Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Shut Down Comparison!

Studying the ways of shutting down the computer has been kind of a research area among operating system GUI designers. Although we as users do not see it, designing a simple interface like shutting down the computer takes lots of user studies and research. Today with number of operating systems that we use, we can see different approaches they have taken on how to present the user with the least annoying Shut Down interface.

I'll compare the shut down mechanisms of the 3 major operating systems we use; Windows XP, Windows Vista and Ubuntu 9.04. Specifically, I'll consider the number of mouse clicks and mouse movement they require from the user. Although there are shortcut keys associated with them, I won't consider them since ordinary users won't know about them anyway.

Windows XP
In XP, users have to go through 2 dialog boxes to accomplish the task. First, the start menu and the second, the final shut down box.
  1. Click Start button. (click 1)
  2. Click "Turn Off Computer". (click 2)
  3. Move the mouse to the center of the screen.
  4. Click "Turn Off" button. (click 3)
It is clear that this involves 3 mouse clicks and a mouse movement across the screen. Although, as IT people the mouse is in our "genes", this is a fair amount of work load for a typical user. (You should've seen the time it takes for our grandma to do this)

Windows Vista
This is totally confusing for new users. There are number of ways you can shut down. With the default settings, you see a yellow "shut-down-like" button. People mistake this as the shut down button where it actually means "Sleep". To truly shut down the computer, you have to click the small arrow, and choose Shut Down from the not-so-simple menu that appears. This process needs a very high amount of concentration from the user.

This is the way you do it with default settings.
  1. Click Start button. (click 1)
  2. Click the small arrow to the right of Sleep and Lock buttons. (click 2)
  3. Choose "Shut Down" from the the list. (click 3) (This list has 6 items. If you needed to Restart you have to find where restart is in the list. Shut Down is easier since it's the bottom-most item.)
This process requires 3 clicks (same as XP). But it also requires the user to thoroughly concentrate on what he/she is doing, which is too much to ask from an ordinary user.

You can change the behavior of the Sleep button to Shut Down via power settings. Read this for instructions on how to change it. Then the whole process changes.
  1. Click start button. (click 1)
  2. Click "Shut Down" button. (click 2)
Now it's only 2 clicks. So simple. The catch is that the red Shut Down button is very easily reachable. User don't get any confirmation dialog box after clicking this. So when you click it, wooosh! it's bye bye windows. So it's prone to unintended shut downs.

In Vista they have increased the number of ways to shut down and none of them are perfect. XP way is better in my opinion.

Ubuntu 9.04
Ubuntu 9.04 reportedly have a nice and clean interface. This is true for their Shut Down mechanism too. Although they have borrowed the idea from Apple MacOS X, they does a good job integrating it with their user interface.
  1. Click the power button at the upper-right corner. (click 1)
  2. Choose Shut Down from the menu. (click 2) (Menu has 6 items. Shut Down is at the bottom and Restart is the one before that)
That's it. If you are lazy you can leave your computer and it will shut down. But if you made an error in your decision you can always cancel it since it displays this time-out dialog box.

If you choose, you can continue the previous process further.
  1. Move the mouse to the Shut Down dialog box.
  2. Click the shut down button. (click 3)
See how thoughtful they have been. The computer will shut down without any user interaction within 60 seconds. If you are in a hurry, you make an extra mouse click on the Shut Down button on the time-out dialog.

It's "2 clicks" or "3 clicks with a mouse move" depending on the way you choose. But always the result is the same and you have the confirmation dialog so you can undo your decision. This is the nicest shut down process I've seen so far (including MacOS X).

Finally, see how much we can talk about a simple operation like this. (as if we don't have anything else to do!) These subtle changes effect the user's perception of an operating system. And most of the time, these are the "only" things that a user uses to judge an operating system.

Any thoughts?


girishadurrel said...

well there is two more ways to shutdown.. In windows (assuming that you have privileges) go to the command prompt and type
c:\> shutdown -s

Or in linux if your the root just type
$shutdown -h...
He He... Just kidding man...
Good Article :) :)

K.C. Hewage said...

No matter about how looks like the shutdown button and where it is on the screen until you have the 'switch on' button of the casing or the 'power' button of the keyboard at the right place and with the right configuration to turn off your PC.

Ravin Perera said...

That's true. But with the keyboard there's a high chance of user accidentally pressing the power button.

K.C. Hewage said...

That's why I said "at the right place and with the right configuration"

තිලිණ said...

I taped my keyboard power button!!

Ravin Perera said...

he he I'm enjoying this!

If u wanna see, Girisha's laptop's power button is in the right place with the right configuration.

BUT, gimme an example of a DESKTOP keyboard having the power button at the "right place" with the "right configuration"...

K.C. Hewage said...

The right place means, it should not be accidentally pressed. Simply it should not be in a place where the frequently pressed keys located. (In some poor keyboard designs, the "power", "sleep" and "wake" buttons are located near the "up arrow" key).

The right configuration is actually with the OS. You have to configure the OS to what to do when you press the "power" button.

H. Madhawa Ranga said...

I use 3 desktop shortcuts which I have created to shutdown, sleep and Hibernate options (And also to Lock WS). Now I never uses the Start>Turnoff option.