Error Messages: From unfriendly to intimidating...

Okay, get ready for a lot of links. Ready? Here we go: From the This Is Broken group on Flickr, user posts this photo of a Microsoft Publisher error message, as reported by Mark Hurst on the Good Experience blog. Whew. Point is, here's the message:

"Opening this publication will access data from the following location: Error: This publication was created in a later version of Publisher and contains connections to multiple data sources. This version of Publisher cannot connect to multiple data sources. To edit your publication and leave the data source connections intact when re-opening in a later version, select 'Work without merged information.' Data from this location will be inserted in this publication where others can read it. Do you want to continue? (Yes) (No)"

On first read, this message is mostly just intimidating - a lot of text, complicated terms, and what seems to be an assumed knowledge of the underlying data structuring of a very complex piece of software - all followed by the insistence that you make a choice, YES OR NO! There's no "Cancel" option, the always-safe, oh-god-what-have-I-done button. But, when parsing the message, it actually does make sense - right up until it starts talking about selecting "Work without merged information" when the only options presented are YES OR NO!

On the other extreme is the no-info error message I sometimes get from Photoshop: "Operation could not be completed because of a program error. (Ok)" Frustrating in its own way, but not the interrogation-light hotseat of the Publisher message. So which way is better? If there's not much you can do, is it best to just leave the user in a state of frustrated but ignorant (relative) bliss? Well? YES OR NO???

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