It continue to astounds me that, in this day and age, products that have years of use under their belt, built by teams of professionals, still to this day - fail to provide helpful error messages to the user. In some cases, the addition of just a little piece of extra information could save a user hours of trouble.
A program that generates an error, generated it for a reason. It has everything at its disposal to inform the user as much as it can, why something failed. And yet it seems that providing information to aid the user is a low-priority. I think this is a huge failing.
One example is from SQL Server. When you try and restore a database that is in use, it quite rightly won't let you. SQL Server knows what processes and applications are accessing it. Why can't it include information about the process(es) that are using the database? I know not everyone passes an
Applicatio_Name attribute on their connection string, but even a hint about the machine in question could be helpful.
Another candidate, also SQL Server (and mySQL) is the lovely
string or binary data would be truncated error message and equivalents. A lot of the time, a simple perusal of the SQL statement that was generated and the table shows which column is the culprit. This isn't always the case, and if the database engine picked up on the error, why can't it save us that time and just tells us which damned column it was? On this example, you could argue that there may be a performance hit to checking it and that this would impede the writer. Fine, I'll buy that. How about, once the database engine knows there is an error, it does a quick comparison after-the-fact, between values that were going to be stored, versus the column lengths. Then display that to the user.
ASP.NET's horrid Table Adapters are also guilty. Queries can be executed and one can be given an error message saying that a constraint somewhere is being violated. Thanks for that. Time to compare my data model against the database, because the developers are too lazy to provide even a row number, or example data. (For the record, I'd never use this data-access method by choice, it's just a project I have inherited!).
Whenever I throw an exception from my C# or C++ code, I provide everything I have at hand to the user. The decision has been made to throw it, so the more information I can give, the better. Why did my function throw an exception? What was passed in, and what was expected? It takes me just a little longer to put something meaningful in the body of an exception message. Hell, it does nothing but help me whilst I develop, because I know my code throws things that are meaningful.
One could argue that complicated exception messages should not be displayed to the user. Whilst I disagree with that, it is an argument that can easily be appeased by having a different level of verbosity depending on your build. Even then, the users of ASP.NET and SQL Server are not your typical users, and would prefer something full of verbosity and yummy information because they can track down their problems faster.
Why to developers think it is okay, in this day and age, to provide the bare minimum amount of information when an error occurs?
It's 2011 guys, come on.