Warning: This dialog is deadly, fatal, and could kill you (and then you would die and be dead)

My computer told me to restart today.

Here, let me highlight it for you in case you missed it.

That’s at least five different places where we tell the user to restart.  This is, as I would say to my students, a redundant use of redundancy.

I think we can give our users a bit more credit here.  Consider this version:

That pretty much says the same thing, with no text at all.  But even that may be more than is needed.  Suppose you just ran update manager, installed a system update, and then saw this:

For those of us who’ve used update manager before, this isn’t much of a puzzle to figure out.  The computer is asking for permission to do something, and since we just ran update manager it’s probably a system restart.

What’s important

Whoever wrote this dialog obviously wanted to get across the message that a restart was about to happen.  Well, they succeeded, but now we have a problem of wordiness.  This dialog doesn’t just say restart, it also says this:

So let’s use the example above and improve this dialog a bit, emphasizing what’s actually important:

Not bad isn’t it?  The important bits are in there, and they’re no longer lost within a 3 paragraph beast.  Let’s try and humanize it a bit without losing these advantages.

Same message, much more readable.  Removing the title is an interesting change: now it doesn’t feel like reading a document for homework, but instead something predictable and very easy to understand.  This is just a first draft, of course, but since it’s something literally millions of people will see, I think it’s worth taking a bit of time to get it right.


martinSeptember 10th, 2009 at 2:26 am

you rock! keep up the work on improving the desktop user experince!

your biggest fan /martin

Let me l....September 10th, 2009 at 7:40 am

at first glance i was scared !!!
that’s remind the old time with zin doz which required (yes ) reboot after upgrades. Bad things: linux required too !!!!

That’s my joke of course, hope that thinking don’t take you too much time.

RonSeptember 10th, 2009 at 7:43 am

The last screenshot is succinct and exactly what’s needed. It strikes the ideal with not being too wordy or having too few words. The message is clear, concise, and understandable by everyone regardless of their geek (or non-geek) IQ.

This screen (and others like it) need to be implemented in Ubuntu asap.

Jacob PeddicordSeptember 10th, 2009 at 7:44 am

I like it. Short and to the point.

jegHegySeptember 10th, 2009 at 7:46 am

Entertaining read and a welcome improvement. Keep it up!

Oli WarnerSeptember 10th, 2009 at 7:47 am

Dialogue verbosity will be an ever-lasting UX debate.

Does it hurt to give a long message if you summarise the rest of the content within the first line? As a seasoned computer user, you know exactly what the dialogue means and says even without reading it. You understand the update system and why some things need updates.

New Ubuntu users migrating from Windows will probably understand it too but Ubuntu isn’t just vying for ex-Windows users, it’s aim is to be completely usable for people with almost any level of computing knowledge.

So while users like ourselves could get away with two buttons, no text, no window, just the buttons, other users wouldn’t have a clue. And some users who do understand the message of the final mock, might want to know a little more. Why do I have to restart?

The original dialogue, while fluffy and repetative does convey the message: “stuff might not work correctly until you’ve restarted”.

There’s also an issue of security here too. Without restarting, many services that may have security fixes waiting to be applied are just sitting there. Given your message, most people would just postpone. You could bug the hell out of them (ala Windows) or you spend an extra line on telling them why it’s important to restart.

On a related thread, perhaps the updater should keep tabs on when security updates are applied, whether the application can be reloaded without restart, and if not, setting something so this dialogue knows to warn users.

Mr.doobSeptember 10th, 2009 at 7:54 am

Love the post tittle :D

(And the rest, of course.)

IgorSeptember 10th, 2009 at 7:54 am

Or use a notification bubble :)… j/k

Aigars MahinovsSeptember 10th, 2009 at 7:55 am

@Oli: Actually only kernel updates should require a reboot, all services that I know of are perfectly capable of restarting without a reboot.

The last dialog is a great improvement, way to go!

ulrikSeptember 10th, 2009 at 8:04 am

+1 on this. Too bad the UI Freeze is/was today!

nixternalSeptember 10th, 2009 at 8:08 am

Well, I was going to say I like this, but I have to be the one to say NO! I don’t like it, I think it should fill up your entire screen. Not only should you read the warning twice, but you should also jot down notes and consider pressing a button for at least 15 minutes.

OK, who am I trying to kid, this makes a lot of sense, and because of this, I am now looking through our “Restart” dialogues to see if we (KDE and Kubuntu) have issues like this. Good job!

Eric PritchettSeptember 10th, 2009 at 8:13 am

This looks like a “papercut.” The new dialog is much better. Often times when I see dialogs like this I read “blah blah blah updates need your computer restarted to finish” and never understood why people need to write an essay when it comes to dialogs like this. Great job! +1 on not repeated the window title. I hate that! :) Any chance we’ll see this in Karmic?

Quentin HartmanSeptember 10th, 2009 at 8:29 am

Well done. Your explanation is perhaps a bit snark heavy, but very good work. Keep it up!

I_ArtistSeptember 10th, 2009 at 8:37 am

Well, I am the one who will disagree. Although I do agree with the spirit and most of the article.

Your last dialog box states: “Please save your work before continuing.” As a long time software UI designer, and more importantly, someone who has seen a grandmother use a computer, I immediately spotted the little details in that sentence.

My mother, a long time factory worker, doesn’t consider _anything_ that she does on the computer as ‘work’ and would not save anything. And in this case ‘continuing’ would be pressing either the ‘restart now’ or ‘restart later’ buttons. So many people would save all their data, come back and press ‘restart later’ and continue working thinking that every is fine.

Until 3 hours later when they actually do restart.

A better sentence would be : Please save all your data before restarting the computer.

P.S. Thinking that your users know the system is a very bad thing, especially in an environment where the operating system is trying to increase it’s 1% market share. We should assume (hope!) that we are addressing a new user.

ethana2September 10th, 2009 at 9:02 am

The computer shouldn’t allow restarting until all open documents are saved and discarded. I thought it already worked this way. Users are stupid, that’s no reason for them to lose their data.

| X O — Restart to Apply System Updates |
| { Icon } [ Now ] [ Later]

Joachim NilssonSeptember 10th, 2009 at 9:07 am

Scott, that’s a very good idea.
Keep up the good work!

Best regards from Sweden

Bike Owner, Shed PainterSeptember 10th, 2009 at 9:13 am

But I want the shed to be purple to match my bike!

Jared SpurbeckSeptember 10th, 2009 at 9:44 am

Awesome summary of awesomeness is awesome! Kick that bike out of the shed and make it work. ^.^

JackSeptember 10th, 2009 at 9:45 am


ThibauldSeptember 10th, 2009 at 10:02 am

I love this kind of posts, user-friendliness / good usability can only be achieved by being very picky on the details like you do! Keep up the good work :)

Brad GriffithSeptember 10th, 2009 at 10:23 am

Would this window qualify as an alert? (See http://library.gnome.org/devel/hig-book/stable/windows-alert.html.en) It seems like it might be more aligned with the HIG if “Restart Required” wasn’t in the window’s title bar, but instead in the dialog itself.

PhilSeptember 10th, 2009 at 12:12 pm

I think this is getting towards brevity for its own sake. If I saw the last dialog, I would have two questions:
1) Why?
2) Continue what?

DeanSeptember 10th, 2009 at 12:46 pm

@Aigars I think the official upstream position is that if you try to restart dbus you get to keep the pieces. xorg also effectively needs a restart for most users.

anotherubuntu.blogspot.com/September 10th, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Very funny and entertaining post – as always.

It’s a good point, this dialog is for sure a “must fix” topic.

Big DanSeptember 10th, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Why not do it the Mac way? I got a Mac not to looking ago and am continual impressed by the way the OS handles things.. Fanboism aside. ;)

Run the update manager, install everything that can be installed without a restart, then alert the user the system needs to be restarted to apply further upgrades, kill nautilus so the user cannot use the computer while the system critical upgrading is being done, then restart the computer.

It looks a lot longer than it actually is.. Anyone who’s installed . patches on OS X can testify.

YokoZarSeptember 10th, 2009 at 3:46 pm

I talked to our own Mathew Paul Thomas shortly after making this blog post. This bug is indeed a papercut: https://bugs.launchpad.net/update-notifier/+bug/397324

Attached to the bug you can see my bzr branch that I managed to cajole Michael Vogt (a personal friend of mine) into agreeing to upload about an hour before feature freeze.

The final version of the dialog is actually a mix between MPT’s suggestion and mine: “The computer needs to restart to finish installing updates. Please save your work before continuing.”

@I_Artist and @ethana2: You’re right that all programs should prompt you to save before allowing themselves to be closed at reboot, however when we say “save your work” we also mean “make sure you’re done”, and I think the new version gets that message across. It is, of course, something that will end up getting a lot of user testing.

OliSeptember 11th, 2009 at 2:51 am

> all services that I know of are perfectly capable of restarting without a reboot

Capable doesn’t mean all services/applications *are* restarted. Firefox updates get a separate “You need to restart firefox…” dialogue. Other applications (to my knowledge) either trigger a full restart-required flag or just don’t tell the user.

Restarting a service or application can destructive so there needs to be user-interaction/permission.

Perhaps the restart app could be a little more intelligent and tell the user which applications need to be restarted and actually do the restarting for them (once they’ve saved data).

And also allow just GDM to restart for X/graphics-driver updates.

There’s a lot more to the restart-required process than the dialogue that needs re-engineering.

AnonSeptember 11th, 2009 at 5:50 am

To be honest, I liked the original, mainly for several reasons.

1) I would be pretty pissed that I was being told to restart without giving a reason why.
2) A restart isn’t actually “required”. In fact, it is entirely possible to hide that window, and continue with what you were doing. I feel the original nicely explains the situations under which it is important to restart.
3) I dont read the headers within window title bars, and so a large header within the window itself is useful.

P.September 11th, 2009 at 12:27 pm

I like your idea to make these silly messages shorter. I mean, that is what we keep reading _every day_.
You still have the word “restart” 4 times in there, however there is not much to do about that I think.
Title is important. Description is important. Action buttons should describe _actions_ just like they do now. Let me NOT read the whole stuff, just the buttons to be able to go with my life.

Good post and good plan! Keep going!

YokoZarSeptember 11th, 2009 at 2:28 pm

@Anon: The new version does give a reason: to finish the update. Now, it doesn’t explain the specifics of why a restart is needed here (and not, say, on other updates), but the original dialog didn’t either. Such an explanation is rather technical and would be lost on most of our users anyway.

And, yes, it is entirely possible to hide the window and keep working – that’s what the Restart Later button is for. With a more readable dialog text the user will be better able to understand what that means: an incomplete update.

rothashiganSeptember 11th, 2009 at 10:21 pm

I’ll vote for “Save Now or things will breaks” version… LOL!

Dylan McCallSeptember 12th, 2009 at 7:19 am

“3) I dont read the headers within window title bars, and so a large header within the window itself is useful.”

We can’t trust them to be there, either. We have to assume they are not. (They shouldn’t be, anyway; window titles are silly).

In fact, I have a strong suspicion that there is such a detail in the HIG…

bobyjoeSeptember 12th, 2009 at 7:48 am


BobJuly 17th, 2010 at 11:49 am

You should also remove the word Restart from the cancel button. Say I’m an average user and I’m skimming, barely reading, the warning. Restart, restart, restart – Ok, I get it restart. So I read the buttons from left to right and the first word I see is Restart, so I click it. And I don’t restart. So now I’m confused.

The yes/no ok/cancel order is already reversed from what most people are used to. People coming from a windows world are used to the first button being the “do it” button and the second being the “don’t do it” button. So they naturally tend to the get it wrong. And when they see the word Restart, they click.

The choices should be something like:

Cancel Restart | Restart Now

So the first word the person sees is Cancel. Yes, I know not everyone reads ltr. Yes, the text is clear. But people are fallible and they tend to click the first likely candidate.

jessica k from high schoolAugust 22nd, 2011 at 9:13 pm

i don´t care about the efficacy of your likely good user experience change, or not, but this shit is fucking zen.

fuck yeah.

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