Vista file confirmation dialogs and making things perfectly clear??

Raymond Chen posted this entry about not playing mind games with your users when it comes to presenting dialogs where they have to make a decision. Well, I just ran into the Windows Vista Copy File dialog which popped up when I attempted to drag a file into a zip folder which already contained a file of the same name:

This totally threw me off, while everything on the dialog is grammatically correct the logic is completely backwards from what I expected. Here’s why:

NOTE: For this screenshot I placed the mouse over the “Copy and Replace” option so it would appear highlighted since there was no other visual indication of what actually should be clicked.

  • The title says “There is already a file with the same name in this location” but the first location mentioned is the source location not the destination. Why isn’t the title “The destination already contains a file with the same name.”?
  • The directions say “Click the file you want to keep”, but the filenames are the same it’s the paths which are slightly different but that’s not what’s highlighted.
  • The “Copy and Replace” option mentions the file that’s being copied not the one I’m about to replace. Why doesn’t it say the opposite and tell me loud and clear “Here is the file you are about to replace:”
  • The “Don’t Copy” option doesn’t mention the file that won’t be copied but rather the file that won’t be replaced.
  • I felt overwhelmed with too much file detail information like “Size” and “Date modified” for both files, which is the same btw, and could have been provided via a details/dropdown next to each filename.
  • Why is there a “Cancel” button? How is it different than “Don’t Copy” given that there is no explanation about what it’s not going to do.
  • The subtitle says “Click the file you want to keep”. What does that mean for the file I don’t click?

This dialog seems far more concerned about the Source file not the Destination which is about to be overwritten.

The only guess I can come up with as to how Microsoft ended up here would be something along the lines of The Windows Shutdown crapfest.

[Updated: March 15] Added one more case

24 thoughts on “Vista file confirmation dialogs and making things perfectly clear??

  1. This dialog is really confusing….
    BTW: Steve, you should have joined the Vista-QA-Team 😉

  2. I always put "Cancel" buttons on any dialog I design. Why? Because sometimes you do something by accident, and you might not even do what you’ve done, and in that case, I just can hit "Cancel", without having to think about what the dialogs is saying at all!
    Apart from that: yes, the dialog could be better; but it’s better than anything I’ve seen pre-Vista on Windows, don’t you think? 🙂
    And no, I’m no Vista fan either; I just think that this is a little bit too nitpicky for me… 😉

  3. Very funny. Software giants like McSoft don’t have the skills that even one-person companies like Christian Ghisler has! FYI, TotalCommander’s duplicate file dialog is so much more informative.

  4. I must disagree with you.. 😉 I don’t know if in english the sentences for the dialog are well written (as my mother language is not english) but I rather find that this dialog is excellent. The cancel button is there because if the file/copy operation has more operations to be done you cancel the whole process. When you do a massive copying.. vista "pre-calculates" the operations to do and gives you options to do if file exists, are blocked etc. as rename the file, etc… (with a checkbox in some cases you can default the options you choosed). It is more interactive as in other windows versions and slower also but at least for me more effective. That opinion does not makes me a Vista fan as there are many other things in vista that really annoy me… Of course that is a personal opinion with my short experience with vista… 😉

  5. Hi Luis,
    As I mentioned, there’s nothing wrong with the wording on the dialog it’s totally accurate but to me it’s confusing for the reasons mentioned. Also, I’m not concerned about how the dialog performs when copying multiple files since that’s not what I was doing. Knowing my parents they will undoubtedly find this dialog confusing.

  6. Don’t copy means "Don’t copy this file but continue copying other files."
    Cancel means "Cancel the entire copy operation (not just this file)."
    Of course, if the details were hidden, people would complain, "Why do you hide the very information I need in order to answer the question!"

  7. I had a similar reaction the first time I saw that dialog. Too much info, insufficient clarity. The main thing needed is for the first statement of the issue to be rewritten. "A file of that name already exists in the destination folder" would be a much better statement. The explanatory sentence under the Copy and Replace heading is fine; the explanatory under Don’t Copy, however, caused me to do a double-take. Horrible. "No files will be changed" is fine, but the following "Leave this file in the destination folder" is confusing. As is true in my daughter’s speech forms, careless use of pronouns and disregard for antecedents breeds misunderstanding.
    As to the file size and date, those have long been with us in the pre-Vista counterpart to this dialog. The addition of a complete path (rather than an elided one) is welcome. And I agree that the bold-face on the matching filenames is another problem. Ill-advised at best.

  8. This dialog has all the makings of a dialog designed by committee. I’ve come across it a few times and everytime I’m amazed at how it feels like the lowest common denominator of design.
    Vista added this whole "advanced" button to a lot of their dialogs yet on this single one they decided to cram every little detail into the main form.

  9. Holger,
    IMO, the cancel button is redundant and only serves to help confuse a simply Yes/No question with a third state.
    But, I didn’t copy multiple files I copied just one. I don’t need UI necessary for a multi-file operation when all I really needed was a simple "Are you sure you want to replace the destination with the source file? Yes/No".

  10. Maybe these changes would be better:
    (1) Bold "Copy and Replace" and "Don’t Copy".
    (2) Use two different icons, so that user will be perfectly clear, which icon they want to click.
    (3) Remove the path information. (At least use another font color)
    (4) Optional, a button "More/Less options" can be added at left-bottom corner.

  11. I’m in strange territory here, I find myself disagreeing in this particular case. I find the dialog better in general (doesn’t mean it couldn’t be better still).
    In order of your points:
    – I would consider it an improvement to swap the positioning so the Don’t Copy option was at the top, that would address your point.
    – It should say "Click the file *version* you want to keep" – but I consider this extremely minor.
    – (next two points) I think the correct file is being shown in each of the options; for copy/replace, it *should* show the replacement file, not the one being replaced, and for the Don’t Copy option it should show what you are keeping – i.e. in both cases it is showing the file you will *end up with in the destination*.
    – I consider it very important that the details be shown directly so you can clearly see which file is which (full path, size, modified date), it would be much more inconvenient if I had to click another button to see this info on each file. This is a "conflict resolution" dialog, it must clearly show the most obvious info one will need to decide on the resolution!
    – while I don’t have Vista installed yet and so cannot try it, I suspect the cancel button will cancel an entire operation – i.e. if the operation involves copying more than one file. If not then I agree it is redundant and therefore possibly confusing. However to be completely consistent, the X button should also be hidden in that case, forcing the user to select one file or the other as the *only* way to close the dialog (or add a "Roll the dice" button :).
    – I agree with this last point, the line should simply be removed, it is not needed *at all*.

  12. Wayne,
    It’s ok to disagree! 🙂 I’d be interested in your reaction once you get Vista installed and run into this dialog involving files you really care about. I’ve really been trying to get running with Vista but I keep hitting things like this which cause me to stumble, hesitate and generally slow me down. FWIW, this dialog has a mode that I haven’t mention which presents yet another option which looks different from the first two and can potentially cause even more confusion (I gotta get a screenshot up).

  13. Wayne, I think the thing that I would rest my case on is that in reading the choices for the first time, the wording caused me to do a double-take. Dialogs aren’t books, and should present info in compact, concise form. They should also studiously avoid any chance for confusions of this sort.
    Given that this is a Vista standard dialog, surely a bit more effort would have been more than repaid. Being something all users will see, again and again, it really should be a marvel of clarity.

  14. Steve,
    FYI, I had a couple of interesting experiences while posting the previous comment. First, there was no security code displayed, so I clicked save and re-entered the comment. The second time, there was a security code, and after duly typing it in, and clicking save, I got an error message telling me that there was some problem in creating the comment, and so it had failed. And yet, it seems to be there….

  15. Bill,
    I mistakenly turned on comment spam filtering so perhaps that’s what caused the problem. I’ve now turned it off. Thanks for letting me know!

  16. You think thats bad.. i’ve repeaedly copied brand new files (whole folder that didnt exist on my visa drive) from one drive to another.. even though there was no such files before (i.e. copy whole hd on drive k: to c:\myhdbackup) and I get replace dialaogs all over the place (usually towards the end when there is apparently 0k left to copy over wth 33 files ?!?!). How can it have files existing when the folder didnt even exist. Is it getting confised and tryingto copy again. I usually only get theis on big folder copys.. like when i’m ccopying over the contents of an oldhd.. but there are ‘apparenlty’ loads of existing files some how!!?!?! This is crazy. On mine version of Vista at least when i copy something there is the option to copy over but rename it to file (2). Must be an update improvemnt on yours? Still pointelss replication in my case when the files didnt even exit before the copy.

  17. ps.. the orig location has 35,828 files in 2,729 folders (45.7g).. the backup has 40,947 files in 2,837 folders (46.3g).. and all i did was copy the contents to a brand new blank foder on my root drive. I’ve gained a gig. WOW. That is lame.

  18. Not to mention that if you want to overwrite everything you have to click on a checkbox at the bottom of the dialog, then fly your mouse all the way up to the top of the box. Haven’t these guys heard of Fitt’s law (pretty much the only mathematical law you get as a UI designer)??!
    Sure the old "Yes"/"Yes to all"/"No"/"Cancel" dialog sucked… especially with the hidden Shift-"No" feature… but at least it was fast.
    Man I’m glad I switched to Linux.

  19. Please explain if I’ve got this wrong, but I’ve always interpreted the second choice of "Don’t Copy," to actually mean that the file already located in the destination location should not be overwritten by the new file despite the identical name but rather that both files should be allowed to exist in the destination location side by side. Doesn’t a "Copy 2" show up after the operation to affirm this interpretation? Since there are only choices of overwriting or having both files in the destination location, a cancel button is offered if neither option is desired.

  20. I don’t get it,
    why the heck I get this dialog box when copying stuff to a EMPTY location? WTF? Is it that complicated to COPY stuff from one place to a blank spot? I appreciate the fact that now, Vista is copying and asking questions later (not blocking the whole copy process).
    I just don’t get it, why is there already a file in my blank location with the same name:-(

  21. This sucks. I just deleted a nearly completed project and replaced it with an older one because that dialogue confused me. So I’ve now I’ve to start over. So yeah they need to sort out how they word things.

  22. I, too am copying a BRAND NEW directory from one drive to another and I am plagued by messages telling me a file already exists in the destination. THIS IS JUST PLAIN WRONG! If I tell it to replace, on a cut/paste operation, THE SOURCE DIRECTORY IS NOT DELETED!!! This has worked correctly since DOS V1.0… In Vista, it as BROKE, Incorrect, Inexcusable, WRONG, and just plain STOOPID! Someone at Microsoft needs to be horsewhipped. Vista needs to be recalled and all monies refunded. Cut and paste are now totally unreliable. I can no longer trust my machine, nor can I accurately predict what it will screw up next. This is BASIC stuff, folks.
    SOLUTION: Dissolve the corporation and make ALL MS code open-source shareware. We can build a new, better world under Linux. (this is so sad). (On a sadder note, sometimes when I connect my USB terabyte drive, Vista pops up a dialog that says it needs to be formatted… Format Now? WTF??!!!)

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