If you believe that Microsoft doesn’t know what users really think when they get that irksome little dialogue box that apologizes for the inconvenience after their software blows up, and asks them for permission to send an error report, think again.At the Microsoft Professional Developer’s Conference (PDC) last month, just before the final keynote, we had irrefutable proof that someone in that organization not only knows, but has the same evil thoughts as we do.
A video featuring some Microsoft “researchers” demonstrated the ultimate in developer disciplinary devices: A torture chair that can be remotely triggered by an inconvenienced user.
This chair, lovingly displayed by its creators, had two buttock-prodding spikes in the cushion, electrified armrests and an ejector mechanism that would fling the occupant forward into his or her monitor. Aside from those small idiosyncrasies, it appeared quite comfortable — just the thing for a developer spending long hours polishing the latest and greatest release.
But shifting to the user’s point of view, that chair was part of a greater scheme. When the software blew up and presented its contrite message box, instead of the mundane “Send” and “Don’t Send” buttons, a live image of the offending developer was displayed, and the user could click on “Share the Pain” or “No Pain.”
Can you see it coming?
If the user chose to share, he or she could then select the type of pain to inflict, and watch (and listen) as the hapless programmer got poked, shocked or ejected.
How satisfying to anyone who has lost hours of work when a piece of software decided to go toes-up at exactly the wrong moment. Even the roomful of developers, potential victims of this abuse, enjoyed the notion of getting even — after all, they’re users too.
As a way to energize the audience on the morning after a lively attendee party, the video was perfect.
There’s nothing like a good laugh to get your blood circulating, and Bob Muglia’s keynote, featuring the server-side goodies being announced at the conference, had plenty of content, but not a lot of giggles.
I’m sure a few wicked plots were hatched during that video. I can think of a few chairs I’d like to (ahem) enhance, and there certainly was enough geekish talent in the room to handle the programming as well as the mechanical mischief. You could practically hear the propeller beanies whirring.
It’s almost anticlimactic to know that the reports it has received when users clicked “Send” in the real error dialogue have helped Microsoft stomp many a bug. But somehow I think that anyone who was at that keynote at the PDC will still see “Share the Pain” when they click the Send button, and will recall the sight of a developer flying into the pond on Microsoft’s campus when the super-ejector chair was triggered in the last scene of the video.
Maybe Microsoft should build those visuals into the error handler.

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