Please, don't help
Thursday, May 06, 2004 06:44 PM
So there I was, minding my own business and trying to get some work done, when all of a sudden Windows pops up this atrocity:
This is wrong in so many levels.
For starters, let's consider the idea behind this message. Windows, it appears, has decided I'm so feeble minded that I cannot even notice the icons placed (by me, of course) directly in front of me. Operating systems are very sensitive, you know, so out of compassion Windows gently pops up an intrusive window, along with a heart-warming warning sign icon, to call my attention to the rapid decay of my brain.
After subtly insulting me (a capability I appreciate in humans, not machines), if offers me a rich variety of actions I can take to remedy the horrible neglect I have inflicted on my poor desktop. I can either click the balloon to run the desktop cleanup wizard, or -- oh, wait, that's it.
Bravely, I decide to bet: I click the little X hoping it would make the damn thing go away, which thankfully it does. I wonder how many users actually find that button and dare push it - especially since it's placed on the very same balloon that claims clicking it would start the wizard.
Of course, I can't work now. My only purpose in life at this time is to find the setting for this little popup from hell, and make it disappear forever - hopefully, screaming in pain. It's conveniently buried in the "Desktop Items" dialog box, invoked by clicking the "Customize Desktop" button at the bottom of the "Desktop" page of the "Display Properties" dialog box. Someone obviously screwed-up and forgot to make this accessible only through the registry.
It appears the people behind Clippy have found a new way to demonstrate their creativity. Clippy (indeed, the whole Office Assistant idea) was a poor implementation of an interesting, but questionable, idea: people tend to anthropomorphize computers, so an interface you could react to emotionally would encourage you to learn and use your computer. Chris Pratley has some information about this you may find interesting.
There were many, many things wrong the Clippy and its gang of digitized delinquents, but worst of all was its intrusiveness. This isn't limited to special novelty user interfaces or popup party accessories, to all popup messages. As Raymond Chen notes, people don't respond well to warning dialogs: they'll do anything they can to make them go away. In other words, the default answer to every dialog box is "Cancel". Apparently someone at Microsoft figured that out, so instead of avoiding unnecessary popup messages, they made it harder to cancel them. Brilliant.