Exact Progress Bar
In TV and movies, all computer operations take an exact, known amount of time to perform, and all progress bars move smoothly at a constant rate. This will always be 100% accurate
. Generally, in Real Life
, it's more complicated. Just try copying a large folder in Windows and see for yourself.
When the realistic style of progress bar shows up in fiction, it's an aversion
of this trope, which can be played for tension or laughs as the character reacts to every jump or freeze in progress.
In real life, some jobs are predictable and some are not, and this is always highly dependent on actual implementation details that are beyond this article.
See also Beeping Computers
, Exact Time to Failure
and Magic Countdown
Anime and Manga
- Averted in Lucky Star, where Konata is increasingly annoyed by the realistically fluctuating progress bar on her PC.
- Digimon Tamers, which normally takes a tremendous amount of liberties with how computers and networks work, averts this at least once. Progress on a set of calculations is shown in the normal way a computer would display it...with a heavily chunked progress bar, the end segment blinking, and stuck at a certain percent. No estimated time is shown.
- In the Iron Man movie, during the final upload to the Mark I suit, the progress bar very visibly speeds up and jumps toward the end.
- Parodied in Office Space. When Peter tries to leave before Lumbergh catches him, it appears that his progress bar will finish in time. Then it restarts... and restarts again... and again...
- In the film DOA: Dead or Alive , the Big Bad is uploading the plans for his invention to a bunch of international buyers. Naturally, the progress bar is quickly filling up, despite the fact that these buyers are all, presumably, located in different locations. When Wetherby manages to stop the upload, the bar reverses and quickly goes back to 0. Just to be more ridiculous, Wetherby calls in the government by going to CIA.GOV on an internet browser and... not doing much else. Apparently, that's enough to call in the cavalry, and the Big Bad is immediately warned by a large blinking message on his screen "CIA Notified".
- Any movie or TV show where an illicit financial transaction is carried out. Instead of a real banking website, which takes just as long to process each money transfer, the computer will show a progress bar - as if the computer is actually moving individual banknotes and counting them as it does so...
- One of the Alias novels has Sydney trying to upload a virus to a computer while pretending to be one of the spies for the Russian organization. Most of the tension of the scene is caused by the progress bar jumping back and slowing down at random, while the biggest threat to her cover is on her way to check the computer.
- in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow has to try doing research without magic after her brush with "addiction". When a progress bar stops about halfway, she reaches her hand up to speed it along with magic, but then it suddenly finishes loading.
- Used and averted on Caprica. Several times characters get frustrated because a progress bar sticks at 95% or so before resuming and completing.
- Apparently not even Higher-Tech Species are immune: at one point in Stargate SG-1, an Asgard progress bar is shown at around 75% for a few minutes, then abruptly increases to 100% in a couple of seconds.
- On MSN Games, you see an ad before and sometimes interrupting gameplay. Below the ad is a progress bar that says "x% complete" and progresses at a constant rate. If the ad is not a video, the game will begin exactly when the bar reaches 100%. Of course this is not a real progress bar but a fixed delay disguised as one. (In the case of videos, the game will begin when the video finishes playing.)
- There is a radio station named Lite 96 whose site has this when loading the radio stream.
- In Star Harbor Nights, when an alien machine Hive Mind is trying to infiltrate a villainess's Elaborate Underground Base full of Phlebotinum waiting to be assimilated, the download progress bar keeps resetting and jumping around randomly, undermining her attempts to play Enemy Of My Enemy with the government.
- Parodied in The Fairly OddParents episode "Information Stupor Highway". While Mr. Crocker is uploading a file with a 1-month-old computer, the progress bar actually drops to -1%, among other tortures.
- In Futurama, although the fake nose machine that also translates alien documents doesn't have a progress bar, it is stated that the exact process of translating a document could take anywhere from a few moments to a million years. The only indication of progress is the machine dinging. Two dings means it's done. Not like that, slightly more rapid.
- On the other hand, downloading the entirety of a human being's personality into a robot is measurable with an exact progress bar and apparently only takes about one second, as seen when Fry dates a robot clone of Lucy Liu.
- You expected the bar to show you how long a process is going to take? Sorry, they tend to just show the amount of operations the program is going to perform. With no consideration of the order or complexity of those operations. Or how suited your computer is to performing any of them. It's a lot like watching someone build a Lego model: You can see the pieces adding up, and the picture tells you how it's going to look when it's finished, but those things do not give an accurate indication of the time involved.
- Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" has a startup progress bar that moves at a constant rate, using information about the duration of the previous system boot to determine how quickly it should move. Though technically it isn't a progress bar at all since it doesn't indicate the progress of the current operation, but rather how long it took last time.
- 10.5 "Leopard" just tossed out this progress bar entirely, going straight from the gray Apple logo initially visible on boot to (after a couple of seconds) the login window.
- Some ATMs in Germany ("Postbank") show progress bars which move at a constant rate... And then, when they're full, start from the beginning. What's the purpose of a progress bar, when it doesn't give you any information at all?
- It does show that the system hasn't crashed. Without additional status text, though, it doesn't show the difference between "meaningful progress" and "stuck in an infinite loop".
- For the most part, one is more likely to see a hideous inversion. If copying a diverse enough set of files in Windows (XP and earlier in particular), it's not rare at all to see estimates of "5 seconds, 1 hour 34 minutes, 0 seconds, 1 hour 56 minutes", etc, even if the transfer is halfway done.
- This has carried over into Windows Vista and 7, and there is a reason behind why the estimates fluctuate. The estimated time remaining is based on the size of the file currently being copied, and assumes that all remaining files are the same size, meaning it is constantly changing.Example
- Some tools estimate progress based on the total sizes of the files being copied. This is equally inaccurate when file sizes vary, but in the opposite direction, because adding a file to a folder involves some overhead work.
- Played straight in later versions of Windows with a much improved file copy dialog.
- When doing something which might take a long time, but where the exact amount of time to complete is unknown, a fake progress bar is often used to show that something is happening. Such progress bars often start out fast at the beginning, but will keep slowing down towards the end; alternatively, they may simply be a prescripted animation and loop back to zero. Many modern installers have the progress bar filled with a perpetually moving fade rather than any kind of indicative marker, for this very purpose.
- In the programming industry, these fake bars are often nicknamed 'pacifiers'. Stick one in the face of an end user, and they'll be quiet for as long as you need.
- Sometimes the progress bar is exact but misleading. Linux has a tendency to aggressively cache files when transferring a large amount of data. When copying from a fast device to a slower device, files will appear to copy extremely quickly (the progress bar fills up quickly), then comes to a halt as the cache fills and becomes bottlenecked by the destination. Bonus points for when the progress bar fills up and disappears (or the cp/mv command you're running finishes), but the transfer isn't actually done (discovered when attempting to unmount the device) thanks to the write cache not being finished with its part.
- Windows 8 now gives you a "Show Details" button for some operations, which not only shows what jobs are happening, it also turns the bar into a curve graph that tells you how quickly it'll be moving under its jobs.
- The anti-piracy "You wouldn't steal a car" advert on many DV Ds shows a girl downloading a movie. The progress bar is unrealistic, not just because it's completely smooth - but because it only takes about 20 seconds to complete. This may actually be enough to encourage people to use questionable download sites...