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Hide extensions for known file types

June 27, 2010 1 comment

For every piece of software that communicates with human users, designers and programmers have to decide what level of technical detail they will dispense to the user. The proper approach is to make a profile of your target users and adjust the level to the technical knowledge they have. For example, if you make an IDE for computer programmers, the level can be much higher than when making an internet browser that is meant for the masses. For applications or environments that serve a wide range of users, such as operating systems for PC’s or mobile phones this is of course much harder.

One of the major mistakes Microsoft made (and still is making) in this area is the "Hide extensions for known file types" option in the Windows Explorer. When this is on (which is so by default), users don’t see extensions for files for which an application is registered to handle it. For example, "MyFile.txt" becomes "MyFile" because notepad is registered to open the file when you double-click it. I understand the basic reasoning about this; file name extensions are a technical means and the acronyms like .exe and .gif don’t mean anything to the non technical user, right?

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