Last night I figured I would do something useful and go through the Suse 10.0 rc1 installation. It is a very pretty and straightforward installation process provided you have the CD media to install packages. One button label, which was EVERYWHERE, bothered me a bit:


This is a very strong word. In English, it is much stronger and negative than Cancel (which is generally neutral). It is rarely (if ever) used in UIs. I'm not sure if average users who have never see it would understand 'Abort' in the context of a user interface. It is much more serious than 'Cancel' (which many users have encountered and understand to a degree) and users may even be afraid to click on it because it sounds so serious and they dont know what might happen.

The label is scattered all throughout the installation and yast2 applications. I would suggest evalutating the meaning and action of "Abort" and rename it to something less menacing such as "Cancel" or something more explicit and descriptive of the individual action.


Also added this bug to Novell's bugzilla.

The reboot for the second part of the installation is confusing because user's are not fore-warned the system is going to be rebooted (until it says 'I'm going to reboot now'), and they are not informed what option they should select from the installation menu.

By seele at Fri, 09/16/2005 - 17:27

Abort and Cancel don't mean exactly the same thing, in common usage in my experience Cancel means to stop something from happening before it begins and Abort means to stop something during the process before it is complete. The dictionary definitions appear to corroborate this, so abort would be the correct term to use during the installation before it is complete, if you wish to interrupt it

By benjiman at Fri, 09/16/2005 - 21:39

Expecting the user to know and understand the difference of the words, and then apply it to the context of a system they don't understand is unreasonable. That is assuming they have built a correct mental model of the process. All it does is set up the user to make an error, of which they will blame them self and become uncomfortable with the system. A computer system shouldn't require users to have such a command of the terminology and language used, in order to know such minute details. We are not building these systems for PhDs to use, and even then, they may not all be Computer Scientists.

By seele at Sat, 09/17/2005 - 00:17

calling it cancel would probably confuse the user more, you cancel an event if there is rain forcast, but you "abort" a pregnancy that is in progress. This is how the words are used in everyday langauge.

By benjiman at Sat, 09/17/2005 - 11:26

Youre missing the fact that "Abort" is hardly used in other GUIs, and a lot of users have never had to make that decision before. "Abort" may be more linguisticly correct, but if a user isnt comfortablenth selecting an option which they have never seen before, AND they are not completely sure of the meaning, and they are not sure what to expect, you have a problem.

Peoples definitions of words change with the context. We try to come up with metaphors to help users understand actions but they don't always fit with real life. "Abort" and "Cancel" both have the general meaning "to end, or stop", and users are not going to think very deeply about the difference in meaning when they have to make a decision.

My points about all this are:

  • Cancel is a more trusted word than Abort
  • Abort has a more negative and serious tone
  • Abort is never, or infrequently used in interface vocabulary
  • Users have move experience with the consequences of Cancel
  • Abort is not used in every day language (English)
  • Abort and cancel mean virtually the same thing, So they shouldn't be mixed in the same interface

It is just not a good label to use.

By seele at Sat, 09/17/2005 - 14:53

"Cancel is a more trusted word than abort"

cancel is more trusted because it means that what you are stopping has not yet begun, so cancelling is less likely to cause a problem, confusing the two will decrease the trust in cancel.

"Abort has more negative and serious tone"

for a reason, the process has allready begun,the user needs to be aware of this

"Abort is never or infrequently used in interface vocabulary"

This is only true in very recent times, so more users will be familiar with a/r/f anyhow. Every interface i've used has used abort retry fail, atari st, dos, windows 3.1, suse etc etc

"Users have more experience with the consequences of cancel"

Because more often things are cancellable which is a good thing, it's always better to cancel something before it starts than abort it in the middle. again the distinction is a good thing as it forces the user to realise that aborting in the middle of the process is more serious.

"Abort is not used in every day language (English)"

Not true, abort is used in literature frequently, and many films have quotes like abort the missile attack, abort the medical procedure. tomorrow never dies, apollo 13, star trek first contact, to name a few off the top of my head.

"Abort and cancel mean virtually the same thing, so they shouldn't be mixed in the same interface"

Again the subtle difference in the consequences is just why a different word should be used, so the user is aware of this.

By benjiman at Sat, 09/17/2005 - 21:08

    Abort has more negative and serious tone
    for a reason, the process has allready begun,the user needs to be aware of this

For some reason I got the distinct impression that phrases like "used all over the installer" would warn you that this is not about aborting the installation of a package. The only case where your argument holds.

So I really think you are missing the point of Celeste here. Did you actually look at the software seele looked at?

By Thomas Zander at Wed, 09/21/2005 - 18:23

Sometimes with some software it is not possible for an operation to be canceled. That means that if the operation is halted, the software/data will not be in the same state when the operation was started. This is the correct use of Abort in software. If the button will cancel the operation it (should) mean the state of the software/data/computer will be as it was before the operation was started. This is not always the case, but not everyone polishes their software.

I admit it is far better for it to be possible to cancel an operation, but the reality is that even with very polished software some operations cannot be aborted. Eg a disk format. It would be misleading to suggest that a format can somehow be canceled, hence the use of Abort.

Your argument that the user doesn't understand the difference is strange. The difference exists and the words should be different, experienced users will understand the difference, inexperienced users will eventually learn the difference, and for situations where the Abort is something the user probably doesn't want to do, a warning dialog (or some other interruption method) should be used. At least that's what I'd do with my software.

So yes the reason abort sounds more harsh is because when used appropriately the consequences are more harsh.

By mxcl at Sat, 09/17/2005 - 03:41