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Many applications implement some sort of progress bar or spinning circle to indicate loading of significant size.

In Windows 10 updates and some games, I've noticed that these loading elements sometimes actually freeze and then continue. However, this really doesn't make sense since I'd imagine the UI is running asynchronously as otherwise the UI would always be frozen.

In the case, since the UI is most likely running in an asynchronous thread, is the freezing done on purpose? As a method of telling the user that something is actually happening?

  • It’s safe to say they don’t freeze on purpose, except for the fact they freeze due to the underlying processes. They purposely wait and gain feedback on the underlying process. Sometimes loading is a measurement of time, sometimes it’s % of files, sometimes it’s % of bytes. Never is it going to be accurate during installation. Go look at an Apple App install. It’ll download an app for 75% if it’s loading bar in 45s and then the install will take 2mins with the loading bar frozen on “Installing” – vol7ron Mar 11 '18 at 15:14
  • Aha, that does make sense. So it's resyncing with the UI thread? – Shon Verch Mar 11 '18 at 15:39
  • In some cases the processors are frozen to ensure proper installation or it might need all the resources, in other cases, yes the feedback just hasn't gotten back to the UI because the step takes a while. — I don't know what happened with the grammar at the end of that comment, I think the 75% if was supposed to be 75% of. – vol7ron Mar 11 '18 at 16:07
  • I also forgot to mention that sometimes, developers put in the feedback as stages, almost like working through pages of a form. Consider a form having 5 pages and a progress bar. Each page might tick off 20% of that progress bar, but each page could also have varying degrees of questions (all pages could have 10 and the last could have 100). So the progress (and time) is not tied to the number of questions or time spent, but merely pages of the form. – vol7ron Mar 11 '18 at 16:10
  • Automated downloads try to estimate the time it will take to download something by determining file sizes and figuring out download speeds and coming up with an average progress that way or recalculating at varying intervals. Suffice to say, there is no magic one-way-fits-all solution. – vol7ron Mar 11 '18 at 16:12
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Yes. It's placebo.

Remember that progress in human perception is not a number of files copied or requests sent, it is rather time. Of course for some Users it will be that machine-related thing, though so it depends on the context and background User may have.

When it comes to time very often (I'd say even: usually) telling the exact progress in time is not possible – which is especially valid for multi-stage processes, consisting of different operations and with multiple dependencies that may affect it. Therefore, the progress bar with constant length needs to represent variable time.

From now on, everything comes to building up the satisfaction of the User. Various techniques can be used here, for example:

  • encapsulating some of the processes in a seemingly not changing progress indicator, only to let it quickly straight go to the end as most operations are done,
  • using an additional pattern to show the process is alive (a blink on the progress bar (e.g. Windows 98 loading "progress" bar used only this),
  • faking that something loads quickly (see Safari mobile load indicator – which is mostly a fake, it goes to 90% and then slows down if the page has not loaded yet).
  • 1
    Is there a source for Windows 10's freezing being a placebo? – bace1000 Mar 11 '18 at 11:00

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