askTog logo


Search WWW Search
  Table of Contents  •  Intro  •  10 Most Wanted Bugs  •  Bug Hall of Fame

  Pandemic  •  Applications  •  Websites & Browsers  •  OS-X  •  Windows  •  Multiple OSs
  Networks  •  Security Bugs  •  Hardware & Drivers  •  Programming & Command Lines

NN/g Home > AskTog > Interaction Design Section > The Bughouse > Hardware & Drivers

Hardware & Drivers


Bug Name: Laptop "hard kill" switches


Reported by: BTS


Products: Laptop computers


Discussion: It befuddles me why laptops are so difficult to power down and reboot,

especially after a hard crash or freeze.  When they're plugged in, you have

to resort to unplugging them, then sometimes removing the battery after a

hard crash.  Even then it may not work, as some batteries have a third power

source-- an embedded battery.


Proposed Fix: Add a mechanical switch, hidden under a plastic cover, that says "TURN

OFF, DAMMIT-- I MEAN IT!!!".  You open the cover, flick the switch, and

viola! the power is cut.  Definitively.


Bug on list since: Jan 2005


Bug Name: Mac: Bend-Over ON, Mouse OFF


Reported by: Noah


Duration: since 2001


Supplier: Apple


Alias: Bend over to turn me on


Product: Every Mac Keyboard/Mac desktop computer combo


Bug: No ON/OFF power button on Keyboard


Class of Error: My way or...actually, just my way.


Principle: Why implement a feature that your manufacturing doesn’t support out of the box? This forces the consumer to spend money on third party solutions if they want to use that feature.


Proposed Fix: Put a 4¢ button on the keyboard. If it’s a power issue, put a rechargeable battery in the keyboard. Sheesh!


Discussion: They stopped putting power buttons on the Apple keyboards...something about USB not being enabled until the computer is powered on. But my MacAlly keyboard works just fine. Go figure. In order to turn a machine ON, I have to press a feedback\-neutral button. In order to turn it off, I have to use the menu...unless it crashes, in which case I have to hold the same feedback-free button for an undetermined amount of time. This, by the way, is a source of another Bug: what happened to the interrupt key? It’s not as if my machine NEVER crashes these days. Sometimes I need to perform a hard reset. Am I venting?


Bug first observed: uhhhh...


Bug reported to Supplier: Someone must have complained before me...


Bug on list since: Jan 2005



Bug: Missing Drivers


Reported by: Phunky Monkey


Duration: >10 years


Supplier: All


Slogan: "No, I don't have the driver disk; find it yourself!"


Alias: Plug-n-Pray


Product: All


Bug: Driver hell


Class of Error: Lack of organized effort


   Principle: When something doesn’t work, ignoring the problem will not make it go away.


Proposed Fix: Let there be a universal internet driver database, where all OSs can automatically go to download the newest drivers. This way, even outdated hardware, hardware from vendors who have gone under, and hardware I've lost the manuals/disks for can be used with ease. Also, OSs should perform the entire discovery, install, and configuration process by themselves, requiring minimal user intervention.


   To ease this process, Hardware manufacturers and OS vendors should form and adhere to more standards, so that more universal drivers can be written, more OSs can be supported, and the entire computing experience can be easier and more consistent all around.


Discussion: Since the beginning of the PC era, adding peripherals to a computer has generally been a nightmare of drivers and software. Even when Microsoft offered up "Plug-n-Play" in Windows 95, most devices still required a magical voodoo dance to be correctly installed. With the advent of the internet, vendors have been shipping unfinished drivers with the products, forcing users to hunt down drivers online and go through the laborious process of updating them.


   Today, this is less of a problem in some areas, and more in others. For example: I can plug in a USB or Firewire hard drive to any of my PC, Mac, and Linux computers, and they all are able to use it without any effort on my part. But... when I plug in a new USB inkjet, the Windows computer requires me to install 150mb (!!!) of drivers, the Mac doesn't support it, and the Linux box catches fire.


Bug on list since: Jan 2005


Canon Printer Drivers


Bug Name: Hardware’s “wishes” more important than user’s wishes


Reported by: anonymous


Since: version 1.0


Supplier: Canon USA


Alias: Dragging the horse behind the cart


Product: Canon drivers for BJC-85 (and other?) printers


Bug: If the user fails the memory test of what cartridge he or she last installed, the software refuses to print the document.


Class of Error: bizarre design


Principle: The user is in control


Proposed Fix: Have software notify user of installed cartridge, then print anyway, if that is user’s wish


Discussion: For several years now, Canon has been shipping a print driver that appears to be the class project of a junior high school computer club.

The user can select exactly how they want to print the document, such as black & white, color, or photo-quality.  However, they have only a one-in-three chance that the document will actually print, because the user can’t really make that choice at all.  The printer makes the choice, depending on what long-forgotten cartridge the user put in the printer some time ago.


It makes sense to warn the users that they’ve told the printer to print in color when there’s black and white cartridge installed.  What doesn’t make sense is that the Canon software instead just refuses to print until the cartridge is changed.


If a color cartridge is installed and the user elected to print in black and white, the printer can handle the job, since one of the colors is black.  If a photo cartridge is installed, it is perfectly capable of both color and black and white, yet it will print neither.  Instead, the user must have elected to print a photo.


Instead, the user is required to “lie” to the software, by claiming to want a color or photo job when the only color in the document is black.  The printer will then do a perfect job of printing.  And what of the first try, when the user stupidly said it wanted to print in black and white?  The user must find and go into the printer driver dialog in order to remove it.  Otherwise, it will suddenly print out six months later when the user gets around to buying a black & white cartridge.


Discussion by Tog:  This bug undoubtedly arose from the finest motives.  On the surface, it even seems like a good idea:  The users install the desired cartridge, indicate how they want the document printed, then await the happy outcome.

We can, however, identify two problems with this procedure.  First, if the users have already identified the printing method by installing the cartridge, they shouldn’t have to re-identify it again in the print dialog.  Second, in real life, users don’t switch cartridges every five minutes.  Instead, they only switch to a black & while only cartridge for long print jobs where the lower-cost-per-copy makes sense. If it's a single page with a little text, they'll print using color, since one of the available colors is black.  This second bug likely persisted as a result of a failure to run an effective beta software program and to solicit user feedback.


Note by Tog: Anonimous may have been a bit harsh, but Canon software can be quite useful to computer science professors in that it displays a wide variety of design errors. Among Canon ImageBrowser's features is its refusal to exit after all documents are closed without demanding of the user, “Are you sure you want to exit?” violating not only the letter of the GUI law, but its spirit as well.


Bug first observed: 2002


Bug on list since: Jan 2005






Since: 1868


Myth:  QWERTY was designed to slow typists.




Discussion: Complaints about QWERTY were the single most popular “design bug” reported.  I certainly did my part to perpetuate the myth in years past, but by 1990, we knew better.


There has been no demonstrable difference shown between QWERTY and DVORAK beyond a certain level of increased “comfort” with DVORAK


Christopher Sholes, in designing the QWERTY keyboard, may indeed have been trying to keep keys from jamming (no one knows for sure), but a way of doing that without slowing typists down is to arrange keys so that the typist alternates fingers.  As it turns out, that’s a good way to relieve stress on the typist, as well..


The Mac has been “Dvorak-ready” since 1984.  Few people have ever taken advantage of it. 


Myth on list since:


Bug Name: Windows keyboard layouts


Reported by: Mat Bergman


Duration: Since the early 1980s


Supplier: PC manufacturers


Alias: “Where’s the ÔAny’ key?”


Product: Most Windows & Linux PC’s


Bug: PCs still use a keyboard standard with roots in IBM’s 1981 PC-AT. It’s loaded with mystery buttons (scroll lock?), obsolete commands (SysRq) and lost opportunities (who uses all twelve of their fuction keys?)


Class of Error: If it ain’t broke...Oh, wait a minute!  It is broke!


Principle: Unnecessary complexity saps user-productivity


Proposed Fix: Remove unnecessary keys from the keyboard.


Proposed Fix from Tog:  Do as Mat suggests, then add a few useful ones, like a second set of Return and Delete keys on the left side of the keyboard, so you can use the mouse and keyboard at the same time, etc.  It’s time to rethink this thing.


Discussion from Tog: Keyboards are the stepchild of today’s computers.  It’s time they got a workover by human computer interaction designers empowered to do something about them.


Mat also raised the “Where’s the ÔAny’ key?” question, one I haven’t heard in many years.  In the 1970s, everyone would tell their users to “Hit any key to continue.”  My programming partner and I used to go around to the different booths at the computer shows.  We would sidle up to some running demo that was demanding we hit any key.  JD would start pounding on one shift key while I kept pressing the other.  We would turn to whoever was personing the booth and them “it isn’t working!” Of course it wasn’t: The shift keys weren’t on the list of “any keys” allowed. Of course, the poor booth person didn’t know that.  Usually, they’d freak out and reboot the thing, which, depending on how crude the computer was, could be quite a task, Ah, those were the days.


Bug on list since: Jan 2005


Bug Name: Obscure Apple keyboard symbols


Reported by: Terry Lawrence


Duration: 20 years and counting...


Supplier: Apple Computer


Alias: What Command Key?


Product: All Apple keyboards.


Bug: Failure to print the Word “Command” on the Command key, and failure to print the shortcut symbol on all other modifier keys.


Class of Error: I know what key it is, so you should too.


Principle: If it isn’t obvious to you, you’re too dumb to own a computer.


Proposed Fix: Print the word “Command” on the Command key, and print the Menu Bar shortcut symbols on all the other modifier keys.


Discussion: All Apple literature refers to the key with the Apple symbol and the four-leaf clover squiggle thingy on it as the Command key, but fails year after year and keyboard redesign after keyboard redesign to actually print the word Command on the key. How difficult is this? If they can print Shift, Option, Control, Delete, Caps Lock, Tab, Enter, and Return on those modifier keys, why is it not possible to print the word Command on the Command key? How is a new user supposed to figure out which key the literature is referring to when it asks them to hold down the Command key and press whatever?


Conversely, this is the ONLY key with the Menu Bar keyboard shortcut symbol on it. Why is in not possible to print the outlined arrow symbol on the Shift key, the railway siding symbol on the Option key, etc? How is a new user supposed to figure out which key those obscure symbols in the Menu Bar keyboard shortcuts refer to? The bottom line is that the people designing the keyboard already know the shortcuts and symbols, and it simply never occurs to them, or they don’t care, that new users, or Windows switchers, don’t.


Discussion by Tog:  Terry is dead-on on this issue. Here’s some history behind it:


The Apple symbol was added to the command key in 1985, when Apple moved to a single add-on keyboard usable on the Apple II and the Mac.  All Apple computers before the Mac had used the Apple symbol, but Mac had had to be different.  It resulted in a collision when the company was brought back together upon Steve’s exit.


The industrial designers had always held sway over the keyboard and on more than one occasion demonstrated a total ignorance about and disregard for the users.  For example, they screen printed the letters on the keycaps for the Apple IIe computer, a system with a prime market of elementary schools, in italic lower-case.  They were finally stopped when we assembled a line-up of teachers that explained to the designers that these kids didn’t know how to read italic lower case.


I’m betting that at this point no one left at Apple has any idea why that Apple symbol still adorns the Command key.  Why else would it grace the PowerBook keyboard?  I don’t think you can use a PowerBook as an Apple II keyboard.


Yes, the Command key needs to say, “Command,” and the standard fonts need to have the other symbols, so “regular programmers” can tell people what key to press.


Bug first observed: 1984


Bug reported to Supplier: Various times to no avail to date.


Bug on list since: Jan 2005

Bug: Apple PowerBook Keyboards


Reported by: Tog


Duration: <5 years


Supplier: Apple


Product: PowerBooks




  1. Excessive heat
  2. Unusable f1-12 keys
  3. Missing support for other keys


Proposed Fix:


  1. Get over the anti-fan mania
  2. Install full-size f1-f12 and make them directly-accessible
  3. Connect the keys on the keyboard to the software


Discussion: Keyboards on Apple PowerBooks serve two purposes—character entry and heat exit.  Yes, they pump a high percentage of the heat from inside the computer up through the keyboard, ideal when typing at the South Pole, painful elsewhere.


They further advertise a “Full Keyboard!” which is skimming the edges of a blatant falsehood, given that they have sawn the f1 through f12 keys exactly in half, making it virtually impossible to type on them.  Even if you could, they’ve made their functions inaccessible unless you hold down the fn button while pressing them.  They’ve instead given users instant access to such frequent operations as brightness and num lock.  I use the brightness key every two years or so, making it not much of a trade-off for access to f1 and f2.  As for num lock, I press than only to turn it back off when I’ve accidentally turned it on.


On the 12” PowerBook, it makes some sense to at least have the keys sawn in half, just to make room.  By the 15”, however, there’s plenty of room, and the 17”, still with the same keyboard, just looks silly. Not only does it have the unusable function keys, but it also lacks the numeric keypad.  The definition of a “full keyboard” gets more and more twisted.


Bug on list since: Jan 2005


Bug: Right keypad button missing


Reported by: Tog


Duration: >10 years


Supplier: Apple


Myth: “We use a one-button mouse!”


Product: PowerBooks


Bug: User-productivity takes a major hit on PowerBooks due to the absence of the second most critical mouse button


Class of Error: Ostrich syndrome


Principle: Purposely damaging the productivity of users is generally a bad idea


Proposed Fix: Split the current single button on the TrackPad


Discussion: In the late 1970s, Larry Tesler, of Xerox PARC and later Apple, carried out an experiment using test subject who had never heard of a mouse.  He found that, in the first hour of use, a single-button mouse produced fewer errors than a two-button mouse.  Thirty years later, billions and billions of people have hundreds and hundreds of hours of experience with mice.  Apple uses, in real life, a five-button mouse, yet Apple stubbornly clings to the myth that they have only one button on their mouse.


The five buttons are click, command-click, option-click, ctrl-click, and shift-click.  Of the five, ctrl-click has the simple, predictable, and universal definition of “bring up a context menu,” just as on Windows.  Unlike with Windows, however, the naïve Mac user has to learn a special way of accessing these menus which requires using the eyes to guide the hands to two different objects—the moue and the ctrl key.  (Yes, a handful of people can touch-type Control, but few do.)

This mossback design can be circumvented rather easily for mouse users:  You spend twenty bucks on a real mouse.  The TrackPad, however, is forever.  Given that the TrackPad is approximately twice as slow as the mouse anyway, this further assault makes it useful only in emergencies.


Bug first observed: 1986


Bug reported to Supplier: 1986


Bug on list since: Jan 2005


Bug Name: Keyboard / Phone keypad layout bug


Reported by: Roman Bielski


Duration: 50 years at least , since push button telephones and adding machines appeared


Supplier: Every telephone manufacturer, every keypad manufacturer


Alias: The upside down numbers bug


Product: Telephone keypads and computer keyboards


Bug: Computer Keypads and telephone keypads have numbers in the opposite order


Class of Error: Grandfather Clause


Principle: Do not invent opposite interfaces for identical functionality


Proposed Fix: Re-order the numbers on the computer keypad


Proposed Fix expanded by Tog: Apple has always offered a Dvorak keyboard layout for the Mac.  OSs can likewise offer inverted numeric keypad layouts.  Keyboard manufacturers should then be encouraged to offer easily-removable keycaps, so the numbers can be rearranged. (Dvorak users touch type; few numeric keypad users do so.)  After a few years, the telephone layout could become the default.


Discussion: Every single desk on the planet has 2 things, a phone and a computer. Why are the keypads upside down? This bug first drove me crazy when computers got Fax Modems and contact lists. When the telephone wire met the computer, you were literally able to “dial” using your keyboard. WOW!


 Except you couldn’t; because the freaking numbers were upside down! Every five minutes of every day, decades of phone dialing collided head-on with decades of typing. It’s like driving your whole life in the US and then renting a car in England, except it happens every time you’re sitting at your desk and move your hand 12 inches to the right.


Discussion by Tog: I did some research on this back in the 1970s, when some of the original people were still at Bell Labs.  Their official position was that usability studies showed users better able to dial using their new, inverted keypad than the traditional adding machine layout.  I suspect that either they or their test subjects, faced with a keypad on a phone, favored a layout patterned after the dial it was replacing, with the lower numbers on top.


We can learn a lesson from all this.  The guys at Bell Lab never expected that adding machines would become widespread—bean-counters were their exclusive users—and they never, ever expected people would be dialing with their adding machines. I’ve found it to be a useful assumption that all technologies may eventually meld, and I always look far a field for precedents when attempting a new design.


Today, we actually have around half our computers with the numbers high to low and the other half with the numbers low to high. The ones with low to high we call cellphones.  It’s time to straighten out the mess.


Sidelight:  England was the first country to set up an emergency call system.  Many countries have followed, but none have used England’s number, which is 999.  They chose 999 because it required a highly deliberate act on the part of the dialer in that pre-touch tone world.  Not so anymore. The countries that followed have chosen codes such as 911 that limit accidents such as this, as archived by the BBC:


Lovers spark emergency response


 A County Durham couple sparked a police emergency when they accidentally called 999 in the throes of passion.


 Officers became concerned when a call came through but all they could hear was the sound of a woman apparently in distress, and a man in the background.


 The call was traced to a house in Stanley and officers, believing it to be an emergency, rushed to the scene.


 The alert ended after a disheveled couple came to the door, reassuring officers no crime had been committed.


Bug on list since: Jan 2005 



Printers & the Windows OS 

Bug: Hello!!! I'm off line!!!


Reported by: Daniel Mordecki


Duration:  at least from 1981 - 23 years


Supplier: Microsoft and all printer manufacturers (I don't know, but may be it is present at other Operating Systems)


User’s favorite saying: “I hate my printer!!!”


Product: Microsoft DOS and all its sons and daughters


Bug: When the printer has a problem, it enters in an "I don't want to talk to anybody" status, and the operating system reports a Printer off line message. No paper status, no ink cartridge status, no information at all can be retrieved.


Class of Error: It was always done like this, why change?


Principle: Users need more information, and useful options when things go wrong, and subtle positive feedback when thing are going OK.


Proposed Fix: change printer drivers sdo they work when the printer is off line (are there any printers nowadays that indeed go off line?)


Discussion: When the original PC was born, it came with a dot matrix printer, usually an Epson FX 80. This printer had a stepper to feed paper in little increments. It had a plastic knob to feed the paper manually, but since both manual and electrical feed couldn't work at the same time, a key was provided to toggle between modes:


 ON LINE. The computer had the control.


 OFF LINE. The human had the control. If you asked the computer to feed paper, the computer answered: "Didn't you turned off line the printer? You have the control now, do it yourself".


More than 20 years later, printer don't have a paper feeding knob, nor an off line key, but they still go stupidly off line when any error appears.


Bug first observed: decades ago


Bug on list since: Jan 2005


Join my intensive (and fun!) lecture/ workshop course. Sign up now!

Interaction Design course: Go from zero to interaction designer in just three days.

You may be coming in cold from engineering or graphic design. You may already be an interaction designer wanting to "fills in the blanks," establishing a more solid theoretical and practical base. I've aimed this course at all of you, covering the needs of both individual contributors and managers.

Join me as I teach the Apple method and show you how to not only organize for and come up with successful designs, but sell them to engineering and upper management.

It's intensive, yes: A one-semester-equivalent with a strong, real-world bias. However, we have a lot of fun along the way, and you'll leave having worked with a team to design and build a complete project, so you will have not only learned, but experienced everything taught.

User Experience Conference Website There's more than my course at an NN/g conference. You'll find a breadth of other specialized courses and networking opportunities that will put you and your company at the leading edge of the design curve.

Don't miss the next action-packed column!
Receive a brief notice when new columns are posted by sending a blank email to

return to top

Contact Us:  AskTog | Nielsen Norman Group Information
Copyright Bruce Tognazzini.  All Rights Reserved