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Old 05-15-2007, 12:24 PM   #1
Bob Russell
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Application pop up dialogs are driving me crazy!

No, by pop up dialogs I don't mean pop up browser windows. Those are a pain also, but IE and Firefox offer us some protection. And yes, this is mainly a desktop issue which is about the environment that mobile devices live in. But pretty soon (especially with the new UMPCs) it will become an issue for mobile computing, if it's not already.

What I'm talking about are the dialog boxes that applications pop up out of nowhere, and which get immediate focus no matter what you happen to be doing at the time.

So what's the problem? Well, I tend to do many things at once on the computer. I have things running in the background while I am doing other things in the foreground. So suppose a program finishes in the background while I'm typing. What happens? It pops up a dialog box saying "I'm done." Unfortunately, I'm a fairly fast typer also, so odds are, I'm going to hit a key that takes action. Usually the space key to accept the default choice. I'm left wondering what the heck was that dialog box that just popped up, and what did I just instruct that program to do?!!!!

I'm getting pretty tired of interacting accidentally with popup dialog boxes or other GUI elements by accident, and I'm wondering:

1) When will something very bad happen as a result?
What happens if a dialog box with <commit changes> and <delete all> pops up and I happen to type TAB space space? Do I end up deleting everything and confirming the delete all before I even realize a dialog box popped up!?

2) Why doesn't Microsoft set something up as an option in Windows so that you can be notified, but that another background program can't grab focus unless you ask for it. All I want is to know another program wants to interact with me. But I want control of when I switch my focus to another application. Especially with programs that present a higher risk of inadvertant interaction. Shouldn't Windows support some sort of safer app switching?

3) Do Linux or other O/S's have any support for this kind of situation?

Has anyone even thought of this issue before? Anyone else wondering the same thing, or am I an irrelevant outlier as far as users are concerned?
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Old 05-15-2007, 01:07 PM   #2
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/me shakes fist at avast!

got a awkward moment with that software not to long ago. When Avast! updates its engine, it asks for a reboot (with a popup box), guess what, the default selection is "Reboot now" ... if you are just hitting the return or space key that moment, well its not pretty.

What I found useful on my Ubuntu installation (now 7.04), opposite to how microsoft handles the notification of installed updates, Ubuntu just pops up a notification from the "taskbar" informing you about the necessity of a reboot for the installed updates. (Just like the balloon tips in windows) You can decide to reboot now or later if you click that icon or the balloon.

Better than the MS popup "I installed the updates, reboot now?" where the default is "reboot" *d'uh*
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Old 05-15-2007, 01:50 PM   #3
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I'm with you. Back in the day when I was a beta tester for MS and an MVP we fought long and hard for them to take away the ability to steal focus. They did eventually take steps in that direction and you can fine tune some of the settings using TweakUI. In the end though your only real option is to complain loud and hard to the application creator to give you an option to stop their app from stealing focus.
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Old 05-15-2007, 02:14 PM   #4
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Completely agree with you, and it happens especially at work, with the multiple corporate 'updates' and 'scans' and other things that are mandated by the IT department. It scares me to death when half of what I was typing goes into some unknown box and performs who-knows-what operation.
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Old 05-15-2007, 02:40 PM   #5
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I don't remember having this problem on OSX... On Windows though you're right, it is annoying. Up until recently I was using Outlook 2000 (upgraded to 2003), the startup for it was 45+ seconds and it would steal focus at least 5 or 6 different times during the startup phase.
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Old 05-15-2007, 03:31 PM   #6
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This is mainly a Windows problem. I currently have a problem with ZoneAlarm. It takes the focus away from the current application which often enough cause part of your typing to get lost.
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Old 05-15-2007, 03:50 PM   #7
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Sounds like number 10 on a list of most wanted (UI) design bugs:
http://www.asktog.com/Bughouse/10Mos...esignBugs.html
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Old 05-15-2007, 04:47 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Leaping Gnome
I don't remember having this problem on OSX...
I never had it happen on OS X. In fact, as far as i recall, one part of the original OS X Human User Interface Guidelines is devoted specifically to this problem and makes a point of *never* stealing focus from a user. According to that document, and the original OS X UI design, each and every app should have all their modal windows open as a sheet permanently attached and affixed to it's corresponding window.

Unfortunately, OS X apps and Apple's own user interfaces follow that awesomely thought out set of guidelines less and less

Regarding Windows, i don't actually remember when i had this happen to me last time... Both in XP and Vista. Actually, i think Vista's Aero makes a good effort of never popping up anything above the window with focus, unless it's a UAC confirmation dialogue (which is a completely different matter because it pops in a separate layer and - in fact - a separate screen above your desktop).
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Old 05-15-2007, 04:49 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Robert Marquard
This is mainly a Windows problem. I currently have a problem with ZoneAlarm. It takes the focus away from the current application which often enough cause part of your typing to get lost.
That's ZoneAlarm's problem, not a Windows problem. You can't blame Microsoft for braindead UI design other companies produce
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Old 05-15-2007, 04:52 PM   #10
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Pop ups

This may help. On Windows, install TweakUI. Under "General - Focus", check "Prevent applications from stealing focus".
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Old 05-15-2007, 04:57 PM   #11
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If you have Win XP download TweakUI from XP powertoys. This has in the option to Prevent applications from stealing focus. This will work for 85% of application pop-ups. There are still some really dumb ones that use windows ultra-high priority and circumvent this. But overall, it is nice with this turned on.

I believe it works by changing a setting in the registry.

link:
http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/d...powertoys.mspx
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Old 05-15-2007, 05:49 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jbenny
This may help. On Windows, install TweakUI.
Just a nota bene: TweakUI doesn't work with Vista.
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Old 05-15-2007, 10:29 PM   #13
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This is funny, 'cos this 'SetForegroundWindow' thingie was supposed to be disabled back in win98. So when win98 came on, all kinds of hacks need to be done to get your program to the foreground the way it did in Win95 etc. I noticed that with XP, this focus grabbing thingie made a comeback. It was supposed to flash the 'icon' on the taskbar a number of times when 'SetForegroundWindow' was called. Something must have messed it up.

That "can I reboot?" thingie is also pretty annoying. For goodness sake, why is it that so many updates require a reboot. I recall that a 'Best Practice' from MS to be that installations and updates should not require a reboot. It makes me wonder ... with Dynamically Loaded Libraries (dlls) ... why can't the updated code be reloaded without a reboot. I think such a 'feature' would be twice as appreciated than aero GUI.
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Old 05-16-2007, 01:04 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by orcinus
That's ZoneAlarm's problem, not a Windows problem. You can't blame Microsoft for braindead UI design other companies produce
It is a Windows problem. ZoneAlarm does not show a dialog.
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Old 05-16-2007, 07:51 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Robert Marquard
It is a Windows problem. ZoneAlarm does not show a dialog.
No, but it shows pop-ups, doesn't it?
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