Thursday, March 02, 2006

Meaningless Error Messages

Well, another thing about GNOME that's kinda sucky. I want to use a particular message as an example, but I don't want to be interpreted as picking on the author of that software. (Otherwise I would simply file a bug report.)

Consider this. Everytime my machine boots, or I log out (which only happens when GNOME or X crashes), I get the following message from GDM:

"The configuration file is not correct. Please fix the incorrect line and try again"

How is this supposed to help anyone? It might help someone who knows about the workings of GDM, but everyone else confronted with this message will have to embark on a voyage of discovery that may well take several days.

To be specific: Which configuration file? What is it called? Where is it? Which line is incorrect? How do I find out what the correct value(s) should be?

I reiterate: I don't want to bash GDM here. I'm sure many of you could think of similar examples from other software.


Mathias Hasselmann said...

My favorite: "The X system keyboard settings differ from your current GNOME keyboard settings. Which set would you like to use?"

Why is there no suggestion, what GNOME would like to see and why does this matter at all?

Well, heading to

Phil Bull said...

Totem has a particularly informative error message at the moment:

Anonymous said...

I would argue that either

a) you were poking around in the configs, and thus should know what files it's talking about


b) your distro fucked up the configs and you should complain to them

but maybe I'm being an annoying apologist.

Mathias Hasselmann said...

> a) you were poking around in the
> configs, and thus should know what
> files it's talking about

You might be right, BUT: The computer has the information what's wrong when complaining, whilest the user whould have to think and search for at least a minute for solving that problem.

I consider co-workers holding back such information being super dickheads. Wouldn't want my computer or GNOME to be a super dickheads...

Thom Holwerda said...

Nothing beats this:

Really. And it's still there in the 2.13.9x releases...

Anonymous said...


The good news is that it's not at all limited to GNOME, and in fact GNOME (IME) is a bit better than average.

(My Mac is well above average in this respect, and I use Windows at work, but don't get me started on how dumb its error messages are -- some have been much worse than that empty dialog box, amazingly.)

I've found that Bad Error Messages (and its good friend, Bad Alert Questions) are easy for many programmers to add without thinking. You really have to be vigilant, sometimes, to keep them from creeping in.

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Toby said...

Dear Annoying Apologist,

Your theories are nice, but I can vouch that it's not necessary to inappropriately diddle configuration files to trigger this message. After doing a routine system update on Gentoo, a friend's laptop started producing the same useless message. My first question to him: "Does it mention WHICH configuration is at fault?"

Note, Sun's work on their Fault Manager is quite notable in this connection: Even CLI error messages are now including information such as URLs to relevant Knowledgebase information. It's even easier for a GUI like GNOME to make this kind of intelligent assistance available.


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