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NN/g Home > AskTog > Interaction Design Section > The Bughouse > Windows


Bug: The infamous Windows Taskbar


Reported by: Steffen Itterheim


Duration: beginning with Windows ’95


Supplier: Microsoft


Alias: “Just keep it at the bottom, dammit!”


Product: all Windows versions since Windows ’95, including XP


Bug: The Windows Task Bar works properly ONLY at the bottom, where Microsoft wants to see it put. From my personal point of view, it’s bad design to have the taskbar at the bottom, while every other application have their menu bars at the top of the screen.


Usability-sensitive people move the taskbar to the top, or the sides. What happens then depends somewhat on the software, but mostly you will get some form of this:


Application Window opens at fixed position on screen. Lazy-Programmer software (the worst) creates the window with top left corner at 0,0. If you have the taskbar on top or to the left, the window will now be partially obstructed (behind) the taskbar. Worse yet, the application’s menu and the window bar where you can grab and move the window is almost always totally unreachable behind the taskbar. Workaround: resize the window (just a tiny bit). The window snaps to a somewhat lower position now allowing you to grab it on its window bar if you are able to click on this tiny space of the window bar now barely visible underneath the windows taskbar (no more than 10 pixels high, maybe even less).


Why is this a problem? It forces all reasonable people to either suffer from the above problem or suffer from lessened usability and the fear of being called a “Microsoft-conformist” by leaving the taskbar on the bottom.


Also, when you manually move a window underneath the taskbar then the window snaps back somewhat to allow for better grabbing the window again. However, this behavior exists only in Windows XP and still doesn’t work for newly opened windows.


Class of Error: “This behavior is by design” aka “We don’t care”




Proposed Fix:




Bug first observed: Windows ’95 release date (sometime in ’95 i assume)


Bug on list since:: Jan 2005


Bug: “You can customize almost everything in Windows, except when doing so would actually be logical and useful”


Reported by: Mike Whaley


Duration: [in years] 9+


Supplier: Microsoft


Alias: “Dammit! Which one of these 8 identical toolbar buttons is the one I want?”


Product: Windows (all versions since Windows 95)


Bug: YES


Class of Error: Laziness and a lack of understanding about how users work


Principle: Eye candy always wins over actual functionality


Proposed Fix: Shoot the developers, developers, developers, developers! (Sorry, having a Ballmer/Monkeyboy (TM) moment...)


Discussion: OK, you can pretty much arrange your icons any way you want in Windows. Very useful for grouping similar shortcuts or files together. But why in heck is it not possible to drag the buttons on the Windows Toolbar around so that they can be placed into a similarly useful or logical order by the user? Mozilla has proven that this is not only possible but very, very useful with it’s Tabbed Internet browsing and multiple startup links. Yet Microsoft insists that I, the lowly user whom they condescend to permit to use their OS, shouldn’t be allowed to violate the holy sanctity of the precious toolbar layout, and group my open apps together as I want. Of course, when Explorer crashes, the order of the buttons gets all rearranged anyway when explorer.exe restarts itself (if I’m that lucky) and the Toolbar buttons are obviously opened in a purely random order according to which one Explorer happened to see first.


Bug first observed: 1995


Bug on list since:: Jan 2005


Bug: Invisible Window


Duration: Since 1995


Supplier: Apple, Microsoft, and others


Products affected: iTunes, Outlook, Windows Explorer, control panel applets, others


Discussion: Since Windows 95 users have used the Win9x taskbar to view what programs are running and to switch between programs. It works very nicely. Until an application or window opens up that doesn’t show up in the task bar. When that happens the program is, in many cases, invisible.


For example: if you install or upgrade iTunes for Windows then the first window that comes up is the licensing agreement window. iTunes can take a while to startup—five to ten seconds easily—and in that time I’ve already started writing an e-mail, checking a spreadsheet, or browsing the web. I expect that when iTunes finishes starting up it will appear on the task bar and I can start choosing tunes. If the licensing agreement comes up (if you’ve recently upgraded) then no entry appears in the task bar. You have to go Alt+Tab to bring up the list of all windows (as opposed to the list of windows that shows up in the task bar) in order to find it, or you have to close or minimize all of your applications to see if there are any hidden windows.


The same problem occurs with all of the control panel applets on Windows. If you bring up the display settings, then go do something else, then it is difficult to find the display settings window because it doesn’t show up on the task bar.


Ditto for file/directory properties windows. Select properties from Windows Explorer and notice that the window doesn’t show up in the task bar. That would be fine if the window was attached to its parent, since it would then show up when you selected the parent, but it isn’t. If you select the explorer window (that is in the task bar) then it goes in front of the properties window, neatly hiding it. Again you have to go Alt+Tab or close all windows in order to find these hidden windows.


A particularly insidious variant on this theme happens with Outlook if you open an attachment such as a word document and leave it open. Eventually Outlook will notice that you have moved to a different e-mail message and will warn you that your changes to the document will be lost if you continue. It brings up a dialog that says something to this effect. “Changes will be lost if you continue. Do you want to continue? Yes/no”. One problem is that it’s never clear what changes will be lost, and what it is you are continuing. I’ve never seen it make a difference whether I click yes or no—nothing happens either way. The other problem is that the window is modal to all Outlook windows—it stops input in all of them—but is only in front of the main Outlook window. So, when the dialog box comes up it is likely to be hidden by the message you are editing. You hear a beep, your window is suddenly disabled and won’t accept input, but you don’t know why. It doesn’t show up in the task bar (which is probably fine, it’s not a top-level window) but it isn’t parented to the window you are currently working on.


Proposed Fix:  In most cases the fix is just to set the flag that tells Windows to show the window in the task bar. Easy. In the outlook case the fix is to not display the dialog. It has no value.


Proposed Fix by Tog:  The OS should provide a more graceful fall-back when the developer has made a mistake


Bug on list since:: Jan 2005


Bug: ”Please Insert a Bootable Disk”


Reported by: AntoineWG, Mister Studebaker


Duration: 24 years and counting


Supplier: BIOS programmers


Alias: User: "Why won't this darn computer boot?" Computer: "Silly user, remove that floppy"


Product: Nearly every PC with a floppy drive


Bug: Computer will not boot from hard disk when a disk is in the floppy drive


Class of Error: Freakin’ retarded


Principle: If it's not bootable, get over it


Proposed Fix: If the floppy is not bootable, ignore it and move on to the next boot device.


Intermediate Fix:  Disable booting from floppy disks in the computer BIOS.  Most big box manufacturers have already done this for you.


Long-term fix: Fix Windows


Discussion (Antoine):  What do most people care that the floppy they left in their drive is not bootable?  Since BIOSes started having the ability to boot from CD's, they have checked discs for a boot image at boot time.  Mine informs me of this on every boot and informs me that it failed to find one.  It then moves on to the second optical drive, then onto the hard drive.  It doesn't ask me to eject the CD because it's not bootable.  That would just be silly.  Why should floppies behave any differently?


Discussion (Mr. Studebaker): Apple’s been able to handle this for decades - so what’s the excuse from Redmond?


Bug first observed: 1980


Bug reported to Supplier:  I'm sure inept users have reported this to computer manufacturers on many occasions.  It probably had at least some bearing on the decision of most manufacturers to disable booting from floppies in the BIOS.


Bug on list since:: Jan 2005


Bug: Truncated icon labels


Reported by: Ben Suter


Alias: Short icon labels are cool


Duration: >20 years


Supplier: Microsoft


Product: Microsoft Windows Operating System


Bug: Long labels on Desktop icons are truncated.


Proposed Fix: Display the label in its entirety as long as it does not encroach on any object.


Discussion: On Microsoft Windows operating systems, desktop icons all have textual labels. When the icon is selected (or if it is selected, then deselected, but no other icon has been selected yet!), its entire label text is displayed. Otherwise, however, only part of the label is displayed (but the exact constraints are not easily determined).


The situation is compounded if you try to “rename” the icon, i.e. change its label text: once in “edit” mode (i.e. right-click, then choose “Rename”), only a fragment of the label text is displayed and one must use the cursors to scroll through the “hidden” portions of the label if those are to be viewed or changed.


Note that this behaviour may make sense if the icon in question is in the midst of other objects (icons) and would otherwise encroach on, or obscure, such neighbouring artifacts. But when this icon is surrounded by plentiful space, why not use it to display the entire label text? For that matter, while editing the label name, the label should be allowed to obscure other neighbouring objects as needed. Note also this may affect non-desktop icons, but I never use icon view so I don’t know.


Bug first observed: ca. 1997


Bug on list since:: Jan 2005


Bug Name: "System not responding"


Reported by: Steven Kick


Duration: 1980s


Supplier: Microsoft, but any App. programmer falls victim


Alias: I’m gonna hang here until you kill me


Product: Windows OS


Bug: Waiting for I/O or system resources to respond, an application will stop responding, bringing its entire thread to a grinding and graceless halt.


Class of Error: Multitasking means you can run IE and Word at the same time, right?


Principle: A thing worth doing is worth doing right.


Proposed Fix: Assume errors will arise when I/O and recover gracefully.


Discussion: All media should be treated as volatile and unreliable. Programmers use it that way, so why doesn’t the OS? It seems that the fix could be as simple as threading off all I/O calls (on the OS level) so that applications aren’t affected in the event the media fails, disappears, or otherwise fails to respond in a timely manner. In this day of mass-production HDDs, scratched CDs, and $50 broadband routers, the OS should take a little more responsibility for ensuring its own survival.


Bug on list since:: Jan 2005


Bugs:  “Copy files” 

Bug: “Copy files” ungainly failures


Reported by: many


Supplier: Microsoft


Product: Windows


Bug: OS fails to determine whether enough space is available before starting to copy a group of files.  It then abandons the task


Class of Error: The consensus is it is laziness


Principle: Do not expect users to clean up your mess


Proposed Fix: Compute whether enough space exists before starting copy operation.


Comment by Ken Loge: The world will not be a better place until this bug is squashed, cremated, and reborn as quantum bits of positive source code potential.


Discussion: Users find this bug is frustrating, because when the operation fails in mid-stream, the user is given no information as to how much was accomplished before the failure.  The user is left to manually paw through all the files and clean everything up.  It’s further frustrating because the user may have left the scene after starting a long operation, only to discover that the computer did almost nothing in their absence, having “hit the wall” early.


It’s also frustrating that Microsoft has ignored such an obvious and distressing bug for so long.  It’s almost as though they don’t care about us.


Bug on list since:: Jan 2005


Bug:  “Copy files” missing option


Reported by: Adam Williams, pmgiroux


Duration: for ever


Supplier: Microsoft


Product: Windows


Bug: When copying files, if the file exists, you get a prompt which asks 'file exists do you want to overwrite this file' with the options 'no' 'no to all' and 'yes' with the obvious lack of 'yes to all' so if you'd like to overwrite all files you have to continually click the button.


Class of Error: Programmer laziness and/or absence of field studies


Principle: Avoid user-repetition


Proposed Fix (pmgiroux): Add the option, go to your room, and try to explain why you didn't think of it before.


Bug on list since:: Jan 2005


Bug Name: Floppy Programming


Reported by:  Herbert Rice


Duration: 15+


Supplier: Microsoft


Alias: Drive Discrimination


Product: Windows


Bug: You can’t network a new laptop to an old computer because the programmers “know” that if you don’t have a floppy drive, you can’t write network configuration info on removable media. They don’t yet know about CD and DVD burners!


Class of Error: Out of touch with “new” 1980s technology


Principle: When new hardware is added to a system, the entire design needs to be reconsidered and upgraded, preferably in the same century.


Proposed Fix: Hire programmers who didn’t quit learning in the seventies.


Discussion by Tog: This is indicative of a general class of errors.  In Apple’s case, they introduced a bloated full keyboard in the mid-1980s we code named the USS Saratoga because of the similarity in size and complexity to that mighty warship.  Apple has yet to provide even the most minimal support for many of the extra keys on that keyboard and its many bloated successors.


Bug reported to Supplier: I’ve tried, but unless I pay them, they won’t talk to me, and sending Bill email seems to be impossible.


Bug on list since:: Jan 2005 


Bug Name: Too many apps been opened


Reported by:  James O’Dowd


Duration: since 1995


Supplier: Microsoft


Alias: Close everything, restart, make a brew


Product: Windows


Bug: Machine grinds to a halt when the cache is full




Ever since Windows 95 came into our grubby little hands we always knew that, when working hard on your pc, you have to periodically restart your machine.


Why, 4 versions later, is it still doing it?


I’m a web developer by trade so I generally have open photoshop, imageready, dreamweaver, IIS window, outlook for my mail and several browser windows in various formats. After a while I’ll notice my computer is running slow. Even if I could close everything and try again, there is absolutely no difference.


I sit there listening to my HDD spinning its little heart out and nothing is happening. I go make a brew.


When I come back photoshop has reloaded but, ah, it hasn’t really! I click on file and wait 10 seconds for the file menu to come up. Wait another 20 seconds to see the file listing, then upwards of 2 minutes to open the actual file. I shout, I huff and puff, I click on start to restart. Suddenly my pc completely halts while the HDD starts screaming, 1 minute passes, 2 minutes, 3 min... RESTART.


Four hours later, I get to go through the whole process again.


Proposed Fix: When I close an app or game, give me the memory back! It’s that simple.


Bug on list since:: Jan 2005


Bug Name: Personalized menus


Reported by: Maurice van der Pot


Duration: Since 2001


Supplier: Microsoft


Product: Windows 2000, Office 2000, Windows XP, possibly more


Bug: Menu items disappear from menus if they have not been used recently


Class of Error: incorrect assumption that it will make things easier for users


Principle (Maurice): Users should be able to get familiar with the structure of menus, something not possible if they keep changing


Principle (Tog):  Stability.  Spatial interfaces depend on motor memory.  Motor memory doesn’t work if things keep shifting around.


Proposed Fix: Never change the menus automatically. (Changing the default setting to ’off’ for this feature would be of no use; nobody is going to turn it on.)


Discussion: If one is getting familiar with a certain application, a lot of the familiarity is in the positions of items in menus (e.g. bottom option is quit, second from the top is save, etc). Personalized menus take this away. It’s even worse for experienced users. Experienced users generally do not even read the text of the items because they know where to find items before they even open the menu. With the already slow response of menus because of the fade-in effects, those users usually have the mouse positioned correctly before the menu item has appeared. Now with personalized menus these users are slowed down immensely because they have to read the menu items to look for the one they want to click and if it is not there, they have to click several times to get to it.


Bug on list since:: Jan 2005


Bug Name: Missing Windows Internet Protocol Configuration Graphical User Interface


Reported by: Christopher O'Neil


Duration: since 2001


Supplier: Microsoft


Alias: Run Command WINIPCFG


Product: Windows XP


Bug: Windows cannot find "winipcfg". Make sure you typed the name correctly, and then try again. To search for a file, click the Start button, and then click Search.


Class of Error: C'mon Bill, you know we all like GUI's


Principle: Provide a GUI to all OS elements, not just many.  A secondary command line interface for expert users is OK, as long as a GUI exists for the 99% of people who will be more comfortable with the GUI.


Proposed Fix: Release a Windows Update, they've found dumber things to release an update for.


Discussion: First you teach us, in Windows 98, that we can control our IP's by using that beautiful little GUI. Then you force us to revert back to command line. I thought Windows XP was based around eliminating that.


Bug first observed: October 25th 2001


Bug on list since:: Jan 2005


Bug Name: The Non-Obscuring Cursor


Reported by: Keith Rollin


Duration: >14 years


Supplier: Microsoft, various


Alias: Dude, where's my text?!


Product: Windows, various


Bug: The cursor does not hide itself when it gets in the way of what you're reading.


Class of Error: Adding new features is more fun than fixing twenty-year old bugs


Principle: Hiding the text while the user is typing is only funny if you are < 14 years old


Proposed Fix: Support an API like ObscureCursor on the Mac. Use product like

Cursor Hider (<>)

or MouseStar (<>).


Discussion: After clicking on buttons and menu items with the mouse

cursor to bring up a new editor window to type into or a browser window

to read out of, the cursor is often left in some random location on the

screen, but frequently within the bounds of the active window.

Subsequent use of the window often brings the user's attention to the

location where the cursor is located.  For instance, the user types

enough text that the caret is now in the vicinity of the cursor, or the

user has read browser text to the point where the text is under the

cursor.  In either case, the user finds that the cursor is now occluding

the area of interest and needs to be moved.  Not only does this

requiring moving hands from the keyboard to the mouse, but the user also

now is challenged with the task of finding a neutral are of the screen

to which to move the cursor, a task that may not be that simple on, say,

12" laptop screens.


The Mac solved this problem from Day 1.  It includes an API function

called ObscureCursor which will hide the cursor for as long as the

cursor is stationary.  As soon as the user moves the cursor, it

reappears.  Applications that accept keyboard input such as editors use

ObscureCursor as soon as the user starts typing, thus removing the

cursor from interfering with editing.  Applications like browsers can

also use ObscureCursor when the user starts scrolling using the arrow or

Page Up/Down keys on the keyboard.


NextStep and BeOS also include an ObscureCursor API.


Some versions of Windows (e.g., XP) have an option in the Mouse control

panel that purports to enable the desired behavior (Mouse Properties >

Pointer Options > Hide pointer while typing).  However, it doesn't

appear to work.  Regardless of the setting, Outlook does not hide the

cursor while typing, while Word always hides the cursor while typing.


Bug first observed: Feb 1994 (first time I used Windows)


Bug on list since:: Jan 2005


Bug Name:  “Keyboard Not Detected” Error


Reported by: Pat Roach


Duration:  > 12 years


Supplier:  PC Motherboard and Bios Makers


Alias: Say what?


Bug:  Bios reports "Keyboard not detected, press any key to continue"


Class of Error:  Chronic Stupidity


Principle:  Assumption that pressing a key on an undetected (missing, unconnected, or broken) keyboard will do any good what so ever.


Proposed Fix:  Offer advice that actually works, like "Check keyboard"


Discussion:  It's amazing that this old joke (it's even been printed on t-shirts) still shows up on new PCs.


Bug Name: Incorrect behavior when app icon clicked


Reported by: SK Brown


Duration: Since around 1986


Supplier: Microsoft


User’s response: “No, I don’t want another car, I just want to see what is in the trunk of mine.”


Product: Windows


Bug: In lovely MS world, when a user double clicks on an icon of a programming already running, it doesn’t bring that program’s windows to the front, it simply starts ANOTHER copy of the same program, so a user could easily end up running 5 copies of Word and 7 copies of Excel, all at the same time, running (and not running, as the case most likely is), and clogging up stuff, sucking up system resources, until the computer finally collapses and dies.


Class of Error: Lack of field studies


Principle: Consistency with expectation


Proposed Fix: STOP IT! Copy Apple’s more intuitive behavior, i.e. double clicking a program’s icon just brings that program and associated window to the front.


Discussion by Tog:  The good applications on the Mac further open a blank document window if none is already open.  (Apple’s own Safari browser could benefit from this behavior.  Ironically, IE on the Mac does it just right.)


Reported by: SK Brown


Bug reported to Supplier: [1992]


Bug on list since:: Jan 2005



Bug: “How Do I Turn This Thing Off?”


Reported by: Bernie Wieser


Duration: Since original release of Windows


Supplier: Microsoft


Alias: Pull the Plug Bug


Product: Windows


Bug: Turning off the computer using the only obvious method—the power button—can cause fatal crashes.


Class of Error: Stupidity.


Principle: Users are confused enough without our trying to make things worse.


Proposed Fix: Don’t call the menu used to log off or shut down the computer, “Start”.  Call it instead...oh, I don’t know...perhaps...“Stop”!


Discussion: One of the most confusing things about Windows is using “start” to turn off the computer.  Ever try explain this to a newbie?


Bug first observed: Late 80s.


Bug reported to Supplier: every damn day


Bug on list since:: Jan 2005


Bug: Windows’ interminable, clumsy shut down sequence.


Reported by: Rob Wolsey


Duration: Since before Windows 3.11


Supplier: Microsoft, PC Mfrs.


Alias: You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.


Product: Every version of Windows.


Bug: Not only do PCs take longer than ever to boot up, they take longer to shut down. On some PCs you also have to wait until it is “safe” to turn off your computer.


Class of Error: Waste users’ time by forcing them to stand around while nothing apparently happens.


Principle: If I’m ready to turn off my computer, I’m probably also anxious to get the heck out of there. Why force people to wait around to make sure the thing really does shut off?


Discussion: Since even before the first Macintosh, Apples have had a shutdown time of less than two seconds. Shutdowns of over two minutes are not uncommon on Windows PCs. Every version takes longer to shut down than the last. Even worse, on many Dell and Gateway PCs (and others, I’m sure) you have to endure the shut down sequence before being allowed to manually hit the power button.  I have taken to simply closing all apps and killing the power on my Win XP P4. If there was something important it was supposed to be doing, it doesn’t seem mind much that I skipped it.


Bug first observed: 1985?


Bug reported to Supplier: [Date]


Bug on list since:: Jan 2005 



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