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Faking it: PC users fooled by progress bars

Fast-finishing progress bars are always preferred to fast starters

When Microsoft released the SP1 raft of patches for

Windows Vista

last month, slow file copying was one of the areas it addressed. What it couldn’t fix, however, is the natural capacity we all have to be easily manipulated by computer progress bars.

According to various studies, those annoying little left-to-right indicators of how long we have to wait for our PCs to finish what they’re doing can be used to make us feel a little better about waiting.

Finishing-line spurt

Apparently, progress bars that move more quickly towards the completion of a task are universally seen as being quicker than those that are fast at the start but appear to stall towards the end.

Intriguingly, the actual time taken is largely irrelevant – fast finishers are always preferred to fast starters even if the total time taken is exactly the same.

Knowing how impatient most of us are, it all makes sense, but it makes us wonder if programmers ever gerrymander progress bars to make us feel better regardless of what’s going on behind the scenes.