Monday, July 12, 2010

Please, no more Whisky Tango Foxtrot error messages

I've been seeing this monolog box once in a while in Acrobat these days (not only Acrobat 10 Professional, which is still in development, but Acrobat 9 Pro as well). I can't really call it a dialog box, since it is, in fact, more of a monolog. This is what I sometimes call a Whisky Tango Foxtrot message.

No doubt the underlying error condition happened due to something I did in a script. That's fine, I accept responsibility for the crash. What I don't accept responsibility for is the lameness of the error message. It's a completely content-free error message. It tells me nothing about what went wrong. It's a billboard that says, in effect, "Acrobat sometimes barfs and doesn't know why."

The point of error messages should be to tell you what went wrong, so that you can fix it or work around it, or at least know that it involves something more specific than a nameless internal error. I should at least be given a code of some kind, although even that can be awfully lame, as iTunes users know all too well. Have you ever gotten the infamous iTunes -9812 error? (It's another example of a Whisky Tango Fox monolog box.) Plenty of people see this error, and they turn to Google in desperation to find out what it means, since Apple's web site is of scant help. My September 26, 2009 blog on this subject ("A Fix for the Dreaded iTunes -9812 Error") continues to bring upwards of 2000 hits a month. Why? Because Apple displays no meaningful troubleshooting information whatsoever in conjunction with the -9812 error message. It's just a billboard for iTunes' ability to barf. People have to come to my blog to find out what it means. How lame is that?

Please, UI designers and programmers, provide meaningful error messages, or at least point me to a log file somewhere, where I can find out what went wrong. If the program ran out of memory, followed a null pointer, had a stack-heap collision, entered an endless loop, or choked or bad data (or whatever), just tell me straight out. I can live with the news, I promise.