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An example of bad UX: Windows Virtual PC

Windows Virtual PC
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I’ve tried to install the Windows Virtual PC today a few days ago. I’ll show you (step by step) what happened and explain what went wrong, because I feel that we all should learn from mistakes of others (and make sure we don’t repeat them).

Without further ado, here’s a screen that welcomes you when you open a download page of Windows Virutal PC:
Download Windows XP Mode with Virtual PC

A lot of information (in case you need it) and two intuitive select fields. System version must matter a lot, otherwise it probably wouldn’t have a prominent position. Extensive language selection is quite cool (for obvious reasons).

I select Home Premium 64-bit system and English language. Download instructions instantly appear on the screen.
Select your edition of Windows 7

I don’t really feel like e-mailing the instructions to myself (I can’t see what’s the point of that) and I don’t want to print them.

I hit download button and a nice and friendly message appears that wants me to validate my Windows.
Windows Validation Required

I’m cool with that, so I press continue.
Windows Validation Required - WindowsActivationUpdate.exe

A sweet little program called “WindowsActivationUpdate.exe” is downloaded. I run it (installation takes about an minute).
Windows Activation Technologies

Installation finishes, but nothing happens. I don’t get a single message that a program was installed (or not installed), so I guess that everything went OK (why shouldn’t it?) and I hit the download button again. And once again, a sweet little program called “WindowsActivationUpdate.exe” is downloaded.

Well, my next guess is that the system needs a restart. I give it a shot, and it works; I can go through the downloading process now. But first, the genuinesation:
Windows Validation in progress

Validation was successful (it took only a few seconds).
Windows validation was successful

The Virtual PC download starts. It’s a 500MB file, so It takes about 20 minutes to download it (on my connection).
Windows XP Mode download

I install Windows XP mode.
Installing Windows XP Mode

But, once again, after the installation is completed, nothing happens. No alert message that the Windows XP mode is (un)successfully installed, no restart requests and no new shortcuts. I assume that the restart is needed and I reboot my machine. Still nothing, no results (or notifications) whatsoever.

I proceed with the infamous steps and download the Windows Virtual PC. Again, Windows has to check that I’m running a genuine Windows software (see pictures above).

I run the installation; Windows first checks my system for installed updates, then it asks me if I really want to install the update KB958559.
Update for Windows (KB958559)

KB958559 in Microsoft language must mean Windows Virtual PC, so I proceed. I read the terms and conditions, press next a few times, and a message pops out asking me to restart my system.
Restart your computer

I restart my system and I find a Windows Virtual Machine shortcut in a Start Menu. I eagerly run it and I’m greeted by a following message:
Unable to start Windows Virtual PC

Quite nice explanation of what’s wrong and what should I do to fix it. I know that changing a BIOS settings can seem a bit radical, but hey, I’m trying to install the Windows Virtual PC here. It’s obvious that I need a Virtualization Technology (I know that I could avoid this by installing the update from Step 4, but I do want Hardware Assisted Virtualization Technology).

So, I restart the computer, enter the BIOS, find the Virtualization Technology and turn it on. I turn off the computer, wait a few seconds and then start the computer again. Exactly as the friendly message suggested.

I run the Windows XP Mode again, and I get another no-no. Windows XP Mode is not available for my edition of Windows.
Windows XP Mode is not available for this edition of Windows

I explore the issue further to find out that you can use Windows XP Mode only on Windows 7 Ultimate, Enterprise and Business editions. I’m out of luck, since I’m running a Home edition.

After this experience I got the feeling that something could be done better (from the UX perspective).

What can be improved

1. The installation instructions.

It may be smart to print out the instructions or to e-mail them to yourself, but only if instructions are detailed, good, and only if you’d be pretty much lost without them. However, if instructions are actually simple download buttons (with a tiny bit of text underneath), they’re not really useful.

In fact, Virtual PC instructions are pretty much useless and very confusing. I thought that maybe I’ll get the real instructions if I e-mail them to myself, or if I print them out. But no, instructions actually are: Print the instructions, download this, download that.

How about explaining the process? Why do I need to print the instructions? How does installation goes? Do I need to restart the system after installing an update? Will every download have to be validated? Why?

Instructions that answer these questions would really be useful.

PS. Please note that Step 4 is very well explained and quite clear. This is how the other steps should look like (at least).

2. Notifications about the installed updates

If I download and install 500MB program (or update), I certainly want to know what happened with it and where did it go. If my action requires a system restart, you should tell me (not force me, just notify me). That way I wouldn’t download “WindowsActivationUpdate.exe” twice, nor would I restart my system in vain.

Windows would like to install an update KB958559. Does this makes any sense to anybody? I clicked on Windows Virtual PC, but an update wants to be installed. What happened to the Virtual PC? Or is this actually a Virtual PC update? I want a reassurance; tell me twice if you need to, just don’t confuse me. Please.

“Do you want to install the Windows Virtual PC? Update for Windows (KB958559)”
Wouldn’t this be infinitely nicer and friendlier?

3. Installation process

Instructions say that you first need to download the Windows XP Mode, but WIndows XP Mode becomes available only when you install Windows Virtual PC. So it appears that Windows Virtual PC is needed to run the Windows XP Mode (and that’s quite logical and reasonable, actually).

If Windows Virtual PC is needed for Windows XP Mode, then why aren’t download steps ordered this way? Wouldn’t it make more sense? At least I wouldn’t be left guessing what happened with Windows XP Mode installation. Did it finish, did it fail, where can I find it?

If installation instructions clearly said that I need to install both, then restart my system, all confusion would be gone.

4. Using collected user data

The biggest and most important question that Microsoft has to answer is this: why did I get the notification that my Windows Edition is not supported after I successfully installed all the components? Couldn’t you tell me this earlier? Lets say, before I’m asked to change my BIOS settings, or better yet, in first step, when I said that I’m using Home Premium 64-bit edition (first two pictures)?

This would have saved me (your customer) a ton of time. And I certainly wouldn’t write a negative UX blog post about the experience.


When you’re designing the experience, try to put yourself in the position of your users. They usually don’t have all the information that you do. If something is obvious to you, it doesn’t mean that it’s clear and obvious for everybody else. Keep that in mind.

And if you are gathering data from the user, then you have the opportunity obligation to use that data to help him.

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  • derrick

    check out the microsoft licensing site. To login you are asked twice in a row, on two separate pages, to press a “LOGIN NOW” button before being taken to the actual login page

    • Sadly, I’m not surprised by this.

      They should definitely pay more attention to UX. Or in other words, they should care about their users more.

  • I feel your pain! How hard is it to have a nice UX. I really don’t understand why it is so hard for big companies to come with nice simple to use products, i.e. MS Skydrive vs Dropbox, and instead they make every simple little step 10 times as hard as it should be.

    I recently had another really bad UX with a seagate drive. You can read my experience down here but in a nutshell, I bought a network drive that I can’t rename, with really crappy software and you NEED to be a geek to install it. Any normal human being wouldn’t be able to.


    • Yes. A good UX can save a bad product, but a bad UX can ruin a good product.

      Or actually, a good UX is what makes a good product actually good. Or something like that.