Are we there yet?

There’s nothing like a couple of days of R&R to give you some perspective. Yes, due to a recurring BSOD (geek alert) on my main development computer, I had to do the old “reformat and reinstall” tango. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary about that, I guess. However, in the process of working thorugh the thick stack of installer CD’s on my desk, I noticed a disturbing trend. Anyone who has ever used a computer has encountered one of those delightful little widgets we call a progress bar. You know the one — it let’s you know how far along you are in a given process. Or at least, it used to. My reinstalls this time around encompassed a wide variety of installer software, some of it very old, and leading right up to programs published in the last couple of months, and nobody watches those progress bars quite like someone who has twenty more installers to run before lunch.

Remember the old installers that used to have three main readouts – disk usage, file copy progress, and total progress of the install? You know the one, with the vertical bars? I like that one. I know it’s old, but the basic concept was honest and forthright; it wanted to let you know what was going on at all points during the install. Then came the single horizontal bars. They weren’t as heavy on the info as their predecessors, but they still did their best to report on how much longer you had to go until completion.

(Sidebar: is the progress bar reporting on how much time is left? For instance, if it took 15 minutes to get to the halfway point, am I good to go get another coffee before it finishes, or is it just telling me it’s halfway through its list of to-do items, and that the last half might take an hour? You think about the damndest things when you’re zoning out and staring at the screen.)

Along the way from there to here, some genius got the bright idea that if the progress bar went a little faster, people would think things were cooking right along. Then, when it came to the end, it could just cycle back and start over. This smacks of yet another marketing VP staying up late nights to whip the programmers. Think about it, folks. This kind of “progress bar” is worth (sing with me, now)… NOTHING! NADA! And yes, ZIP!

To all the beleaguered programmers out there: if you ever get the urge to build something like this into your program, pop another Jolt and have some ho-hos, then go out for a little fresh air and consider the error of your ways. My friends, it’s just not right.

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