

    > Click Yes to do the thing you want to do or No to give up and cancel.

    Isn’t that what the UAC dialog box in Vista is asking?

    [Did I ever say it wasn’t? -Raymond]
  14. Ryan Bemrose says:

    There are two cardinal rules about HID that dialog boxes, almost by their very nature, break.

    1) Thou Shalt Not Steal The Focus (Except when the user explicitly asks you to)

    2) Thou Shalt Not Make Thy Window Modal (Except when there is a clear semantic reason that nothing should happen in the disabled window until the dialog is dismissed)

    I first heard these rules from a MS UI best practices document, but there are a surprising number of MS apps that don’t follow them.  UAC in Vista steps on both of these with its system-modal elevation dialogs, which can come up from something as innocuous as a webpage refreshing itself in the background and wanting an uninstalled activeX control.  NT is a true multitasking OS.  Nothing should ever be system-modal.

  15. Bob King says:

    OS X uses dialogs that remain application modal, and, in most cases document modal. I can’t actually think of anything that’s system modal. Even the admin password request dialog can be pushed to the back. It does however set itself as the topmost window and steal focus initially, but there are very few times when it pops up that I’m not expecting it, anyway.

    I don’t try to preach that "Windows Sux!" and the "Mac rulez!" or any such pretentiousness. Both OSes have their good and bad points. I use a Mac at home and write Windows Software at work. So please don’t take this post as an anti-Windows attack.

  16. microbe says:

    “The upshot is that all reputable media players have already gotten
    your permission to take over playback of those media types.”

    is a very arrogant attitude. Who says that? You are assuming everyone
    uses only one player, which is utterly untrue. I use winamp to play mp3
    exclusively, although I also use media player and real player for their
    own formats.

    [“Who says that?” The media player companies
    say it. As I already explained in the sentence immediately preceding
    the one you quoted, this was one of the terms of their cessation of
    hostilities. -Raymond
  17. Gabe says:

    KJK, why does it need a system-modal dialog to avoid keyloggers when all it does is ask Yes/No?

    The answer of course is that the biggest problem isn’t with keyloggers as much as things that would programmatically click "Yes". There are currently installers for unsigned device drivers that look for the "Are you sure?" dialog and send the click for "Yes". The only way to avoid that is with some privilege separation.

    Unfortunately all these dialogs are stupid and annoying, but they are not entirely avoidable because they’re the only way for the computer to know if it’s actually something the user requested.

  18. KJK::Hyperion says:

    (I admit I haven’t used Vista personally. I’m basing myself on the information that was released publically)

    Well, if it’s implemented as I last heard it was ("context-sensitive Ctrl-Alt-Del"), you can’t programmatically click "Yes". That window is simply inaccessible, probably it can’t even be detected (in Vista the GUI has finally be made security-aware. Windows belonging to different user accounts or higher privilege levels of the same account can’t be touched anymore). And a password is asked if you aren’t an administrator

    I don’t know the specifics, but I’m pretty sure I know the reason (I remember being a little disappointed when I discovered Windows 2000 broke the Ctrl-Alt-Del model with "run as". And I remember Microsoft security people acknowledging it when speaking of Vista)

  19. KJK::Hyperion says:

    Ok, I sorta misread your message. Nevermind

  20. sedwards says:

    KJK::Hyperion: Speaking of CreateProcessWithLogonW being a joke, your right. I know of one organization dealing in billions of dollars in transactions where the developers wrote a application, which was exploitable because they wrote a service that still required Admin on XP SP2.

    Given the options of more dialogs or better security then more power to Microsoft and Vista. Maybe it will force developers to write applications that are not insane. Maybe Microsoft will start eating the dog-food so to speak and requiring internal users to run as non-admin.

  21. Puckdropper says:

    Terry Blanchard,

    I’d like to add one more item to your list:

    Did the user request to see this dialog box?

    Take Freecell as an example.  The Statistics box is a dialog box, and I want to see it to see how well I am doing.

  22. Dave says:

    At the root of this is the extension hijacking that is done in the name
    of marketing. For example, let’s say you want to view a Quicktime movie
    in a web page at some site. You don’t have QT installed so you go to
    Apple’s site and download it:

    are bundling it with iTunes. If you fall into that trap, you’ll have
    all your sound and video extensions hijacked–mp3, wav, mpg, you name
    it. You know that most users don’t change the defaults in the iTunes
    installer. (Look carefully on the page and you will find the standalone
    QT installer sans iTunes.)

    So now the user sees iTunes instead
    of WMP, WinAmp, or whatever they were using to manage their music and
    videos. If they are lucky they will start their old player and it will
    show, er, a *dialog* asking if they want to restore their now-hosed
    file associations.

    [If iTunes wants to be that sneaky, then they’ll also set the “User’s
    previous media player was iTunes, no need to prompt” registry key and
    you’re back where you started. -Raymond
  23. Ryan Bemrose says:

    On the topic of breaking up workflow, even balloons are not ideal.  In idea, they’re pretty good, but in implementation they can still be invasive.  Set your taskbar to auto-hide/always-on-top, increase the size to a noticable fraction of the screen, and then start working near the bottom of the screen as notifications go by.

    What’s worse than notification bubbles is windows flashing their taskbar buttons.  MSN Messenger does this incessantly.  The flashing window will pop up the auto-hide taskbar, which does not uncover your work until you’ve clicked away the flashing window.

    It would help if there were better control over what will pop up an auto-hide taskbar.  I’d prefer it only pop up when I move my mouse over it.

  24. Jo-Pete says:


    I don’t know about you, but I’m about five times as likely to hit the [space bar] as I am to hit the "n". There’s nothing worse then to be typing in one program and have another program pop up with a "Super top secret security alert" or whatever. Because I wasn’t anticipating it, I am still typing and of course I hit the space bar. Did I really want that to happen? What just happened anyway?

  25. ::Wendy:: says:

    Those permission to run programs dialog boxes(UAC).  I think they ROCK.  I have no idea how to look after my PC or do really teccy things.  When I do my teccy stuff (install a program,  update a program) then I just click ‘Yes’ and ‘run’ on all those boxes because they come after I did something.  Now that UAC thing,  if it popped up when I hadn’t just asked to do something teccy to my computer,  i’d say NO and then maybe avoid some nasty thingy that I know nothing about from fiddling with some settings that have concatenated-acronyms as names.  

    summary – please give me multiple little permission dialogs instead of system recovery due to malicious programs.  I’ll sleep better and wont loose a weekend and CASH trying to recover stuss.  And I’ll USE my computer more


  26. Robert Morris says:

    Dewi: the delay in Firefox is more to prevent malicious websites from installing software that it is to make users read the dialog.

    See this blog post for more:

    This bug also contains comments that detail other propsals:

  27. Archangel says:

    Word doesn’t like dialog boxes either!

    I’ve been meaning to get a screen dump of Word at uni. Whatever you open, you get a prompt about it containing macros – presumably our has a macro somewhere in it (you’d think it could get over that eventually…).

    However as soon as the macro dialog box appears, it’s covered by another one saying "You cannot perform this operation because a dialog box is open." Just let me at the damn document!

  28. m says:

    MSN Messenger games need admin rights. At least to me, it seems to be so. Am I right?

  29. KJK::Hyperion says:

    As I understand it, the system-modality of password dialogs in Vista is there to break keyloggers (or worse specialized malware that hooks CreateProcessWithLogonW – i.e. runas), so you never risk typing your user password in a context from which it could be stolen by an unprivileged process. Think of it as a context-sensitive Control-Alt-Del

    It *has* real value, and it’s SEVERAL ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE more secure than "su", "sudo" or the overrated graphical "su" wrapper of MacOSX. You’d need a kernel-mode rootkit to beat it, except all kernel mode code in Vista has to be digitally signed by default (and even non-by-default, disabling it is a volatile setting that you have to explicitely set at each boot)

    … but it still is sci-fi-level security that most people won’t need, it’s overly paranoid, and should *really* be a configurable behavior. Technically, it’s the BEST STRONGEST security on the market, but it’s borderline unusable

  30. terrybl says:

    The whole reason people don’t read dialog boxes anymore and just quickly click on "OK" or "Yes" without reading them is essence of this article. Users have come to ignore them because they’re become cynical about them. We, as developers, are the ones to blame. We’ve "taught" them that dialog boxes are not necessary, it’s okay to ignore them. Why?

    Let’s be intellectually honest with ourselves here. Usually it’s because we’re too lazy, too pressed for time, didn’t really think through the problem and come up with a better solution. It’s so easy to call the MessageBox() API, or respond to an OK or CANCEL button event than coding up an intelligent selection.

    If we’re going to intrusively throw a dialog box in front of our users we should ask ourselves:

    * Is this an informational message? If your dialog/message box only has one button "OK" then don’t do it. Informational dialogs should be non-intrusive. Balloon notifications are examples of this. They don’t steal focus, and they don’t interrupt the users workflow. They can continue performing their task without dismissing the notification balloon.

    * Dialog/Message Boxes should only interrupt the users flow because the software cannot make the proper decision based on several possible code paths. If so, are you really, really, really, absolutely, 100% positive you have to ask the user this question? Take a step back and evaluate if your code path/logic is the correct method.

  31. Jorge Coelho says:

    Come on, I think this is obviously Raymond Chen’s indirect ‘poke’ at
    Vista’s way of dealing with security… and he is 100% right! Spam the
    user with security dialogs and all you get is a very annoyed user
    blindly clicking yes. Then you can say ‘but we did warn him, so it’s
    his fault’, when in reality Microsoft knew very well what the end
    result would be!

    Raymond belongs to the old school, and the new school, responsible for monstrosities like DOT net, sucks big time, IMO.

    timing of this and nearly all other articles was coincidental. I write
    these things months in advance. That it happened to line up with Vista
    Beta 2 was pure happenstance. -Raymond
  32. WendyHome says:

    Well,  this user isn’t a ‘him’ or a ‘god’ or a ‘goddess’ come to that.  I would rather know that someone that knows what they are doing is seeking my opinion on securty related things – where I can make a decision – its no good if I dont understand what I’m being asked.  

  33. Stu says:

    About UAC dialogs…

    Does UAC remember which applications have been "authorised"? Is that per-session, per-run or permanent?

    Is there any way to stop an application constantly popping up UAC dialogs until the user clicks "yes"? Otherwise malware will do just that, especially if the dialogs are system-modal, meaning the user cannot do *anything* until he/she clicks "yes".

    Also, remember that on a PC, the user is GOD. Programs are there to serve the user, no other purpose. The user should have ABSOLUTE control over what happens, no second-guessing, no overrides, nothing. (Subject ONLY to the user’s security status, as set by an adminstrative USER.)

  34. J.Random says:

    >2) Thou Shalt Not Make Thy Window Modal

    This is a *bad* idea, being a knee-jerk reaction to excessive use of modal dialogs in the 1980s.  Have you ever watched non-technical users using apps that apply this rule?  Every time they get to a non-modal dialog that asks them to make a decision, they move it out of the way and continue.  When they get another non-modal dialog, they do the same thing.  Eventually they’ve painted themselves into a corner where the app is so tightly wedged that the only thing they can do is quit and start again.  Modeless dialogs are just a pay me now/pay me later tradeoff.

    A better phrasing of this design rule is:

    Thou shalt not make excessive use of modal dialogs.  On the other hand if they user has to make a decision, force them to stop and make the decision.

    (A companion rule is that you should try and design your app to not require dialogs as much as possible, i.e. every time you need to put in a dialog, try and see whether you can redesign the workflow to avoid the need for it).

  35. Zooba says:

    Access is another offender. Only it’s worse. Try and open a database created on your own local computer (without adjusting security settings in Access) and you get asked the following questions:

    "Do you want to block unsafe expressions?" Yes/No (selected No)

    "Do you want to open this file?" Yes/No (selected Yes)

    "Do you want to open this file or cancel the operation?" Cancel/Open

    And if you choose Yes for the first one, you have to restart Access! Also, the default button changes, so pressing spacebar the whole way through isn’t going to achieve anything either. Perhaps this is all in the name of security…

  36. Bruce Boughton says:

    I for one am very pleased when a media player’s setup asks me what file types it may handle. I use iTunes but I installed WMP11 beta the other day to check it out. There’s no way I want it to steal my associations. That’s just plain rude. Dialogs in some situations place control back into the users’ hands rather than just stepping all over them doing what the app developer would prefer.

    Also, on the issue of focus, Windows frequently annoys me by stealing focus almost without regard, especially Internet Explorer. However, to counter that, I just noticed that Windows Live Messenger annoys me by not giving focus (or even bringing to the front) new conversations or conversations with new messages. Can the app developers ever win?!

  37. DanT says:

    The dialog box is for when you have a .wmv file that you want to play,
    but nothing else plays it because MS only allows media player to play
    it, so you install media player 10 which it takes to mean “I am the
    media player now” and thus takes over the file associations. However by
    your logic they don’t have to show that dialog (since they are
    reputable) so I have to go hunting for some advanced place because I
    really only wanted to play a .wmv file. And that’s when I learned you
    can’t change said settings as a Limited User, which is arguably a valid
    thing to keep in the system wide settings, but I would think users
    would like to control what program opened what for themselves.

    So while I definitely agree that too many dialob boxes are bad, I think the media player example was poorly chosen :).

    do have to show the “Here are the file types I’m going to take over”
    dialog. All the reputable ones agreed to show the dialog. And the last
    time I installed Media Player 10 I remember clicking past that dialog.
  38. Rune says:

    OK, my "favorite" example is from an applet made by Alcatel which allows me to dial numbers and see who has been calling me. Every time I launch this applet, it asks me "The full version of Pimphony has additional features, are you sure you want to continue launching the basic version?" (Yes/No)

    What a complete waste of my time.


  39. Sven Groot says:

    I guess the confidence is in not allowing any accidental clicks to go through and having to confirm everything.

    UAC’s primary purpose isn’t primarily to prevent accidentally launching something elevated, it’s to make sure everything that doesn’t need to be elevated isn’t. I wrote a recent post explaining this,

    And UAC can be turned of completely via msconfig or configured in more detail using group policy, so there are options is you really don’t like it.

  40. Claw says:


    Why have you been replying to people within their comments rather
    than posting your own comment?  It makes it hard to find your

    [I think it looks cleaner, but if people complain, I’ll stop. Though it’ll mean I’ll comment less. -Raymond]
  41. Cd-MaN says:

    It looks cleaner.

  42. JamesW says:

    Explorer and zip files on XP annoy me with its silly Wizard to extract the files. I’m doing this from memory as I left my laptop in the office this weekend, but the process is something like this:

    o Welcome to the extract files Wizard!

    o Yes, I would like to extract some files

    o Yes, I would like to put them in the default location

    o Yes, I would like to view them

    Yes, the Wizard lets me customise stuff and viewing the contents of a zip archive from Explorer is cute. However, 99% of the time I want to extract the entire archive to the same directory as the archive. The Wizard slows me down. Compare to OS X: double click on zip file and it automatically expands without any questions.

    PS – I like Raymond’s new style of reply.

  43. AC says:

    Whoa! I thought those replies were just footnoted quotes that the authors had put in for reference. I did think some of them didn’t make as much sense as perhaps they should, but I didn’t figure out they were replies.

  44. iTunes definately still tries to steal associations at runtime (that is, everytime an iPod is updated) – I notice this because I get the error message saying it encountered a permissions error trying to do so (I routinely run as a standard user for everything, except certain debugging operations).

    At least one advantage of running with higher security is preventing applications from doing this.

    However, I am still mystified as to why it tries to steal file types it *can’t play*, let alone the problem that it can’t repect my preferences.

    At least Vista has improved on the latest beta – it now gives you enough information to known what the dialog means (plain English rather than a DLL name), but it is still very wordy.  If some users don’t read stuff now when it’s terse, I’m not sure Vista’s mini-essays are going to help (but I still don’t think we can rationally cater for such people).

    Admittedly, most of the problem I’ve had with Vista dialogs I would hope to be uncommon in real world use – after all, it is for the most part asking about things that you only do once when setting up the PC.

    An example of the overkill – it is nice that Vista has a hover tip to tell me what level the volume control is set to, but why does it tell me the name of the device driver as well?

    (BTW I like the reply style as well, wish dasBlog could do it).

  45. Stephen Jones says:

    As somebody else has said Access 2003 is atrocious. And mindless.

    do you want to run your program? Do you know running programs can do things to your computer (no! I thought it was a new kind of finger exercise – you click and nothing happens!)

    T have an app made in Access 2000. When other people run it in 2003 all these idiot dialog boxes come up every time. I have cut out as many as possible by setting security settings to as low as possible – I am sure loads of other people do the same.

    And then we get the warning when you click on a hyperlink. "Hyperlinks can lead you to dangerous places. Are you sure you want to go where you said you did>?" My database is full of hyperlinks. You want to email somebody from it you click a hyperlink with mailto: to open the email client. You want to access the folder for the guy in the record. You click a hyperling which opens it in Explorer. And each time this idiot message comes up!

    Imagine if Microsoft made cars. "You have just pressed the brake: stopping suddenly can cause other vehicles to hit you from behind. Please key in your six digit security number if you want the car to stop before it hits the wall."

  46. Gabest says:

    My favorite message dialog on Windows is after clicking Open Folder for a file which I have just donwloaded to the desktop: "The target you specified is on the desktop" and then NOTHING happens. Doh, I know it’s on the desktop, but I clicked that button because I wanted explorer to open up, my desktop is covered with countless windows right now and I’ll need explorer to do something with that file anyway, why is it overriding my command?

  47. Yaron says:

    These dialog boxes can be very annoying, but sometimes they’re necessary. It’s mostly depends on how critical the ramifications are.

    I personally get annoyed even with "are you sure you want to delete this file?" style questions, because that’s what I just chose to do so of course I’m sure.

    But if I ever do make a rare mistake I’d usually be happier to have a chance to stop, after I get this sinking "OMG, what have I done?!" feeling by choosing to ruin something accidentally, and change my mind.

    Same thing when the software may be something that operates physical devices, and a wrong choice can cause damage. Here even the ass-covering issue is important, because on many cases it may be required by law/standard.

    What may be good is a user-option of a "don’t show me this again ever/for-x-days/etc" on each of those standard dialogs.

    And this is something that may even be possible to insert into the standard MessageBox api in some way. I expect many programmers will be happy to add these options if it won’t incur the cost of tracking all these, and having to create special dialog templates for each and every basic pop-up instead of a simple MessageBox-style call.

    As for the new reply style, it’s bad. It *is* clearer, true. But it has a few major disadvantages:

    1. No way to validate it’s really you and not the commenter trying to be cute. That’s fine as long as you constantly monitor comments, but can be a problem on other times.

    2. It can be confusing for some readers, as already seen here. People expect that a comment identified as being by someone will be by that someone, not two people.

    3. Harder to keep track. If I come back to a post a little later to see what changed, I can usually skip to the last comment I recall reading, and go from there. But if you reply inside previous comments, I have to go over everything again. This can be a huge bother when there are lots of comments on a thread.

  48. Hi,

    personally, I really like that list of filetypes you are writing about. You see: There are media players which work better for one format or another. For example, I prefer Winamp for playing audio files as it starts quickly and does its job (playing audio files) and don’t fills the screen up with windows I don’t need.

    But Winamp is, IMHO, not the tool to go for playing video files. For videos I’m preferring an application written for that purpose. I’m using Core Media Player (which also has audio support – but not as good as winamps) but even Windows Media Player is better suited for playing videos than winamp.

    Would I allow both installers to just take over the file types, I would have to manually reconfigure one type of file after every update I’m installing.

    Granted. I’m an advanced user and this is why these settings probably belong in a dialog accessible by some "Advanced…"-Button. But I think they need to be there.


  49. Robert says:

    I actually quite like the option not let the installer of Windows Media player steal the file association of my mp3 player (winamp).

    Okay, both of these players can reclaim the file extensions easily, yet I like the fact that both installers show the courteousness.

  50. FKnight says:

    Not much you can really do nowadays anyway when the anti-Microsoft crowd considers "double clicking on an EXE and having it run" to be a "security hole."

  51. BryanK says:


    > But if I ever do make a rare mistake I’d

    > usually be happier to have a chance to stop,

    > after I get this sinking "OMG, what have I

    > done?!" feeling

    But there’s a problem with that.  If you just click yes all the time, because you almost always *do* just want to delete the files, you eventually get to the point where you’re in the habit of hitting shift-delete, then enter, one right after the other.  Because that’s the fastest way to dismiss the dialog that you almost never want to see anyway.  Eventually your mental process for "delete a file" becomes "shift-delete, enter" as one process.

    (This is "proficiency"; it basically just means that the user has come up with a mental model of how the program works, and has figured out fast ways of doing whatever they need to do.)

    After that mental process has been created, if you delete a file by accident, it’s already gone before you realize what you just did; you’ve already dismissed the dialog.  You don’t have *time* to respond negatively to the dialog, because you just hit enter to dismiss it.

    As for a solution:  There isn’t really any solution that Windows (or any other OS, for that matter) can put in place.  The only solution is for people to think *before* removing files, instead of after doing so.  Good luck with that one.  (I don’t think it’s impossible, but I do think it requires more work from the user than probably 90% of users are willing to put in.)

    I also agree with your assessment of Raymond’s new reply style.  What would be nice is if the blog software had a way for him to insert a new comment, "clearly" authored by him, in the same way that he’s adding these notes.  (Though I don’t know how the notes are being added either.)  That way we could get more comments *and* not be confused about who’s writing what.  (Presumably the "edit a comment" process is less cumbersome than the "add a new comment" one.  If the "add a new comment" process could be made less cumbersome, that might help.)

  52. Kelsey says:

    Surely the best solution for the problem of filetypes is that each app needs to declare to the world what types of files that it can handle. This is stored against the app, not as a global piece of information.

    Windows then stores the ‘relative priority’ of these apps, so if you have iTunes and Winamp, you decide which is more important. Then when you click an MP3, it runs through the list till it finds an app that can handle it.

  53. Yaron says:


    > Eventually your mental process for "delete a

    > file" becomes "shift-delete, enter" as one

    > process.

    True. Nothing to do in those cases. I was more thinking about the cases which are things the user does occasionally, but not always. Intentionally deleting files was a bad example. Maybe deleting files when you actually wanted to move them somewhere, or delete other files. You start the process because something felt similar enough to the process of deletion to go that way, but there’s a good chance you’d realize that’s not what you intend to do, even if all you got is the second part of the process of pressing another time on the enter key.

    An even better example may be the common method of faking document templates, opening an existing file and erasing everything except the small parts you want to keep. So then people will go to "Save As…" a new documents, but may accidentally pick an existing one, or just confirm the name already there, which is of the old doc. I’ve seen people do that more than once or twice. A dialog asking for confirmation can actually work in this case, because none will appear when you really save over a new name, so it will interrupt the process.

    > The only solution is for people to think

    > *before* removing files, instead of after

    > doing so.  Good luck with that one.

    Oh, that’s simple. Voice confirmation. No matter what language you’ll localize it to, it takes time to say "Yes, I’m sure" and "Yes, I really mean it, do it now"…  ;)

  54. BryanK says:


    Ah, I see.  Yes, in the case of saving files, the "are you sure you want to overwrite?" prompt is a good one.

    On the voice confirmation — I was actually thinking about saying something about mind reading input devices again.  (At least, I think I said something about that here before.  I know I jokingly mentioned it somewhere.)  That would be another way to ensure the user really wants to do what they just said — you can read it right out of their brain.  ;-P

  55. Andy says:

    May be you should give this great advice to the Vista team.

    what happens when you mess with administrative stuff. And you won’t go
    through this every time you want to delete a shortcut, of course. Only
    when you try to delete a shortcut that only administrators have access
    to. My solution: Log on as administrator, do all the cleanup once, and
    then get out and never log on as administrator again. -Raymond
  56. Perhaps there should be a way to gather chains of dialogs into a single one?

    * Do you want to install this?

    * Given that you want to install this, do you want to let it be installed?

    * Given that you want to let it be installed, do you give permission to have it be installed?

    * Given that you give permission to have it be installed, are you aware that installing things is dangerous?

    * Given that you are aware that installing things is dangerous, are you still OK with installing this?

    * Given all of the above, are you even supposed to be installing things on this computer?

    If the answer to all of these questions is "Yes", type the following phrase:

    I know what I’m doing and I take full responsibility for my actions

    [                                ]

    [OK] <– grayed out [Cancel]

  57. JD says:

    "That’s what happens when you mess with administrative stuff."

    … or just maybe this is what happens when a feature is not ready for prime time, as this scenarios of the Vista feature is. I have faith it will get better, but as someone said, "Asking the user too much is as bad as not asking enough."

    This likely known issue was left in the beta release due to timing concerns or prioritization. If so there’s no need for the cop out "well that’s what you get" response. You may be speaking for yourself but it makes Microsoft and the Shell team look bad.  

  58. Untrustworthy Computing says:

    My favorite disreputable media player is WMP9. The installer asks which filetypes you want to override. BUT IT DOESN’T CARE WHAT YOU SELECT! It takes control over every extention anyway.

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