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A strange error message

I use Butler as my launcher of choice, which means I launch most apps by typing Control-Space, then typing a few letters of the program’s name. Today, I made a typo and instead of launching my targeted app, Microsoft Graph launched. This little program is usually called from the Office apps, not as a standalone. So I wasn’t too surprised when the app displayed an error dialog on the screen. I was, however, surprised by the contents of the dialog:

Graph Error msg

Hmm, so I can only run Graph within another program, yet I’m given a Yes or No option when asked if it should quit now? Being the type of person I am, I chose No. Graph proceeded to open, and function in a most limited way—most features failed to work, but I was able to build a basic graph of sorts.

Seems to me that if the program is only going to work within another program, that dialog box should only have an “OK” button on it. Click it, and Graph should quit. Ah, the strangeness of error messages. Not quite as good as “No keyboard detected, press F1 to continue,” but it still made me chuckle a bit this morning.


  1. Cool. Works quite nicely and you can paste the resulting graph into another app like Mail/TextEdit etc.

    Still, it takes as long to load that as it does Excel, but still cool.

    Dialog box made me chuckle too :-)

  2. Maybe it's because I have been reading a great deal about usability recently, but having a dialog with an "OK" button doesn't sound much better than "NO/YES.". If clicking it would make Graph quit, why not label the button "Quit Graph"?

    Why even have a button? How about allowing ANY keypress to dismiss the window, so you don't need to grab the mouse to interact with a window where you don't have any choices anyway? More and more, "OK"-only dialog boxes seem to me like lazy cop-outs. Remember the old days of disruptive "Your Document was sucessfully printed" dialogs where you had to press "OK" to dismiss them? You don't see them as much anymore because there are better ways of displaying non-interactive state information.

    Of course, the real problem is than an app that can only be launched within another app should never be exposed to the user as a standalone. But I suppose with Launchbar and Spotlight and Quicksilver around, it's harder to patrol the UI borders than it used to be.

  3. Ted Max: any keypress is a bad idea. It makes it far too easy to accidentally dismiss, and requires the text "Press any key to continue" or a variant.. A single, default OK button is correct because everybody knows what it means, return (or enter) is the only thing to trigger it (or space if you have full keyboard access on), and it's at the same time more visible and simpler than the text.

    Rob: why do you use Butler over Quicksilver?

  4. I have a (much much much) longer piece in the works on Butler, which should make it here in a week or two. But in short, the reason I use that Butler is that it takes the place of probably five or six other utilities I would otherwise also be using. Neither QS nor LB do some of the things that I do with Butler, hence, I would need other replacement apps for those tasks...


  5. Kevin, you make a good point. On the other hand, what's the harm of accidentally dismissing the window? The worst that can happen is that the user tries the action again, and the system tells the user again that "you can't do this."

    Even better: How about a translucent window that pops up with the message and then gradually fades? That way, the message is displayed long enough to see, but since the user has no options anyway, the user doesn't have to waste time dismissing the window. (If the translucent window is hidden by another window, you can always have it do the traditional Dock bounce thing until it is on top again, and then disappear.)

    I don't see how "OK" is simpler than "Quit Graph," since I'd think that more precise messages are ultimately easier to process than ambiguous ones. (What exactly are you saying OK to? And what will happen when you do? Imagine a window that says "Your disk is corrupted and needs to be repaired. OK." What are you saying okay to, the message or the repair action?) That "everyone knows what clicking OK means" is not only untrue for new users, but is not a great reason to continue doing something if there is a better way.

    But I'm making a big deal out of nothing here. Like I said, I just read a bunch of UI stuff recently, and it gets your mind all geared up to go crazy over small interface faults.

  6. "Even better: How about a translucent window that pops up with the message and then gradually fades?"

    Kind of like Growl.

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