Windows Explorer: How NOT to resolve conflicts

Let’s say you have a “drafts” folder and a “final versions” folder, and every time you publish a new version of a document you drag’n’drop the latest draft into the “final versions” folder. This used to work fine with Windows XP, you’d get a prompt saying “are you sure you want to overwrite the file?”, you’d say “sure” and it was done.


With Windows 7 someone thought it was a great idea to confuse the users as much as possible by throwing this at them:

Could this be more confusing?

I think not. I spent a good 3 minutes staring at this. Reading and re-reading it. I had to completely switch my mental context from my primary task (what I was actually doing) to deal with this riddle. I got worried I might be trying to do the wrong thing. Was I at a risk of imminent data loss? Were my backups up to date? Was this a good day for moving files? One file is newer, the other is larger… what’s going on here? There is too much information and no “just do as you’re flippin’ TOLD!” button.

I shiver at the thought of users who are presented with this. Most of them will click the red “x” to close the window and make the problem go away.

I’d love to have a chat with the usability people who conducted the study that showed more information and more choices to be a good thing for end-user interfaces. Because from the perspective of the type of users I know, this would be an unsolvable, anxiety-inducing nightmare.

3 thoughts on “Windows Explorer: How NOT to resolve conflicts

  1. At least with the new Windows 7 interface, it will prompt you and let you deal with conflicts individually, without cancelling your entire copy or move job, as is the case under XP. Except for the third option about keeping both copies, I had no problems the first time I saw the new interface. Different strokes for Different folks I suppose.


    • I’m probably just a stupid user who uses a lot of systems and has better things to do that decipher the latest UI tricks.
      Having said that, I don’t see your kind of thinking as leading to more secure or usable systems. See also Peter Gutmann’s “Security Usability Fundamentals” (page 1) for a discussion on blaming stupid users for design failures.

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