A lesson in poor UI design: AOL

After cleaning up my brother’s laptop (more precisely, reformatting it and reinstalling the default factory configuration), I decided to install AOL for him. I went to the web, downloaded the software, and fired off the installation.

After AOL installs itself, it starts up. The first time you run AOL, you are asked whether you are a current member or a new member. Well, I am neither (I don’t have my brother’s AOL information), so I looked for the cancel button. There was none. I pressed the escape key; nothing happened. I tried the close box; it can’t be clicked on, because the front window is a modal dialog. I tried ALT-F4; nothing happened.

This is foolishly frustrating. I figured I’d click the New Member button and look for a subsequent way to cancel this process. The next window I was given asked for all my personal information (name, address, etc.), and provided a single button: Next. No back button, no cancel button. No way to end things.

Intriguingly, if you shut down, AOL will shut down safely, but that’s hardly an effective solution. Clearly, the AOL folks didn’t think of the situation where someone wanted to install the software but not configure it — a task that is relatively common to IT folks.

Overall, a very good example of poor user interface design.