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March 5, 2004 12:30 AM

Broken: Encarta status bar

SH from Denmark sent this status bar he saw while installing Microsoft Encarta 2004. Above the status bar reads this text:

Please note that the progress bar may reach the end before all files have been copied. Please be patient.
In other words, "Our status bar doesn't work right. So please don't pay any attention to it."

This isn't some two-bit shareware program with a broken status bar, this is one of Microsoft's most popular software applications. And the text shows that Microsoft already knows about the error.


I have no idea what's going on with Encarta, but as a developer I know that meaningful status bars are sometimes tricky.

If they're too tricky you can use an indeterminate progress indicator.

Posted by: Ben Sinclair at March 5, 2004 10:29 AM

I only wish that progress bar were unusual. These days, I'm surprised when I see a progress bar that isn't broken... this one is at least a little more honest about it. My favorite was the "Detecting Plug & Play Devices" one in Windows 95... it would start up, shoot to 96% in less than 2-3 seconds, stay there for about 10 minutes, then fill in the last 4%. This is not very useful.

On the other hand, writing a meaningful progress bar is difficult; many times you are doing indeterminate-length operations. But it's sure possible to do better than these.

Posted by: Grant at March 5, 2004 01:21 PM

I agree completely with what Ben and Grant are saying here; honest progress bars are tricky. I have a suggestion for what I'd rather see: an ordered list of the tasks that (in total) take enough time to warrant a bar. For example:

1) Extracting archive

2) Copying files


The task currently being executed would be highlighted (e.g. bolded), and the rest either not highlighted or marked as complete.

Any progress bar should give direct quantifications (file 4/674, or 5/300MB) instead of time estimations.

And because I'm a coder, I'd like to have a "Detail -->" button which I can click to reveal a little textbox with logs zooming by. That's always cool :-)

Posted by: Ian at March 6, 2004 06:31 AM

I like Ian's idea... as long as users have some idea that SOMETHING is happening, it's better than nothing (seeing the bar hang on the last 4% for ten minutes, wondering if it's crashed)...

Posted by: Mark Hurst at March 8, 2004 12:52 PM

Whenever the bar hangs like that for inditerminite amounts of time, I'm always tempted to click the refresh button. Only after a few tries of this do I either leave the computer to do it's thing or give up. Either way I'm left unhappy.

Posted by: never mind that at March 8, 2004 05:31 PM

The problem with many of these progress bars is that the unit of measure is non-uniform with respect to time. Progress bars based on number of files copied, which seems to be rather common, are subject to long pauses when a large file is being copied. As others have stated, a good progress bar is no easy to do, but that's not an excuse to do a bad job of it.

Posted by: Carlos Gomez at March 9, 2004 09:39 AM

Maybe instead of a progress bar, there could be an estimated time caption. Although those aren't very accurate either, there's less of an annoyence factor when it doesn't do its job.

Posted by: never mind that at March 9, 2004 06:46 PM

Some commentary at

Posted by: RotJ at March 10, 2004 06:21 PM

Broken progress bars are a pet peeve of mine. Boo hoo hoo, it's hard to make an honest progress bar. I can also tell that it's hard for you programmers to refine your code down to a reasonable size, and to keep it from crashing too. Seems a lot of aspects of programming are "tricky". How about it's your job to do it right?

Posted by: Ummagumma at March 11, 2004 10:42 AM

So cynical... is it really that big a deal?

Posted by: never mind that at March 15, 2004 04:20 PM

I use a great open source backup to Zip file program called Abakt.

If you're updating an existing archive with new material, it'll go from 0% to 100% as you would expect, then way beyond! I've seen it go up to 960%...a bit disorienting :)

Posted by: Jonathan at March 30, 2004 11:55 PM

I have Microsoft Encarta 2004 and have also seen this message. I find it helpful, because it's much more annoying when programmers *don't* tell you that the status bar doesn't work accurately.

Posted by: Justin at June 14, 2004 12:51 PM

I have a microsoft program that does somthing like that. It has a status bar, and when it's filled up, it starts from the beginning again. It seems like it loads the program twice! Very annoying.

Posted by: Dizoctor at July 17, 2004 03:52 PM

This also happens with Encarta 2003. I have a formula:

(status bar length)รท2=(actual status)

Posted by: Michael at January 7, 2005 11:12 PM

most games for PC have a satus bar and they tell u what it is installing. And the status bar on video games r usually very acurate

Posted by: unknown at April 22, 2005 10:52 AM

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