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This is in the context of a desktop application.

Typically if you fire off a request to some back end server then it is nice to be able to show some sort of progress indicator in say the status with a message describing the action taken.

But what if the user has initiated multiple requests and you want to be able to show the progress of each? Is there a standard/accepted/good approach for displaying this sort of information?

I've been unable to think of one or find something similar on my searches.

Interested in hearing what others are doing for this problem.

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2 Answers 2

A pretty standard example of such an implementation is in the area of file transfer - eg for ftp file transfer between desktop and hosting website. You typically transfer a bunch of files and leave it be, so that you don't have to transfer one at a time.

So the application shows a reporting or log window/area with a list of the files to transfer, indicating whether they have started or are pending transfer. The order is 'last file to transfer at the bottom'. Typically, several files can be transferring at any one time.

As each file starts transferring, a progress bar appears next to the file name in the list and a percentage shows. When a file finishes transferring, it is removed from the list. In this way, an overall progress percentage can also be determined and displayed to get an idea of overall progress and so judge the approximate time left. It's important to give a meaningful idea of total time left.

Search google (or google images) for 'filezilla screenshots' or 'cuteftp screenshots' and you should pretty quickly find some screenshots showing the progress window at the bottom of the main window.

These apps also give other useful information for each file depending on the context but you don't have to if all your user is interested in is the item and the progress.

The important thing is that the user sees feedback that

  • a) things are proceeding
  • b) they can judge how fast or how slow they are proceeding
  • c) they quickly understand that all items will continue without further intervention
  • d) they can get an overall picture very quickly
  • e) they can estimate or preferably be told actually how long is left (not too vague and not too accurate)
  • f) if the context is such that the user might go and do something else whilst waiting, then preferably they are notified on completion (bell)
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Depending on your technical architecture you may not be able to give a good sense of time for what's left. The only other thing is that this more applies to an application where the main point is to see the progress of these items. My case is really that certain actions happen within the context of the application but they can happen in parallel and we want to have some sort of visibility that there are multiple things happening. Our current status is displayed in a typical message in a status bar at the bottom of the application at present. –  Johnathan Jun 19 '11 at 11:25
    
In that case, perhaps the concept of an activity bar is more relevant - like say a CPU or disk usage meter, or an audio channel(s) meter. Either one or two dimensional depending on the contextual meaningfulness. The more things happening concurrently, the greater the rating shown on the activity bar(s) - one section of the bar for each concurrent active process. You may or may not want to colourise depending on whether the impact of having more or less concurrent items is important. As you wanted to show progress of each process, the 2D options sounds relevant and could be made quite compact. –  Roger Attrill Jun 19 '11 at 21:25
    
By way of example: bit.ly/msjzyb –  Roger Attrill Jun 19 '11 at 21:40

It's going to depend on how many parallel processes have been launched.

If it's only a few then you could show a progress meter for each on the main page. The drawback with this is that it takes up more space the more processes you have - and eventually you will run out of space and overwhelm the user with information.

For many processes you could have a separate page that shows them all with only the most "interesting" ones on the main page. The value of interesting could be either the most recently started, the longest running, the nearest to completion, the ones using the most memory, CPU etc.

Google Chrome does this when downloading files. The last few are shown at the foot of the page with a link to "all downloads". Clicking this shows the full list (including completed ones - but that's irrelevant here I think).

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