Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 5th Mar 2008 21:02 UTC, submitted by irbis
Graphics, User Interfaces "Most software packages employ progress bars to visualize the status of an ongoing process. Users rely on progress bars to verify that an operation is proceeding successfully and to estimate its completion time. Typically, a linear function is applied such that the advancement of a progress bar is directly proportional to the amount of work that has been completed. However, estimating progress can be difficult for complex or multi-stage processes. Varying disk, memory, processor, bandwidth and other factors complicate this further. Consequently, progress bars often exhibit non-linear behaviors, such as acceleration, deceleration, and pauses. Furthermore, humans do not perceive the passage of time in a linear way. This, coupled with the irregular behavior of progress bars, produces a highly variable perception of how long it takes progress bars to complete. An understanding of which behaviors perceptually shorten or lengthen process duration can be used to engineer a progress bar that appears faster, even though the actual duration remains unchanged. This paper describes an experiment that sought to identify patterns in user perception of progress bar behavior."
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progress bars serve another purpose
by Yamin on Wed 5th Mar 2008 22:45 UTC
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Progress bars are complicated, but they are more than just indicators of when the job will be done.
The are indications that something is happening.

If you put just a twirling icon to say 'i'm busy' the user could not tell if any progress is being made at all.

Even the most flawed progress bar still gets feedback that something is happening. Take the MSI installer...sure it bears no resemblance to time. But you know its doing something. Helping progress bars might even have text to tell you what they're doing (see the text's doing something).

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