Written by Nick Heer.

User-Friendly Diagnostics Should Be a Core Part of Any System

Howard Oakley:

Software engineers are hopeless optimists when they design and code only for success. There’s much more to handling errors than displaying a couple of phrases of in-house jargon and fobbing the user off with a magic number. It’s high time that designing error-handling to help the user became a central tenet of macOS.

My only quibble with Oakley’s conclusion here is that it should not be limited to MacOS; I expect better diagnostics across all of Apple’s operating systems. Otherwise, this is spot on.

It is bananas that the best error messages users will encounter are those with an inscrutable code — “the best” because it is at least something which can begin a web search for answers. But a Mac is not a microwave; it has a very large display and can display more information than an error code of a few characters. Worse still are errors which have no information — Oakley’s example is a MacOS installer with the error “This copy of the Install macOS Big Sur.app application is damaged, and can’t be used to install macOS.” has only an “OK” button, as though that is an acceptable response1 — or silent failure where no message is displayed to the user at all.

There is no way this is the best that can be done, nor is it what we should expect out of our ostensibly modern families of operating systems.


  1. Since this is a MacOS installer, a better error message would have an option to fix the application, or at least re-download it in full. ↩︎