About Progress Bar Removal : Every computer I’ve ever owned has used some kind of strategy to calm consumers down while they waited for software to install, load, or complete a task. At first, the message was, “Please wait,” with no indication of how long this wait would be. I remember it took about 5 minutes to load King’s Quest on an IBM PCjr., and about 2 minutes to load WordPerfect 5.1 on my Zeos 386SX-16 MHz.
On those days, the only notification that a task was nearly done was a slight change in the chat rhythm coming from drive A. Another common message was “Loading…” “Thinking…” or my people’s favourite: ” Wait, this might take a few minutes…” It was a beautiful day.
Then, someone developed a Progress Bar.
This essay is an attempt to demonstrate the futility of the Progress Bar and to implore software developers to bring back the heyday of computing when no one indulged users with meaningless Progress Bars.
The second goal of this post is to prove that the person who invented this pain reliever was an idiot, as is every software developer who thoughtlessly perpetuated its use.
Take the following modern example from the Progress Bar. By downloading HLM 6.02 (Student Edition) this afternoon, I was presented with a blue bar on a white background, with a “time remaining” indicator.
Let’s assume for a moment that the time indicator is based on the current download speed. Download speeds change constantly, moderated by user network activity (e.g., navigating other websites, streaming videos, sending and checking email) and upload speeds by the host server.
Have you noticed that with a Progress Bar like this, the time indicator fluctuates, sometimes constantly changing? Have you ever seen the time indicator increase indefinitely until it reads something like “13 hours, 12 minutes”? As you probably know, this is likely caused by (a) a slow network connection, or (b) a dropped connection.
You may be forced to cancel the download and restart, because it will never complete itself. Unfortunately, the computer doesn’t know this, and your Progress Bar time indicator is just as useful as a watch without a battery.
It’s not at all good to watch a blue Progress Bar fill up white space, unless you happen to enjoy watching things like that. The relative distance of the blue bar to the tip has nothing to do with the amount of time the task takes.
How long does a task take? To find out the answer, you will need the following information:
1) How long has the task been running? and
2) Is the blue bar moving at a constant speed?
The generic version of the Progress Bar happens on Apple’s Mac OS X, and it means absolutely nothing. It doesn’t move at a constant speed, so users can’t use this as a visual indicator to estimate how long a task will take.
Another version of the Progress Bar is where the developer tries to separate the subtle improvements from the blue bar into smaller chunks. Every time a new chapter appears, the software developers expect to feel that you are closer to the end.
Unfortunately again, since each chunk doesn’t take the same period of time to appear, this snippet-type Progress Bar means nothing. How many of us sit around watching our computers load something up and sometimes, bits and pieces fly by quickly and furiously, and then there’s a long pause while the hard drive clicks and the computer does whatever it takes.
If you’ve been using computers for as long as I have (especially Windows computers), you doubt to see the computer “hanging” indefinitely at certain sections, with the only way out being Ctrl-Alt-Delete or a cold reboot of the computer. machine. Then, what’s the point of having a Progress Bar?
Some might protest the removal of the Progress Bar by saying, “if it doesn’t crash, the Progress Bar will finish. At least you know at what point your task was when the machine had a problem.” You’d still expect me to assume that the Progress Bar is some kind of indicator of how close we are to getting our task done.
What if the last chunk takes as long as the combination of all the previous chunks? (I’ve seen this happen, more than once.) Then, instead of being a fun little graph to watch while you wait, it actually adds stress to the process because the Progress Bar status has nothing to do with whether or not the task is nearly done.
Another (ridiculous) modern version of the Progress Bar is one in which there are two distinct bars. I should be happy that I got two Progress Bars for the price of one! At the top, I’m allowed to see which specific files are being copied, and the bottom is the aggregate progress of the entire task.
The only problem is, some files might be 10k in size, while others might be large graphic or audio files that take longer to copy. If you’ve watched carefully, this type of Progress Bar, while interesting to watch, is completely meaningless.
Some files cause the top bar to fly without giving you time to read the filename, while some other files take as long as many previous files were put together. Furthermore, unless you’re a software developer, you don’t know (or care) what the filenames mean, so this is foreign and useless information.
Again, unless the bottom Progress Bar moves at a constant speed, there’s no point in entering it at all. In my 22 years of using a computer, I’ve never seen a Progress Bar move at a constant speed.
The other types are very interesting. By including information about what specific task is being performed, I should feel more comfortable that the process is going according to plan. In one case, above the Progress Bar, the user was given a message that the machine was “Generating connected components.” Before that, it might be “Checking system hardware” or “Optimizing file structure” using the same or a different Progress Bar.
Often times, the Progress Bar is reset with each new run. Since I can’t see the aggregate progress of all the processes together, each new bar is a new piece of graphic eye-candy that’s meaningless for me to watch while I don’t know how long it will take my computer to complete its task. .
Another example is Apple Software Update. In this scenario, iTunes 7.0.0 is estimated to take “Approx. 2 minutes” for a 25.7 MB download. However, on closer inspection, you will notice that after iTunes downloads, the machine needs to download QuickTime 7.1.3, which is 49.7 MB. If it really takes two minutes, iTunes will download at a speed of .2167 MB/s.
At the same rate, a QuickTime download will take 3 minutes, 49 seconds. Then, why doesn’t the Progress Bar say 3 Minutes, 49 seconds? My Texas Instruments TI-1706SV calculator can figure this out but my Powerbook G4-800 doesn’t seem to be able to.
Unless the user has assurance that the current level of progress will persist across downloads, the Progress Bar means nothing.
Finally, my personal favorite, the Web Browser’s “loading page” Progress Bar.
My example is from Safari, but it’s common across many browsers (I’ll include additional examples below.) The top of the screen might indicate that the blue bar is complete – this means the page has loaded, right? Not necessarily. Look again. No, not there. At the bottom of the page there is a message that says:
“Loading ‘<a target=”_new” rel=”nofollow” href=”http://www.xxx.com/”>http://www.xxx.com/< /a>’, resolves x out of xx items”. Here, the item count is the “correct” Progress Bar. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of websites where the last item took the longest to load, so again, there’s no constant progress, which makes the progress indicator completely meaningless.