Much of the discussion around Windows 7 has centred around how the interface will change and what features will be removed. But there's another area Microsoft could improve — the often cryptic and unhelpful error messages Windows produces — and it doesn't need a brand-new development team to do it. Here's some of the most embarrassing examples from Vista, which ideally will get improved or eradicated when Windows 7 finally appears.Prior to its release, Microsoft was happy to boast about its bigger-than-ever beta program for Vista. In the case of producing sensible error messages, it hasn't helped much. Whether these error messages only got dropped in late in the game, or whether beta testers just don't care that much, is an open question. But the need to improve the error messages and express them in plain, sensible English isn't. In some cases, there almost certainly isn't sufficient humility in the Windows dev team to make that happen. The error message at the top of this article is a good case in point. If Explorer has crashed, then Windows is generally in a poisoned state, and it's sensible to reboot rather than trying to continue on. An honest error message would reflect that reality, but I'll be surprised if that particular change makes it into Windows 7. (Ideally, Explorer just wouldn't crash, but I for one am not holding my breath.)
Not enough information
Not every problem can be accurately diagnosed, but this kind of error message is no use at all. With all that diagnostic clout, can't we at least have an indication if it's a driver or a cable problem?
The wrong kind of information
This error message (from Word) might just conceivably be useful for a developer, though if you're going to bother mentioning a registry key name you might as well go the whole hog. For the average user, it's no help at all. There's a lot of this kind of technobabble sprinkled around MS products once you get past the really obvious errors.
Sometimes, in an attempt to be helpful, Vista will produce this kind of pseudo-helpful but content-free message. OK, it might be useful to know that there really is a problem — but given that in this instance I'd already clicked on Diagnose, I probably suspected that. More detail would be good. Eliminating all the tiresome Wi-Fi problems would be better. In other cases, Vista tries too hard to be helpful. This kind of reinstall message often appears (even with Microsoft's own products), often partway through the install process when it's impossible to tell if the installation has worked or not. Some of this is probably due to Microsoft's addiction to backwards compatibility, but given the current state of virtual machine technology, that's not much of an excuse.
Bad message, bad consequences
What this message is actually trying to say is "The directory which this program used to store files in by default no longer exists or can't be accessed. Where would you like to store the files?" So why not say that? Even worse, after that message appears, Windows defaults to saving in a sub-directory of the Windows folder. Wouldn't the Documents folder for the logged-in user be a better choice?
Are there any other Windows error messages that drive you to distraction? Share your frustrations in the comments.