Software Updates and Progress Bars

A couple of IT annoyances.

Software Updates

It seems that whenever I turn my computer on at the moment, about half of the software needs to auto-update. Pidgin (IM client), Firefox (and extensions), Anti-Virus, Adobe Reader and Flash, Windows, iTunes…it’s incessant! And it means that it’s about half an hour from pushing the on button to being able to do anything useful.

Of course, I could disable all the auto-updates. What I’d really like is to be able to click a button that says “update all my software now” and run all the updates at once at a time that is convenient to me.

The auto-update problem is only made worse by my second annoyance.

Progress Bars

We did a module in my computer science degree about Human-Computer Interaction. In it we were told that a progress bar should tell you three things:

  1. How much work has been done.
  2. How much work is left.
  3. How quickly the work is progressing.

Some status bars used to achieve this. Actually, the best ones were usually multi-progress bars that showed how far a job involving lots of smaller jobs had got. One bar showed overall progress and the other showed progress of the smaller sub-tasks. Linux installs were always pretty good for this sort of thing.

But I’ve not seen a progress bar that does any of the above three things for years now. I see progress bars that do all of the following:

  • start again from zero once they reach 100%
  • advance at unsteady rates
  • stop for a long time at a certain percentage and then suddenly leap
  • advance at a steady rate but then the work is not complete when they reach 100%

And what’s really bad is that we now take this for granted. I mean, what if your car’s petrol gague suddenly dropped from 3/4 full to 1/8 full? Or if your washing machine showed it was on the last rinse when really it was still doing the pre-wash? Would we accept that?

We should be telling our software installer vendors that this is unacceptable. I’ve wasted many hours staring at progress bars that are telling me a job is nearly done when it’s really far from completion. I’ve been late home and I’ve been late to bed because of such things. I bet you could do analysis that shows that businesses are losing millions of man-hours while people wait for things to complete in this way.

We need progress on progress bars! Who will stand and join with me to reclaim our %-complete’s and make them what they once were?