Humane Interfaces Take The Hint

I’ve set up Windows XP to let me know when updates are available from Microsoft. Although I usually install all the recommended updates, I like to choose when the updates are downloaded and installed. When XP has finished installing a critical update, it informs me with a dialog that asks whether I want to Restart Now or Restart Later. I always click Restart Later—I’ve usually got everything set up as I like it and I’m usually in the middle of a task. The problem is that XP is quite keen for me to restart and displays the message again a few minutes later. I click Restart Later to dismiss the dialog again…and again…and again. Why doesn’t XP take the hint?

Windows XP's Update Dialog

I understand the benefit of restarting: XP will be more secure after the update is installed. But I also understand the benefit of not interrupting my train of thought when I’m working on a task. Unfortunately, XP doesn’t. I don’t mind being reminded, but when I tell XP that I prefer to restart later, I mean my definition of later, which isn’t in a few minutes. In fact, I never click Restart Now because I let XP update itself the next time I turn on my computer. So in this context, my definition of later is never.

Four solutions spring to mind:

  1. add an option to not remind the user again;
  2. add a control for specifying the user’s definition of later;
  3. count the number of times the user clicks Restart Later and stop displaying the message after the count reaches a threshold (determined by user testing); or
  4. display the message in a modeless, transparent overlay, which would be dismissed by moving the cursor rather than clicking the Restart Later button.

A modeless, transparent overlay would be a good compromise: XP could remind users to restart in a way they could dismiss the next time they moved the mouse to perform part of their current task.

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