Why do GUIs jump around like a demented terrier while starting up? Am I on my own?

Ever so lone lone lone lone a-lonely

Something for the Weekend, Sir? “For heaven’s sake, stop waggling it in my face! Kuh-rist, keep still! Right – you’ve asked for it!”

Alerted by the commotion, colleagues struggle to hold me back as I try to give my computer the damn good kicking it deserves.

That’s unfair: the computer itself didn’t deserve such rough treatment. More importantly, it is not mine but belongs to a corporate client at whose London premises I have been installed for the last two weeks.

Security is alerted and I am dumped on the pavement outside by the usual pair of overweight guards, who proceed, again as usual, to empty the contents of my rucksack into the gutter for good measure.

It is expected of them. CCTV is watching.

Increasingly well-practised in dealing with this routine, I catch my Neoprene-sleeved MacBook first, followed by the (free gift!) Men’s Dove shower bag that holds my clutch of dead-rat external USB drives. Everything else can tumble into the side of the road without much trouble, although I am a little dismayed to see a pack of extra-strong mints roll down the drain.

“Thanks, guys,” I offer, routinely. But they refuse to rise to the bait, watching me carefully as I collect my stuff and waving me off with a cheerful, “See you tomorrow, Dabbsy!”

A few lonely bevvies later in the pub across the road, I am a picture of calm. Hasa diga eebowai. I try to explain to the handful of other sad bastards dotted across the lounge why I get so upset but they don’t listen or care. And why should they? I am pretty much on my todd when it comes to my personal plight.

It comes down to a lack of patience.

You know those many small irritations, each of which is negligible on its own but relentlessly accumulate throughout the working day until you’re ready to go postal? Like when the nameless minion currently hotdesking next to you clears his throat with a little “ahem” every 20 seconds?

Or, much much worse, when a known colleague on the other side of the bench periodically keeps announcing “oh dear oh dear” or “ho ho look at that” in a mutter delivered just loud enough for you to hear so that you are forced, against your will and in spite of 100 earlier identical experiences of overwhelming disappointment, to sigh, stand up and walk around to see what the heck he finds so bleeding noteworthy?

Hey, I can deal with those. I can plug in one of my 37 pairs of earphones, shut out the world and pretend to be on a deserted island. Honed through years of freelancing, I am master of the technique of The Individual; black-belt in solitary endeavour; pwner of the lonely art.

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What I can’t seem to deal with is software user interfaces that wander unpredictably, and in my view unnecessarily, around the screen while in the process of starting up. It drives me mental.

Back in the day of GEM, CP/M, DOS and so on, programs launched silently and only appeared when they were good and ready. It could take a minute or more as you stared at a message telling you to wait. Some of the more highly advanced programs presented a progress bar, and you knew that when it reached the end of the bar, it would disappear and your software was ready to use.

These multithreaded days, you have no idea whether a program has even begun launching, let alone whether the starting up process will ever complete within your lifetime before you yield to the surly attractions of Task Manager.

You may get a progress bar, but this will simply shoot up to 15 per cent, linger for a while as the rubber plant shadows slowly creep across your open plan office carpet tiles, then jump straight to 100% and stay there for another hour and a half.

Even then, once the software fools you into thinking it has launched, when in fact it hasn’t, its user interface only then chooses to reveal itself in stages, like some sort of digital dance of the seven fucking veils.

This leaves you chasing after buttons and tabs as they slide around, jump up and down, run about in circles and generally act like some demented terrier that has just dug up a stash of cocaine-laced Bonio.

I blame web browser developers for letting this happen. Allowing websites to load into a browser window bit by bit was a mistake. Over the years, this has persuaded application developers into thinking this is acceptable behaviour when IT ISN’T.

In no particular order, here are my pet delayed-loading interface hates:

  • You want to tap on the Welcome back, Dabbsy button in that smartphone Wi-Fi welcome screen to save you the trouble of having to finger in its unmemorable, cryptic 124-character alpha-numeric password. Just at the very moment that you touch the screen, the button shifts to the right and another labelled Sign out has taken its place.
  • You start reading some text. All by itself, this text begins moving downwards until it has been pushed entirely off the screen. You scroll downwards to find it and begin reading again, only for the text to jump back upwards, but now inexplicably five screenfuls beyond the top of your display.
  • You trigger a lengthy process such as a network install and send it behind your other software while you carry on working. Seven hours later, when it has nearly completed, the long process jumps to the front without warning, overlaying your current application’s Save button that you chose that moment to click on with another labelled Cancel Install.
  • You spend two weeks preparing a detailed report for your corporate client, saving diligently along the way. After your final proofread, you go to click on Save and Close whereupon this button suddenly jumps out of the way to make room directly under your mouse-click for a new button you’ve never seen before labelled Delete File, Overwrite All Backups With Zeros and Hack Off My Scrotum With a Rusty Saw.

A damn good kicking is too good for it, I tell you. But clearly I am on my own here, otherwise someone else might also have raised hell about modern software interfaces being so dreadful. I feel ever so lonely. Surely we deserve better.

In the meantime, that computer still deserves a damn good kicking. I’ll give it another go tomorrow.

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Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. His record of diligent patience stands for itself, harking back to his student days when, in one holiday job, he was tasked with filling a gigantic container vessel with water from a rubber hose. It took three days – mostly standing around holding the hose in one hand and rolling cigarettes with the other, but switching to “active” mode whenever the boss walked by, gripping the hose dramatically with both hands and earnestly staring at the trickle bubbling from the nozzle.

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