Touching again on the whole topic of “don’t steal the focus,” I thought I’d point out that the Microsoft Windows Vista User Experience Guidelines has an entire section just on Error Messages, and wouldn’t you know… they advise you not to steal the focus from the user.
Although they may sometimes be guilty of violating their own guidelines, I have to give Microsoft credit for producing this document. Not only do they tell you what the guidelines are, but they provide examples of “wrong” behavior – which are almost always from Microsoft products!
It takes guts to admit you’re wrong, and that’s basically what they’ve done here. They poke at Windows XP quite a bit, and (surprisingly) even some bits of Windows Vista itself… which is weird, in a way. Windows Vista violating the Windows Vista guidelines. Huh.
If you have a lot of time to kill, reading through those design guidelines is well worth it. Though I can’t help but notice that these guidelines seem to take a lot of cues from… Apple. Especially the whole “verb/action button” policy. Instead of using “Yes/No/Cancel,” instead they now recommend using something like “Delete/Don’t Delete/Cancel.” Notice how the one with verbs on the buttons is easier to understand? You don’t even need to see the dialog box – you know immediately what it’s going to do. The Mac has been doing that for years, but Windows has just caught on – and I am very glad it did. It just makes sense, after all.
Anyway, I’m digressing here. Go read the guidelines (or at least the ones for error messages) and in the future you may find yourself noticing violations… and then you’ll get annoyed at programs that steal the focus, just like I do. 🙂