Windows 8 Continues the Cheery Error Message Tradition, Unfortunately

By  |  Friday, September 16, 2011 at 10:46 am

(Image borrowed from

Software developers have a strange attitude towards notifying their customers of product error. They rarely just explain what happened, and apologize. Well, sometimes they do try, but with an explanation so technical that it’s pointless for us normal human beings. (That may or may not be better than providing an error code rather than actual information on what went wrong.)

There’s also a long-standing tradition of error messages being accompanied by humorous visuals, dating back at least to the Mac’s Bomb and Sad Mac icons, and probably much further than that. And now is reporting that Windows 8 has a new sort of Blue Screen of Death that sports an oversized frowny face emoticon. (The developer preview of Windows 8 is buggy, but I haven’t run into any catastrophic errors that trigger this screen myself.)

I don’t get it. Are there any other industries that see failure as an occasion for merriment? I love Chrome, but its suffering browser tab and messages such as “Aw, Snap!” always leave me slightly more irritated than if I’d just gotten a straightforward alert that something had gone awry.

Of course, Windows 8 is merely a developer preview, so its error messages are presumably subject to further tweaking. How about dumping the frowny, Microsoft?

(Side note: The one cheery error message I like is Twitter’s Failwhale, in part because it was designed by my friend Yiying Lu. In fact, I’m almost sorry I rarely see it these days…)


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8 Comments For This Post

  1. Matthew M. Says:

    Oh man, I don’t know what to say: I love the dumb error messages to which our computers subject us. Guilty. Red handed. No defense.

  2. Muay Thai Says:

    Yea, it's like a nuclear bomb goes off in your case. Muay Thai Combinations | Muay Thai Kick | Martial Arts for Children

  3. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    The equivalent Mac screen has an illustration of the power button so that you know how to restart the computer, and the text is in a few languages.

    BeOS error messages were haikus.

    I'm surprised Microsoft did this. Given the bad PR around BSOD, I would have thought they would have just removed this screen and reboot immediately like an iPhone.

  4. ymala Says:

    Wait, you'd rather your PC abruptly restart than let you know that something's gone wrong before it does so? I personally would find that jarring and more annoying. To each his own I suppose.

    But to respond to what Harry's saying, I found the new error screen quirky, and I like that, but on my way to the comments to start in on how having a little bit of fun is no big deal I realized he is right.

    I often don't like getting overly colloquial messages from my PC, one part of me thinks it's funny, but on the other hand it isn't professional, and very annoying if you were doing something important, it lacks gravity. You don't need a block of tech speak that the average user wouldn't get but at the same time it's not a 'sorry bro' situation.

  5. N8nNC Says:

    Oh yeah, I'd much rather have my computer reboot without asking because an update was automatically installed. (I know I can turn that off, but still it is annoying.) Requiring a restart after a change is almost always laziness on the developer's part.

    From my design experience, if there's nothing meaningful to report to the customer (i.e. the cause is an internal error, and there is nothing the customer should/can correct) and it's unrecoverable, then rebooting automatically is appropriate. Of course, the event gets logged and the user is notified after the fact. Sitting at a BSOD is pretty much the epitome of useless.

  6. Rob Says:


    I agree that having a computer sit idly at a useless error screen is unhelpful. However, just rebooting isn’t enough. First, the OS must detect loops. Two automatic reboots in a row is enough. After that, it should display a screen indicating what’s wrong and that reboot did not solve the problem. Second, the OS should reboot normally but display a message box on the screen indicating that an automatic reboot was necessary and why. That avoids the user having to try to make sense of an over-technical error screen *before* waiting for a reboot to get back to work.

  7. zahidpro Says:

    Windows 8 is merely a developer preview, so its error messages are presumably subject to further tweaking. How about dumping the frowny, Microsoft?
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  8. die steel Says:

    Good stuff as per usual, thanks. I do hope this kind of thing gets more exposure.