November 5th, 2017

The hide-and-seek toolbar

I usually take Sundays off from posting. After all, a person’s got to do the dishes now and then, right?

But that doesn’t mean I swear off the computer on Sundays entirely. More’s the pity; I probably should, but that’s what addiction’s all about.

Today I went to the computer to check a few things and discovered that overnight my toolbar had disappeared. I’ve been using computers for over twenty years, and this happens now and then for no reason I’ve even been able to figure out. Periodically, that handy little line way up on top that says things like “File,” “Edit,” “View,” “History,” “Bookmarks,” “Tools” (and the least helpful of them all, “Help”) goes on walkabout and I have no idea why and no idea how to bring it back.

That’s good for at least a half hour of Googling, reading instructions, and trying to apply them when they don’t correspond at all to what I’m seeing on my computer, and then finally finding a set of instructions that wasn’t written by programmers who already know exactly what they’re talking about anyway and see no reason to communicate anything clearly to the rest of us stupidheads.

Do you detect a note of frustration here? If so, you are correct. But at least I have my beloved, much-used toolbar back.

While we’re on the subject, why would a person want to hide every command on the screen? Is there some esthetic that dictates that a clean look is cool? Does the person just want to maximize the size of the display? Does it have something to do with the ubiquity of cellphones and tablets, which have small screens?

More and more I find that my time is taken up with this game of hide-and-seek, or “icon, icon, what’s the meaning of this icon?” I prefer words to graphics, and in that I’m probably in the minority.

27 Responses to “The hide-and-seek toolbar”

  1. groundhog Says:

    Once in awhile I do think tech stuff is improved, but a lot of time so-called “improvements” are just annoying or unneeded.

    I like to be in total control of either cluttering up my screen or not –not let someone else decide I need a super empty screen with slick features tucked away like Easter eggs where I have to hunt just to find them.

  2. F Says:

    The simple answer is probably that most programmers think “no one has instructions on a hammer,” as if using a computer is as obvious as using a hammer.

    They are wrong, of course. Dead wrong.

    But I presume they grew up as my four-year-old grandson is growing up: poking and swiping at a computer screen randomly, and eventually seeing a pattern in the response he is getting. The problem for me is that my grandson (and programmers, I presume) remembers what act accomplished what result — I do not. Even if I just did it, I do not remember.

    For some reason, though, I don’t need instructions on a hammer.

  3. neo-neocon Says:

    groundhog; F:

    My sentiments exactly.

  4. neo-neocon Says:

    Also, people over 30 (and I am considerably over 30) are not what programmers have in mind when they design things.
    They’re pitching it to the person who grew up with computers and/or the person who intuitively senses what’s going on with them and can find the hidden command without fail. Memory also has to do with it; if I use a certain function once in a while how am I supposed to remember where it’s hiding?

    But what happened today was a spontaneous change in my display settings (if that’s the right term), something I didn’t ask for and didn’t want, something that was rather hard to find the key to reverse. Why did that happen? It happens every now and then and I can’t figure out why.

  5. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    Did you encounter Kiosk Mode?
    This is intended to deny the viwer access not programmed on the screen.

  6. Cap'n Rusty Says:

    Windows or Apple?

  7. Ken Mitchell Says:

    If you’re using a Windows computer, try using a “restore point” to fix some of these user interface glitches.

  8. JK Brown Says:

    Apparently, it’s them youts.

    This post over at Coyote Blog on smart phone design being driven by millennial emphasis on aesthetics even if functionally the phone then needs to be up-aromored to survive normal use is along the same lines.

    Now why they impose that on update? Who knows. I hadn’t used my Amazon Fire TV in a while. When I brought it up they had totally f’d up the interface making finding things difficult. I just turned the thing off. Maybe I’ll try again later.

  9. T Says:


    You and I are in a similar age bracket. What I’ve noticed about the so-called improvements in computer software is this: They oftentimes add functions that I don’t need or ever have any intention of using. They shuffle around the functions I DO use so that with each upgrade I am forced to spend time hunting for what I use. Each new software or OS edition seems to become less intuitive and less logical. It seems that the fundamental purpose behind updates is to simply to make them different than their predecessor.

  10. MollyNH Says:

    I worked for a computer company as a nurse in their health services, & they were constantly changing up on us. Medical people are slow on the uptake what * works* is good & we would rather stick with that. I asked a nerd there, why these continual adjustments ??? His reponse, “to keep you on your game, to have you * expect* things to be different so you’ ll be accustomed to change.

  11. PunchCardProcessing Says:

    Back in the day, we had two sayings about computers and computer programs:
    1) “It ain’t broke, but we’ll fix it!”
    2) “We don’t have time to do it right, but we’ve got time to fix it!”

    Another was ore of an observation: We marveled at how quickly (well, in those days) work could be accomplished. We, also, recognized just how quickly they could get fouled up.

  12. JFM Says:

    Software companies: “We can’t make it better but we can make it different.”

  13. steve walsh Says:

    Liberals & Progressives do this sort of thing, conservatives tend to preserve what works well and best, focusing instead of fixing stuff that is actually broken.


  14. Cornflour Says:

    With most browsers, the F11 key toggles between the default view and the fullscreen view. Neo describes this as the missing toolbar.

    I’ve done a few presentations using a browser instead of PowerPoint, and found this toggle to be useful.

    Unfortunately, it’s easy to hit the F11 key by mistake. If the user doesn’t know what’s happened, confusion’s a normal response.

    There could be another explanation, but this is the simplest one, so it comes naturally to me.

  15. Ruth H Says:

    You are not alone. You’ve probably noticed that by now, most commenters seem to agree. I think it an age thing.

    Youngsters for a long time now have been presented and raised on a visual busyness that drives me nuts. It’s distracting and hard to watch for my old eyes. Why everything must be moving, dancing or whatever, and accompanied by music that is not soothing is beyond my understanding.
    As for those vanishing toolbars…… aargh! I do pretty well know how to get them back, but my husband who has a Phd, has never bothered to do anything but type and then run to me when the toolbars disappear. I sometimes consider myself Granny Geek. He isn’t interested in the busyness of most pages, either.

  16. neo-neocon Says:


    I originally tried that, but that wasn’t the culprit. I couldn’t even explain what it was, but it was something more complicated.

  17. fast richard Says:

    F11, I did not know that. Maybe I’ll find a use for it.

    I’ve watched computer geeks trying to use hammers. It would have been hilarious if it weren’t so appalling.

  18. Tuvea Says:

    I was a computer ‘professional’ for over four decades. Most of that time spent as a programmer.

    During that period I heard all of the complaints mentioned above. And more besides.

    I wish I were able to defend my ‘profession’ against all those complaints.

    But I can’t.

    Most programmers, maybe especially those today, just want to play with all the shiny new toys. Either hardware or software. They really couldn’t care less about user wants or needs.

    Since I came into the field with an Accounting degree I thought their attitude was childish, to say the least.

    Our role was to HELP and not hinder.

    As best as I can tell programmers in the main STILL don’t deserve a seat at the grown-ups table.

    As The Man might put it … “Sad. Very sad.”

  19. mark30339 Says:

    A single strike of the ALT key usually provides improved menu options on a PC.

    Also the free download CLASSIC SHELL is a welcome help for me.

    The keepers of the programming oligarchy get away with these impositions because no effective competitor exists to compel more user friendly outcomes. Go figure how a business model assumes we are all bored milennials who welcome regular disruption.

    On top of that I’ve let myself become dependent on Google and every day they demonstrate how much “free” really costs.

  20. Gringo Says:

    I suspect that there is not enough testing of new and current software on potential users. Instead, programmers are trying out new bells and whistles without much regard for what users want.

    In the last 3-6 months my browser and e-mail have had dysfunctional updates. What used to work, no longer worked. Both fixed the glitches, but they shouldn’t have released them in the first place.

  21. Lurch Says:

    I hear ya, neo. I just went through my traditional annual frustration: changing the time on the clock in my Forester. I swear it’s the Japanese getting back at us for WWII….

  22. Daniel in Brookline Says:

    There used to be a saying in re cutting-edge technology — “if it works, it’s obsolete”. I find that saying sometimes true, and always depressing.

    It’s true that computer designers do not have older people in mind, and that’s been true for a long time. The recently-departed and much-missed Jerry Pournelle got a chance to review the original Macintosh, pre-release, and said something like “This is nice! A pity it won’t get used in the corporate world.” The Apple engineers were horrified and demanded to know why; the corporate world, they said, was one of their prime target markets!

    Pournelle looked at them through his bifocals and said “Okay, kids, someone needs to tell you the facts of life. You just made a computer with a built-in screen, with tiny letters. Corporate computer users, particularly the ones with budgets, are OLD, and wear glasses. They can’t read these little tiny letters.”

    It took awhile, but Macs would eventually have separate screens (and larger screens).

    I can only assume that there’s a significant demographic that WANTS the UI to change periodically… and that those of us who just want the same things to stay in the same place, with the same names, are in a minority.

  23. TommyJay Says:

    It could be a auto update of the OS or app. Or, it could be an errant keystroke: my wife hits INS instead of DEL when editing in Word and the cursor switches to overwrite mode. Or, it could be that a click on the toolbar became an errant click-and-drag which moved the whole toolbar onto a spot where it disappeared. Sometimes in MS Office there is an actual menu that lists all of the toolbars with checkmarks for the ones that are currently displayed.

    I have a theory that the US tech industry has already passed through “peak software” kinda like that “peak oil” that never seems to arrive. I’d guess peak software (quality) arrived around 2005. Now we have the increase or dominance of H1B low-salary programmers and script kiddie immigrant programmers, excuse me, coders, who were raised on Java/Javascript, and Perl, or whatever is the script du jour is.

    Gringo thinks it is a lack of user testing, but Microsoft has had a major usability testing lab for at least 25 years. They even published something that I don’t recall well about 15 or more years ago about the usability lab leading them astray in user interface design. I tend to think that usability testing can lead designers towards the lowest common denominator. The quick facile user can always find his or her way, but the slower more-likely-to-give-up user gets the attention.

  24. neo-neocon Says:


    But who are the users they employ to test? I bet they’re not in my demographic.

  25. Cornflour Says:

    Yesterday, mark30339 recommended “Classic Shell.” Free downloads are at According to Wikipedia, “Classic Shell is a computer software for Microsoft Windows that provides user interface elements intended to restore familiar features from past versions of Windows.” I haven’t used it, but I expect my next computer will have Windows 10, so then I’ll probably give Classic Shell a try.

    Neither have I tried Jitterbug cell phones (, but they’re pretty well known for a design that targets the older set.

    No matter how desperate for the familiar, I don’t think anybody would be tempted to install an obsolete browser, but for those who want to maximize control of both user interface and browser features, I’d recommend Vivaldi ( It’s based on the open-source Chromium software used by Google for its Chrome browser, but Vivaldi doesn’t have all the built-in Google spyware. I use a few of the common privacy extensions for Chrome, and they’ve worked perfectly with Vivaldi.

    Anybody interested in starting a web magazine that caters to the hardware and software needs of people over 50? Just another get-rich-quick scheme?

  26. Gringo Says:

    Daniel in Brookline:
    It’s true that computer designers do not have older people in mind, and that’s been true for a long time.

    I am reminded of Barnes & Noble’s Nook Glowlight Plus. It had a number of technical advances over the Glowlight 1 and Nook Simple Touch. However, its fonts were decidedly thinner than those on previous models. Those thin fonts may have seemed cool from a bells and whistles viewpoint- look at what we can do- but were not user friendly for an old fogy like me. I returned it in a week.
    Amazon has gotten the message, and has included bold fonts in most of its Fire or Kindle updates.
    I suspect that B&N has gotten the message about bells and whistles, as its newest Glowlight model looks like the Nook Simple Touch- which was a very serviceable model.
    As people over 55 constitute a significant proportion of e-reader users, it behooves those designing e-readers to take their preferences into account.

    I have a theory that the US tech industry has already passed through “peak software” kinda like that “peak oil” that never seems to arrive. I’d guess peak software (quality) arrived around 2005.

    The increase in RAM from 0.5 to 1 GIG – which was standard when I purchased a desktop in 2005- to 6+ GB has, I have read, resulted in software being written that is much less efficient. After all, if you have all that RAM, you don’t need to bother about streamlining your software. Which can also lead to clunky software.

    I used to read Gateway Pundit- at least on occasion- but as it now takes inordinately long to load, I no longer bother. So much for progress.

  27. AesopFan Says:

    steve walsh Says:
    November 5th, 2017 at 5:44 pm
    Liberals & Progressives do this sort of thing, conservatives tend to preserve what works well and best, focusing instead of fixing stuff that is actually broken.
    * * *
    Works just as well for politics, economics, societal and personal relations.

    From Neo’s post on Frost’s opinion of the university situation, this remark of his seems applicable here as well:
    “I found that by thinking they meant stocking up with radical ideas, by learning they meant stocking up with conservative ideas.”

    to wit, “By improvement they meant loading up on cool new features they liked, by obsolescence they meant holding onto old uncool features only the users liked.”

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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