The single dumbest message ever emitted by a computer … it’s back!

Back some time earlier this decade, I was installing Windows 98 on a school-surplus computer for my boys to play games on.  I well remember nearly falling off my chair in shock when, part way through the install, I was presented with this splendidly incoherent message:

Click Finish to continue starting Windows.

(I wish I’d thought to photograph this before continuing the installation, but I am not about to do a new Windows 98 install in 2010 just so I can see the message again.)

I’ve managed to avoid doing Windows installs since then, but according to this comment by someone called Joe, the “finish to continue starting” message was still part of the installation procedure at least as late as Windows XP, and may still be in Windows 7 for all I know.

That’s frightening enough.  But imagine my horror when I saw the same message on tsspark’s Flickr page, now appearing as part of Firefox’s add-on upgrade process:

Is this merely funny?  Or is it a symptom of something more sinister?

When I’d seen this message only in the Windows installer, I was happy to chalk it up to the enormously befuddled and twisted thinking that seems to beset so much of Microsoft’s work.  But I would have liked to think that the Firefox guys would be able to see in a straighter line.

The good news is that I can tell you from very recent experience that this doesn’t crop up in the installer for Ubuntu Studio 10.4.

Still.  I’m a little bit scared.

Do any other mindbendingly stupid messages spring to mind?  Tell me the bad news in the comments.  Bonus points if they’re from otherwise excellent software.  Let’s see if we can change the world by mocking it!

33 responses to “The single dumbest message ever emitted by a computer … it’s back!

  1. My currently favourite is a dialog box displayed by WinXP when you try to copy files from zip archive. Message in the box reads (approximately, don’t recall it excactly) “Do you want to copy or move these files?”. And the box has buttons “Yes” and “No” :)

  2. This likely results from the idiotic reliance on “wizards” to do everything related to an install/upgrade, and from some dev. simply not thinking (there is a lot of “not thinking” out there).

    Note the text at the top of the box where it says it was unable to find updates and will periodically check for the same.

    To the “unthinking” dev. who dreamed this one up, if there was no “click finish” instruction, then that message would flash by in an instant and the user would never see it. So the unthinking dev. adds another step (the “click finish” step) to the process.

    Instead, what a thinking dev. would have pondered was: “the lack of updates to incompatible add-ons is not of “showstopper” importance. So I can pop open a non-modal info box to alert the user and get on with starting up firefox anyway.

    Or, alternately, this entire message could have been an inline in the browser itself (it is, after-all, a HTML display system). Then the “no compatible addons” message could have been the same as the “bad SSL cert” or “can’t find host” messages that appear inline in the browser window itself. This one is probably the better solution. But it required “thinking” about the issue, not just blindly implementing something.

  3. All of the “Do you want to save this password for this site?” *MODAL* dialogs in browsers. I’m glad FF 3 made it non-modal.

  4. I do get a kick out of the “Error: can’t happen” dialog I sometimes get from an HP printer driver. I just picture the overly confident switch statement issuing it.

  5. No. The stupidest was : “Hard disk Error” followed by an “OK” button.

    Where’s the “NOT OKAY!” button.

    dammit

  6. Mike Beverley

    My local ATM, upon completing a transaction, prompts the user thusly:

    ENTER TO EXIT

    (They want you to press the “Enter” key to confirm that you’re done.)

  7. There’s nothing wrong with it. The “Finish” is applicable to something else (update check for Firefox), not to starting of Windows or Firefox.

    Another one that has confused people is “input” vs. “output”. Every circuit designer on the team would label their I/O’s as inputs and outputs. When the connections are made between these circuits, the very same connections (or pins) get labeled “input” as well as “output”.

    The best was an advert from Dell where people using non-Dell PCs got error message “Processor not functioning” or something!

    Let me finish to start submitting. :-)

    Frankly I find your inserting Sushi pictures more funny! ;-)

  8. Alok: there’s nothing wrong with it, except that it’s ridiculous. The user is *not* viewing the system as a hierarchy of tasks and subtasks; ‘Finish’ means ‘finish my overarching task’. They don’t know, nor care, about internal task decomposition, so ‘Finish’ should only be used to finish an overarching task.

  9. Paul Bienick

    One of my favorites that came from a company I used to work for was a dialog that popped up and asked: “wannna save your work ?” Note the lower case “w”, the 3 n’s in “wanna”, the use of the non-word “wanna”, and the space before the question mark. The icing on the cake were the button labels: “Ok”, “Cancel”.

    Here’s another excellent one from an old version of ICQ: “There are no ownes registered on this computer. Therefore, there is no databases to convert”.

  10. Randy Hudson

    It’s painfully obvious that the button should be labeled Continue — that is, after all, the main verb of the complement clause. “Click Continue to continue…”

  11. Or just ‘Click continue’. Or just *nothing*. If the button is labelled ‘continue’ it’s obvious what to do with no additional verbiage. (More generally, if you need additional verbiage to tell people what to press to go on, the label on the button is likely wrong.)

  12. The Sinclair Spectrum +2A had an error message “You should never see this”. :-)

  13. Nathan Myers

    It should have been “Click Continue to finish starting Windows”.

  14. Sadly, silly and counter-intuitive user alerts are not limited to UI dialog boxes designed by evil corporate empires. They are a symptom of a wide, pervasive mindset by programmers that has existed since the invention of the ENIAC. Coders have a false sense of necessity to communicate with their end-users through the same clinical precision that a processor compiles code into assembly instructions.

    You can see similarly pedantic but ultimately meaningless messages in compiler errors, Unix manpages, Python tracebacks, and file system errors. In many instances it’s appropriate to make messages narrowly focused, but it would be nice for coders to step back sometimes and try to have a conversation with their intended audience. Curiously, messages written in a conversational tone are seen as taboo.

  15. I’ve used that “Click Finish to continue starting Windows” message as the canonical example of badly worded dialogs for years, glad I’m not the only one. I’d like to believe that whoever put it in Firefox was either trying to be funny, or very specifically trying to emulate Windows’ behavior for the Windows version.

    As a programmer of course I understand exactly the thinking that leads to dialogs like that, but to an end user it’s just completely wrong.

    The text wouldn’t even be needed if the button said “Continue”, and even “OK” would be better in this case, since there isn’t another option enabled. I might even label it “Rats” or something if I were trying to be cute (but probably not on something as high profile as Firefox)

  16. In fact, I should have noticed it was “someone named Joe” referenced in the article, and clicked through and realized it was almost certainly me that wrote that comment on the linked article too.

    -Clicking Finish to Continue reposting comments since 2008

  17. I see in Windows 7, you still have to click the Start button to shutdown…. :D

  18. If error messages are your thing, I do hope that you read the Daily WTF’s Error’d section.

  19. My all time fav:

    “Keyboard not detected. Press F1 to continue.”

  20. @John – reminds me of the old IBM CICS COBOL manuals where “This page is intentionally left blank”.

    Hmmm… not anymore it isn’t….

  21. It’s hard for me to find any of the examples given to be particularly good examples of user-hostility or moronic UI. I think I have been rendered immune by working in my current job.

    I work with an ERP system which was developed by one single person for 10 years. Only recently has he begun to hire others.
    The guy who made it is dyslexic, and English is not his native language. That did not stop him from writing the entire language layer of the application himself though. The result is that the messages and prompts are quite funny in the original language, and thoroughly incomprehensible in English.

    One example is that “adjustment” (i.e. manual adjustments of the value of a project) which is a term used very often in the application, is translated from “Regulering” in his native language to “Regulation” in English, which of course makes absolutely no sense.

    Reading the comments to his code is also quite amusing. For example: “Correct invoice type if mick mash”, by which he means “mismatch”.

    Once he wrote a letter of complaint in English and asked me to proofread it. The letter contained the sentence “I am deeply incomprehensible” (he meant “I don’t understand” or “This is deeply incomprehensible”). I don’t remember the last time I have laughed so hard.

    To the guy’s credit, the software is actually otherwise very good, and we have extremely satisfied users.

  22. We once had a complaint at work about a badly translated error message. The software for one of our products popped up this message when you tried to exit:

    “Are you sure you want to quit smoking?
    Yes / No / Cancel”

  23. Bios error: No keyboard found. Press F1 to continue.

    It makes a little bit sense if you are able to hotplug a keyboard and then press F1, but if you haven’t one …

  24. I don’t see why this is funny, ridiculous or even dumb. It’s tragic, because we’ve all (us coders) done something similar at some point..

  25. Along the same lines the the “Press F1 to continue” message, this is apparently from the Windows XP installer (though I’ve not seen it myself):

    The wizard could not find the software on your computer for: Network Controller. In is recommended that you connect to the Internet so that the wizard can search online and look for the appropriate software.

    And there’s this, also attributed to Windows XP:

    Found New Hardware. Please connect to Internet to download drivers for Device: PCI Modem and for Device: Ethernet card.

  26. My best one is “Keyboard not found, press F11 to resume”…seen the first time on an old AMI BIOS… recently seen it on a Phoenix bios :)

  27. Personal favorite, even if it is fake:

    “Watch out!”
    “yes / no / cancel”

    Favorite *real* one:

    “”
    “OK”

    and the X-button was disabled.

  28. A few years ago I got the following printing error message:

    “An error has occurred. Your job has completed successfully”

  29. Had one just today in fact. While installing XP on a new machine for the kids (they can’t be doing with Linux I’m afraid), it attempted to find the drivers for the wireless network card on the XP install disk. Having failed to find anything suitable, it then offered to connect to the internet and download them for me.

  30. Ooh sorry Mike, I see you posted the exact same thing.

  31. When the database connection goes down, Oracle Forms 9 tells you about it the next time you hit a key — by popping up a modal dialog box containing absolutely random Unicode characters (many the square box, of course), with a single button also labelled in random Unicode; hitting the button gives you the same message back, indefinitely. This is obviously a bug, not an intentional message, but my god is it useless.

  32. When using Windows 7 explorer to FTP a file, one dialog pops up prompting to overwrite the existing file, while another pops right over it calculating the time remaining. You have to move the top dialog out of the way to press OK.

  33. Does everyone but me understand what “updates to your incompatible add-ons” means? What are incompatible add-ons anyway? If they’re incompatible, why were they added on and why are we looking for updates for them?

    Is it that there’s a header or compatibility table that tells what versions of Firefox a plugin is compatible with? Is it looking for updates that are compatible?

    The most common dumb dialog bit is “successfully,” meaning, “No, really.”

    Sincerely,
    Steve

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