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A breakdown of the 10 most popular questions in 2009 as measured by visits to Ask Leo!

It's interesting to watch for what changes in popularity from year to year, and also what's new.

In 2009 we saw a couple of new Top 10 entries and of course some old standby's continue to make a strong showing. I think there are some interesting observations to be made about the industry based on what kinds of questions people ask most often.

2009 shall be known as the year of the disappearing Recycle Bin. Near the bottom of the 2008 top 10 list, two articles on the case of the accidentally deleted Recycle Bin makes not only this year's #1 spot, but the #8 spot as well for a double-showing.

Here's the full Top 10 list for 2009:

  1. I accidentally deleted my Recycle Bin in Vista - how do I get it back? It turns out to be fairly easy to accidentally delete the desktop Recycle Bin in Vista. Getting the Recycle Bin back is easy, just not obvious.

  2. How do I change my MSN Hotmail password? Change your MSN Hotmail password with step-by-step instructions. Changing your Hotmail password is easy, and you should do it regularly.

  3. How do I delete history items from my Google tool bar? Deleting Google history takes a few steps, depending on what Google history you mean. Here are step-by-step instructions for deleting Google history.

  4. Can I send text messages between a computer and a cell phone? Well, let's clear one thing up right away: cell phone text messaging, or "SMS" text messaging, is not the same as instant messaging on your computer. They're two very different systems.

  5. How do I delete my Hotmail account? Delete your MSN Hotmail account with these step-by-step instructions. Deleting your MSN Hotmail account isn't necessary, but it's easy to do.

  6. How do I make a new MSN Hotmail account? Making a new MSN Hotmail account isn't as obvious as many think. First you need to make the option to make a new MSN Hotmail account visible - by signing out.

  7. Where is my Outlook "PST" file located? Outlook's PST or Personal STore is a single file that holds your email, contacts and more. You can use Outlook itself to find the location of the file.

  8. My desktop Recycle Bin has disappeared - why, and how do I get it back? While there are many reasons as to why your Recycle Bin can disappear, there is a fairly easy way to get it back.

  9. How do I uninstall Windows Messenger? The term "Windows Messenger" can actually mean several different programs, each of which is uninstalled differently.

  10. Why is my Task Manager disabled, and how do I fix it? Task manager can be disabled manually, but more commonly it's disabled by a virus. It's easy to re-enable once you're virus-free.


Designing a User Interface is hard, and something that seems obvious to one person - perhaps a person too close to the problem - can often have dramatic implications when it's assumed to be obvious to all. The Recycle Bin issue is the simple difference between "Empty" and "Delete" - when both are present on a menu it's not always clear that people will a) see both, and b) know which one to choose.

Information needs to be both obvious and available when people need it. Opening and closing Hotmail accounts is another case where apparently the information provided by Hotmail at the time people want to perform these activities is insufficient or too difficult to locate. Something as simple as "you must log out first" - which "uncovers" the ability to create a new account - is once again obvious to some, but clearly not to as many as might be assumed.

Actual software issues are surprisingly under-represented on the list. One common one - folks having difficulty uninstalling the latest version of Windows Live Messenger - is a clear case of software that not only doesn't meet user expectations when installed, but then worst of all fails the most fundamental of operations: the uninstall.

And finally malware doesn't make nearly as strong a showing as expected, and also down somewhat for this year. In the number ten spot is the only question about symptoms that typically result from a malware infection: a disabled task manager.

The major issues people seem to have are not as much about software quality and issues, as they are about usability. The good news is that usability is something that software manufacturer's have control over.

The bad news? As I said, it's difficult to get "right", particularly when "right" differs from person to person.

Here's hoping to a less confusing 2010.

Article C3959 - December 23, 2009 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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