Having spent the majority of my personal computing life on Windows PCs, I am now using a Mac G5 at work and my brand new Macbook Pro at home. OS X has many great features that I’d love to see in Windows.

Despite OS X’s positives, I still have a lot of problems of quirks and drawbacks that dissuade me from completely switching. Here’s my list of the top OS X problems.

  1. Focus – This is the worst annoyance. OS X focuses on open applications differently than Windows and I lose time because I lose focus too easily. (Focus is also known as interweaving windows or stacking order or Focus Follows Mouse [GREAT article on the subject, btw].) Suppose I’m in a text editor and want to copy and paste something in a browser window “behind” the text editor. If I hover my mouse over the browser and try to interact with it, nothing happens. I can’t perform almost any task without actually clicking-to-focus on the browser window itself. I lose time switching programs to perform small tasks.Another example is when I’m in the text editor and click on a menu item on the side, like in any graphic/audio/video editor menu. If my mouse is just millimeters off, I lose focus of the application, switch to Finder, and have to refocus back to the original program. This focusing circus wastes time.In Windows, resize arrows indicate the edge of any window, warning me that I might focus on another application. With this, I rarely ever have problems focusing on applications in Windows.

    Solution: MondoMouse (not a perfect solution however)

  2. Resizing windows – Often, when I want to resize a window, I don’t want it full screened. I just need extra space on the side. OS X doesn’t make this easy and its feedback is less responsive than Windows.You have two clear choices: click the plus button (top left side) to “maximize”, or reposition the window and drag the bottom-right side. Why not make all sides of a window resizable?Forcing users to resize windows on one corner is a usability issue especially if the window is already sitting on the bottom right of the screen.

    Solution: MondoMouse

  3. Maximize Windows – Full-screen windows are inconsistent from program to program when I maximize it with the plus button (top left side). Though I don’t always need it, I want consistency when maximizing the window.

    Solution: MegaZoomer

  4. Alt-tab – I miss the traditional alt-tab functionality that Windows provides. OS X gives you a similar function called command-tab except that OS X groups all the same software together in application groups. Instead of alt-tabbing between individual windows, you command-tab between the groups. When switching into Firefox from iTunes, I can’t alternate into the Firefox window I want. Rather, I have to command-tab into the group of Firefox windows, then use Exposè to focus on the desired window.Occasionally when I’m using command-tab, the mouse hovers over other application groups in the menu, focusing on another group that I didn’t intend.What OS X introduced in Panther was a graphical navigation for open windows called Exposè, controlled by F9, F10, and F11. Exposè’s shortcoming is the random nature of displaying open windows, which is confusing if you’re working with many open windows with different sizes.Lastly, command-tab might quickly cycle through application groups, but why does it not cycle into minimized apps?

    Solution: Command-` to cycle through individual windows in an application group, Exposè for a graphical version, Witch, or LiteSwitchX

  5. Expose – Why no window labels with application view? When I have many open windows, it’s confusing fishing for the window I want. Why only label on hover? It’s also too bad that the keys are on the right side of the keyboard. When my hands are in power user position, I don’t like moving them.I also think the random nature of how the windows get to their places can be confusing when there are a ton of windows open. It makes switching time consuming.

    Solution: none

  6. Dock – Very easy way to open apps, poor way to know which windows are open. Taskbar on Windows is more functional.

    Solution: none

  7. Tab switching – Keystrokes are a great idea and are very useful. But when they consist of using 2 hands, it’s not saving much time to use them.When used in programs with tabs such as web browsers or text editors, it isn’t efficient. Command-#, where # is a numerical value, is the default keystroke for tab switching.When you have more than four or five tabs open at once, tab location becomes relative after the first three or four open tabs. I just want to quickly cycle through all open tabs.Ctrl-tab as it functions in Windows makes this easy because if I want to start from the end, I can use ctrl-shift-tab and cycle backwards. This keystroke is consistent in all programs. Command-# is too involved with many open tabs.Although ctrl-tab CAN be used in apps like Firefox, it is application specific. Lame

    Solution: ctrl-tab

  8. Closing Apps – Closing an application should be as simple as closing the last open window. Yet, I am forced to quit from an application group for each application that I want to close. I know the shortcut Command-Q is used to perform this action, but I am not sure why this is necessary. Getting used to this shortcut could be disastrous if I accidentally close a window which contained critical information and is hidden behind all the other open windows.<>Solution: Spotlight, although it’s never worked correctly for me.

  9. One-button mouse – Apple, get over it already! OS X natively supports them, usability vastly improves with them, and I can’t live on computers without two button mice. When is Apple finally going to stop shipping their computers with just one button?I dismiss the argument of poor “technical ability of the average computer user”. The average user of a computer is becoming younger every year, and with computer courses being taught in school, multi-button mice are ubiquitous with good user experience.Software that utilizes multi-button functionality, such as any X Window System applications, are designed with multi-button mice in mind. This, too, is mainstream in OS X software.This is the main problem that bugs me about Apple laptops.

    Solution: buy a third-party multi-button mouse (Mighty Mouse sucks) or get the new MacBook Pro with Core 2 Duos because scrolling trackpad functionality is now included. Right-click can also be emulated by placing two fingers on trackpad then clicking.

  10. Delete key (the actual delete key, not the backspace key) – Why does the delete key, alone, not delete anything outside of applications? For instance, when I want to delete a file from the desktop, which is very frequent when downloading newer versions of applications, I have to drag old files to the trash every time or use a multi-button keystroke.Why does the delete key not work more intuitively? On the Apple laptop, the counterintuitive way to use the delete key is the key sequence Fn and the backspace key. Get rid of the useless F12 button and make that the official delete key.

    Solution: Remap keystroke with Doublecommand on laptop. None for desktop

  11. Home/End keysSame complaint with these keys as the delete key. I can’t use the home or end keys to consistently function the same in every program.If I want to go to the beginning of the line, I use the keystroke command-left arrow. Sometimes, however, like in text editors or chat programs, the home and end keys function more like the Windows versions.I don’t like this inconsistency and don’t want to remember different keystrokes for every app. What a waste of my time.

    Solution: Doublecommand (Hallelujah!)

  12. Finder – Where’s the folder tree menu showing you where you are in relation to your root drive as you search through Finder? Spotlight and Quicksilver are relatively quick and easy ways to find files or applications, but sometimes I need to browse through certain areas to reorganize files and folders. There’s not an easy way of doing this without two Finder folders open.I think it would also help to include an address bar for finding local files within Finder.

    Solution: Path Finder

  13. Software Installation – Why must I drag installation files into the Applications folder? Wizards are so much easier to use and it’s more linear.On a Windows computer, I click on the executable file and everything is self-contained. The inconsistent way that some files create a “virtual drive” that unloads to the desktop and others don’t adds to the confusion.Another installation problem: you get few options while installing an application. It’s not obvious that you install applications in folders other than the Applications folder. With extra products such as iTunes with Quicktime, I am forced to install most of the included software. I can’t install iTunes without Quicktime.What about software from Macromedia, Microsoft, or even OpenOffice, all of which usually bundle many applications into one executable file? There’s no easy wizard to let me choose how to install these programs.Not only is installing applications nonlinear but after a program is installed, there is no immediate way to access what I just installed unless I go into the Applications folder. Why isn’t there an easy way to find a list of recently installed programs? The only solution I know is to drag the icon to the dock. After using the new app for the first time, before dragging that icon into the dock, it will disappear forcing me to go back to the Applications folder to redrag icon into the dock.

    Former Windows users quite often leave the dmg files and mounted drives on the desktop thinking that the software is installed. This can clutter up the desktop and confuse people why software isn’t working.

    Soution: none

  14. Help – This brings back the Focus problems: Help opens in different focus from the software you are using. If you use Help in applications on Windows, it doesn’t lose focus of that app while using Help. It wastes time to switch between apps in OS X when using Help.

    Solution: none

  15. Dropdown Menus – If you open a dropdown menu and click a grayed out selection, the dropdown menu disappears. If I misclick a menu selection item, it annoys me that I have to reopen the whole menu to get back right where I was before the misclick.

    Solution: none

  16. Spotlight – It is slower in its search than Windows Desktop Search, a somewhat comparable Windows search app. Bringing up lists shouldn’t take so long.

    Solution: Quicksilver for applications and Spotlight for files

The user interface should be intuitively functional out of the box. OS X is inconsistent in many areas which slows down the speed at which I use my Mac. Even after almost 9 months of using OS X, I’m still frequently annoyed by the UI and its frustrating problems. Luckily, building modules for the UI can be simple.

Clearly, this is presented with a Windows bias. With Windows, almost all buttons have obvious and consistent functions especially Home, End, and Delete. Of course, going into different applications and games will cause keys to behave differently even in Windows, but OS X should not have such differing functionality across the OS. I also enjoy the GUI eye candy of OS X, but I think that sometimes this candy makes the OS harder to use.

Each OS has its quirks that make it difficult to use. I find better consistency in Windows as well as better features to use, such as resizing windows or quickly switching to different windows, make an operating system much eaiser to use in the long run.

The argument can be made that using either Windows or OS X is like driving two different cars. The core functionality is the same; both have engines under the hood, you have an acceleration pedal to create momentum and a break pedal to create friction. It’s just getting used to the little quirks about each that make them more usable.

The operating system should always work for you and not the other way around. I don’t find that Mac functionality is always better than Windows and vice versa. I also don’t find it compelling enough to completely switch from Windows to OS X (this is besides the fact that most software is developed for Windows anyway). Regardless, I understand the hardcore Apple enthusiasts and how set they are in their ways just as much as Windows enthusiasts are. To each, his own I suppose.

7 thoughts on “OS X annoyances

  1. I think it’s impossible to "completely" switch … there are some things PCs are great for, some things Macs are great for, and some things where you say screw it all and go to the Terminal to ssh into a Unix/Linux box. (yet another thing Mac is good for, hehe…)

    I think it’s good to be familiar with ALL platforms so that you can use what’s available or best when it is there. It’s not religion, just computers.

  2. Yeah, simply put, I like what I purchased but just wish certain things were improved. Time will definitely be on OS X’s side as Leopard makes it entry into the computer space soon.

    And ya know, I haven’t had a PC crash in years! Ever since Service Pack 2, Windows XP is rock solid and I don’t even have to reboot at all. And no, I don’t get viruses and spyware/adware/malware doesn’t affect me at all either.

  3. You realize that you can switch between tabs in OSX browsers using COMMAND-OPTION-left-arrow and COMMAND-OPTION-right-arrow?

    This works for Firefox, Safari, & Textmate (just to name the ones I have running currently). Switching between windows of the same program is COMMAND-` and COMMAND-SHIFT-`

    Oh, and looking at #5, it appears leopard addressed your Exposé window labeling suggestion.

  4. Thanks for the input, djstunami.

    Although there might be other shortcuts with tab switching, all other methods are less intuitive than the equivalent of ctrl-tab on PC. It makes no sense to completely alienate the command-tab philosophy with less intuitive and often confusing methods. Not only is ctrl-tab very easy to remember, but it requires only one hand for very quick, efficient procedure.

    I guess I don’t understand why application switching using command-tab is any better than window switching using alt-tab. It makes little practical sense and can be quite annoying when programming with many windows open at the same time.

    I look forward to the changes that Leopard brings. I heard the Focus issue is also resolved, but I won’t believe it until I see it with my own eyes! Hello Apple store!

  5. Although there might be other shortcuts with tab switching, all other methods are less intuitive than the equivalent of ctrl-tab on PC. It makes no sense to completely alienate the command-tab philosophy with less intuitive and often confusing methods. Not only is ctrl-tab very easy to remember, but it requires only one hand for very quick, efficient procedure.

    I’m not sure of your personal keyboard setup, but on my mac I have a command key on both sides of my space bar, making CMD-tabbing between applications a one-handed activity (and equivalent to CTRL-tab), so I’m not sure to what you’re referring.

    I guess I don’t understand why application switching using command-tab is any better than window switching using alt-tab. It makes little practical sense and can be quite annoying when programming with many windows open at the same time.

    We’re really talking about three different things here, switching between applications, switching between windows of the same application, and switching between different tabs of the same window within an application.

    While you may look to alt-tab on windows for window-tab switching and osx does it a different way, you can always use: System Preferences –> Keyboard & Mouse -> Keyboard Shortcuts + to alter the keyboard shortcuts to match their windows equivalent.

    I look forward to the changes that Leopard brings. I heard the Focus issue is also resolved, but I won’t believe it until I see it with my own eyes! Hello Apple store!

  6. I’m not sure of your personal keyboard setup, but on my mac I have a command key on both sides of my space bar, making CMD-tabbing between applications a one-handed activity (and equivalent to CTRL-tab), so I’m not sure to what you’re referring.

    Yeah, I do think you’re confused about my complaint generally. When you said that switching tabs could be done with three button keystroke (command-option-left-arrow), I see that as MUCH less intuitive than the way you do it on the Windows operating system (ctrl-tab). Not only is this three button keystroke less intuitive because it now takes 2 hands, but it is too different from its related partner, command-tab.

    In the Windows operating system, alt-tab and ctrl-tab resemble each other in motion and physical gesture, which intuitively makes them much easier to relate and understand in relation. Need to switch from Photoshop to Firefox? alt-tab. Need to switch to another tab? ctrl-tab. Your hand gesture stays relatively the same both ways and the need for a new hand position (whether it’s using the arrow keys or number keys like in OS X) is unnecessary.

    We’re really talking about three different things here, switching between applications, switching between windows of the same application, and switching between different tabs of the same window within an application.

    You’re right. The behavior of the way command-tab works in OS X is different enough from the behavior of alt-tab in Windows. But why does OS X use command-tab to switch from application group to application group? Was it less efficient to make command-tab perform individual window switching, similar to alt-tab’s function in Windows? This difference does make it a little more work for me to perform the same function in OS X.

    For example, I am a web designer and must switch between my html editor (whether its Dreamweaver, Textmate, or what ever else I use), my css editor (assuming I use something like cssedit), my browser, and possibly even photoshop. Sometimes, it’s very possible and likely that I’m looking at several different windows and tabs in each application group. So, when I am making some switches from different windows, it’s also just as likely that I might need to reswitch to a different window in the application group for a quick edit.

    Windows’ alt-tab lets me quickly switch to the window as I can see their order very easily. OS X, however, forces me to switch application group with command-tab, and then I can switch windows with either Expose (which with a bunch of windows open, it takes a while to find the right one when you use F9 to see all windows) or command-`. That’s two steps verses one step: that’s the basis of my complaint with the different functionality. It’s less intuitive, it’s less efficient, and it’s more work than otherwise shown.

    Witch has been a great alternative to use and it easily mirrors the same functionality that Windows has with alt-tab. And yes, I do use the Keyboard Shortcuts when necessary to change the shortcuts to their Windows equivalent.

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