A few weeks ago — 20Jan2021 to be precise — I encountered a problem with Windows Update: an optional, but ‘recommended’, update that, according to the ‘help’ article about it, should have installed automatically without my intervention. I searched for solutions, and, finding nothing, I posted a message seeking assistance in the ‘Microsoft Community’ forum.
For the past month I have revisited my post every now and then, hoping for an answer. I noticed the ‘views’ and the ‘people have the same question’ counters mount (that last number is currently only seven, but that’s still too many). I marvelled at the massive response from the ‘community’ there. Yes, that was sarcasm: my post elicited not a single response.
Today I checked the Windows Update section in Control Panel again, to see if the problem had gone away. It hadn’t: but something caught my eye… some tiny squares. And I finally twigged the problem. It was caused by something I’ve encountered many times over the years, to wit: software designer cluelessness and arrogance.
Look, I have a computer science degree, so I do have some idea how computer systems work — as well as how they should work, which is a kettle of fish of an entirely different colour.
But I’m also human. I make mistakes. And when I do: I try to admit them (unlike some ‘persons’ cough corporations cough).
The problem is a natural result of the non-standard implementation of the user interface (UI) widget presented in this Control Panel screen.
- In order to use any system effectively, one needs to gain familiarity with its quirks (ideally, any such quirks should be few, or entirely absent).
- This particular screen in the Windows operating system is one that I, for one, rarely visit. I suspect that others are in the same boat, here. Those ‘experts’ who design systems should be aware that (1) may be an issue, and should take extra care accordingly.
- The instruction in the image shown above, to wit: “Select the updates you want to install”, heads up a list of items. It is clear that the user is supposed to click on the items desired. It appears to be a standard ‘checkbox’ UI widget; however, it is not.
- Almost every ‘checkbox’ UI widget I have ever encountered allows the user to click on either the checkbox or the text against it to select the item — it is in fact more intuitive to select the larger target (the text), not the smaller one (the ‘checkbox’), as the former describes the desired item whereas the latter does not.
- Clicking on the text in this UI widget does clearly ‘select’ the item (in accordance with the instruction): the text becomes highlighted, and the information panel on the right-hand side changes to provide details of the item selected. However, this action does not accomplish the main objective, ie selecting the item for installation.
- It is necessary to click on the tiny square to the left of the text to indicate that the intent is to select this for installation.
For some bizarre reason known only to its designer, this UI widget does not behave in the standard manner. Its behaviour is, it’s true, very clever. It’s a classic example of “Hey, guys, we can do this; let’s do it!” without consideration of the wider impact. The designer is clearly someone of talent, but — along with those who oversee and presumably approve their designs — has much to learn (and, sadly, I’m willing to bet that their arrogance almost certainly won’t allow them to internalise that truth).
I weep; especially for those with accessibility issues who struggle to click on tiny squares, even assuming that they can see them properly (such as, but not limited to, myself in my own dotage in a few short years’ time).