Tag Archives | Error Messages

Windows 8 Continues the Cheery Error Message Tradition, Unfortunately

(Image borrowed from Geek.com)

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 Geek.com 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…)


The 13 Other Greatest Error Messages of All Time

People just love error messages. Love ’em, love ’em, love ’em. At least that’s the conclusion I’m drawing right now: “The 13 Greatest Error Messages of All Time” is by far the most popular story in Technologizer’s short history. And hundreds of folks didn’t just read the article–they shared their own favorite errors in the comments, with at least as much passion as the community brings to burning subjects such as the iPhone NDA or the fate of Windows XP.

I thoroughly enjoyed delving into all that feedback and learning about errors which I’d never heard of…and in some cases, being reintroduced to ones which I’d managed to block out of my memory. If you don’t have time to burrow through nearly 400 comments’ worth of conversation like I did, I understand–and I’m here to help. Here are some truly outstanding error messages, selected from all the ones mentioned in comments by a blue-ribbon panel which consisted of…well, me. I focused on ones that were verifiably real, and mostly on ones mentioned by multiple contributors. And I ended up with a bakers’ dozen of them, just as in the first story.

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The Thirteen Greatest Error Messages of All Time

”To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a computer.” So goes an old quip attributed to Paul Ehrlich. He was right. One of the defining things about computers is that they–or, more specifically, the people who program them–get so many things so very wrong. Hence the need for error messages, which have been around nearly as long as computers themselves..

In theory, error messages should be painful at worst and boring at best. They tend to be cryptic; they rarely offer an apology even when one is due; they like to provide useless information like hexadecimal numbers and to withhold facts that would be useful, like plain-English explanations of how to right want went wrong. In multiple ways, most of them represent technology at its most irritating.

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