The Uneven March of Progress Bars

By | August 22, 2005

Why are the progress percentage bars in programs so useless? This one in TrendMicro’s HouseCall has been telling me it’s 99% done for more than an hour:


This is by no means unusual. Software, whether it’s loading, installing, booting, scanning or whatever, doesn’t seem too hot on the old timing front. The jump from 0–99 is always impressively fast; then the last percentage takes forever. Sometimes the percentages and time remaining are disarmingly precise, but bear absolutely no relation to reality. You’ve got to feel sorry for people who plan their day around a progress bar.

OK, my question is this: Is this just bad software, is it just me, or is it really hard to compute how long software is going to take? If it’s the last, why bother? Why not just put a window up saying something like, “This is going to take a while. Go grab a coffee, go jogging, engage in some form of intercourse, and then check back in. Whatever you do, don’t watch this progress bar because it will lie, lie and lie again”?

Or is this some scam? Does the computer know the whole ‘99% done’ thing is rubbish, but was there a dastardly plan devised by the software company’s marketing department to convey an aura of efficiency, speed and precision by making the software seem really, really fast, at least in its initial phase? This, the thinking might go, gives off a very favourable first impression which is only mildly dented by the growing haze of soporific depression that overcomes you as the progress bar sticks at 99% for the rest of the workday?

3 thoughts on “The Uneven March of Progress Bars

  1. Andy

    The ones that loop around back to 0 and carry on are the worst – just what is the point in that?

  2. Paul Watson

    Even just straight percentages with no-bars can be useless. Google Desktop Search was on 48% indexed for ages, then jumped to 68%, stayed there for a minute and was then 100%.

    Though the looping bar idea in Linux with no percentage is not really all that better. It shows something is happening but no clue (will it be seconds, minutes or hours mate?) how long till completion.

  3. Brad Clarkston

    Microsoft first started using progress bars
    in OS installations due to people not
    knowing if it was done or not.

    I remember talking to a MS Dev that said
    it was just an eye candy thing to keep the
    user happy that something was happening.
    It had no bearing on the time it takes to

    I would bet that still holds true


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.