Every time I need to install an older copy of Windows (today it's Server 2003 Enterprise), I run into the screen where the initial install phase completes and my machine needs to reboot.

The installer explains that the machine needs to reboot and that it will automatically do so in 15 seconds. Alternatively, you can press enter to reboot immediately.

Example from Windows XP Home installation

I always curse profusely when I see this screen, but in earnest I have to wonder... Being that this is coming from Microsoft, I'd imagine it was put through some scrutiny before it was released? If so, what is the benefit to this screen from a UX perspective? If you believe there is none, can you please offer a guess/explanation as to what kinds of misconceptions could have brought this into being?

  • 7
    Do you not need time to take the floppy out of drive A?
    – Brendon
    Apr 11, 2013 at 20:30
  • That's certainly a potential answer... is that the only reason for this? Also in that case, why not just delay indefinitely until the user hits enter? Maybe they're trying to accomodate both scenarios? [Edit: Also, why do newer installs which still rely on physical media not have this prompt?]
    – Ben Burns
    Apr 11, 2013 at 20:41
  • 2
    "coming from Microsoft, I'd imagine it was put through some scrutiny before it was released" = that's just silly. ;)
    – DA01
    Apr 12, 2013 at 7:11
  • 1
    @DA01 I know that was tongue-in-cheek, but I have friends who've worked for Microsoft. Arguably one of Microsoft's biggest flaws is how long they'll spend scrutinizing minuscule details such as these, and how it deviates their focus from scrutinizing the more important things.
    – Ben Burns
    Apr 12, 2013 at 14:05

4 Answers 4


Many bugs in the early days would result in a computer just restarting, so you needed to let someone know why it would be restarting if it was in the normal course of events.

The logical way of doing this would be with a prompt, but considering that many installs were unattended, the delay was a good balance between informing the user what is happening and allowing unattended installs.

  • Modern installation processes pipeline this notification by throwing up a splash to notify the user while the system tear-down is occurring. They also get around the need to remove media post-install by scanning drives for an active install. The technology to do all of that existed when these install processes came out. Can you think of any reason aside from development time/cost as to why this was initially preferred over the now modern way of doing it?
    – Ben Burns
    Apr 12, 2013 at 14:00

It's reasonable to presume that the installer is running either unattended (user has decided to get some coffee, or the installer has been pre-cooked) or that a user is monitoring its progress. In the former case a small delay doesn't matter since no one is actually waiting.

In the latter case the user is able to press Enter to go to reboot immediately. They probably thought it important that you saw this message about a reboot going to happen. A 'sudden' reboot may come unexpected and people may think something had gone wrong. They usually warn about this beforehand, "your computer may restart a few times during install", but perhaps research has shown that people didn't see (/forgot/ignored) this message.

They don't require input also because user input is no longer really required until Windows has started for the first time: all necessary information has already been collected.

Since there are many ways the installer can be run, it probably doesn't know if a medium is still in the drive that may interrupt the reboot. Hence that warning.

  • Actually, back in XP days input was required during the second phase of install.
    – kinokijuf
    Apr 6, 2014 at 7:33

When you are at the last step of the work flow and the result is a complete installation, the user should be told that this is the case. If the computer just restarted without any warning, it might confuse the user. They might wonder if the restart was "planned" or the result of a fatal error during install, a hardware problem, etc.

Also, depending on the boot order specified in the BIOS, a disk in the A: drive would prevent the OS from loading. So giving your user a few seconds to eject the disk would save them more time than accidentally booting off A: and then having to restart and eject the disk.

The screen can be easily skipped by the user with a press of the Enter button, which experienced users will know is coming and can quickly press.

When completing a process it is best practice to inform the user of the result of the process so that there is no confusion as to the state of the system.

  • In this case, it's not the end of a workflow - it's the middle. I see the case for removing the installation media, though modern install processes have gotten around that limitation by scanning drives for an on-going install and jumping to the bootloader on the drive...
    – Ben Burns
    Apr 12, 2013 at 13:57

Apart from what Charles and Koen already covered:

  • Time to take out the floppy disk
  • Time to let the user know of the next step

I would like to point out, it is still a standard practice in Mac OS X. The reason being, rather than just jumping on the gun and getting on with the restart/shutdown command, it gives the user a chance to rethink their decision and undo it.

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Also, the same feature is missing(?) in Windows (prior to 8 at least). Once you press the restart or shut down button, the only thing which prevents the action is any application blocking the process. It is an example of bad UX, because by default, the user has no chance to undo his action.

  • This is an interesting observation, but it doesn't really answer my question. This screen in the installer isn't offering a chance to undo anything.
    – Ben Burns
    Mar 11, 2014 at 20:31

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