Error Message Hall of Fame

Given you are using a computer to read these words it is a pretty safe assumption that you’ve come across error messages that mean bugger all unless you have a PhD in Computer Science 1.  I’m starting to collect my favourites – ones that show that the people behind them are sociopaths 2. So this page is going to show my (growing) collection.

Obviously, we have strict rules of admission: any hint of helpfulness is an instant disqualification.  Clearly, this is a never-ending pursuit – so come back regularly – this is a topic that just keeps on giving.  But not all errors are equal, and so I’ll be assigning my own scientifically verified rating system with 100% meaning pure gold, down to 0 meaning “verging on the helpful”. The editor’s decision is final of course 3.  As usual, click on the thumbnail to see the error in its full glory.  Finally, if you come across a classic error message you’d like to share then please get in touch – riches and glory will follow 4.

Sadly, my absolute favourite was before graphical interfaces and so I haven’t got a screen-grab of the Unix kernel exception “Whoa there Trigger!  It’s a page boundary.” 5.

Server Execution FailedImages of a waiter and a guy with a blunt axe hacking away at his neck spring to mind here. And all I wanted to do was watch a video: I didn’t realise there was so much risk. Rating = 30%.

Yahoo GroupsThis one is from a Yahoo group.  It’s the embedded HTML break that makes this art. Rating = 20%

SharePointSo much to love here: whether it is the 128-bit correllation GUID (kindly shown in hex) I have to remember to mention when I contact them about this SNAFU, or the we-can’t-be-bothered-localising-the-date-time-to-your-selected-locale detail.  Excellent work here from Microsoft. Rating = 60%

iTunesA bit tedious (because there are so many variants on this: iTunes really is ineffably awful – why does it take 80Mb of software to play a CD? Badly?) but we liked the fact that the error was so unknown that Apple gave it a unique error code. Typical Apple style, but we had hoped for better. Rating = 30%

GoogleA bit too cute here: we liked the robot graphic but the “That’s an error” resulted in 5 minutes of Anglo-Saxon rants. Come on Google try searching for something helpful to say.  To paraphrase the Missus: “If you can’t say something helpful, don’t say anything at all!”.  Rating = 20%

File Attribute table fullA classic from Microsoft here: something that sounds catastrophic with only an OK button to press to indicate that you are happy to throw your on-line life down the toilet.  User panic with impotence – the dream of every developer.  Rating = 50%

Outlook can't send emailMicrosoft Office is the well that never runs dry. I’ve been using these “products” for literally decades but the one that always makes me want to void my Alimentary canal is Outlook. It’s a program that handles email and a calendar. Woo, bloody, hoo. I’ve been using email for over thirty years and it really isn’t that hard. So you can imagine my joy at seeing this popup when I want to send an email: not prove the existence of the Higgs boson you understand, just send some text to someone else on the Internet. I wonder what operation failed: hopefully the brain-transplant of the moron who wrote this junk. Rating = 60%

OutlookFailedAnd this is how Outlook 2013 handles it: clearly they have been reading this blog and what to improve things.  Notice the new link asking whether the information was helpful: I bet they spent months with focus groups and User Experience Evangelists 6 to come up with that.  Still, it gets a slight improvement in the rating because it just so pathetic.  Rating = 61%

Yet another Outlook SNAFUNow this is Microsoft back to form in Outlook.  Rating = 62%

Vodafone stack traceNow we are getting into real class: we get a stack trace showing all the crud that Vodafone uses to (try to) show me my account details.  Like me, I’m sure you peruse the stack looking for the fun bits.  Luckily it’s not my credit card that it being handled by this bunch of clowns.  Rating = 80%


BrowserCertificateIf you’ve ever had the misfortunate of straying into digital certificate land then you’ll know it is ripe with errors that make you weep. The people who wrote the software spewing them were clearly beaten as children (probably by great aunts) and left deeply traumatised. As a modest example of their art may I offer this example. I have no idea what this means. The “person” who wrote it has no idea what it means. But it is nice to share (said his great aunt between applications of the baseball bat) and so he wants us to see it too. Rating = 90%.

SamsungDriveBe upstanding for the Queen of Errors: a Samsung external drive utility would spew out this every time you tried to access it.  I love the error message and the attempt to make me feel better by the button saying that it was all “OK”.  That Clarus is behind this software-vomit should surprise no-one: they are the evidence that give enough monkeys enough time they could write something that would compile.  Rating = 95%

I didn’t realise my 750GB external drive was SO big on the inside until I tried to delete a folder and found it had 162 Million files in it taking up a capacious 41.4 Terabytes. If you don’t believe me here’s Windows giving you the proof. Rating = 70%.


  1. And believe me, that doesn’t help that much.
  2. And remember that I’m in this group too, because I write my fair share.
  3. However, please contact me to discuss my current bribe levels.
  4. Sadly, not to you.
  5. This may be apocryphal but the Missus told me about it, so I regard it as an axiom – you’d be wise to do the same.
  6. Yes, they really do have people with that on their business cards.