About the Author

Chris Shiflett

Hi, I’m Chris: web craftsman, community leader, husband, father, and partner at Fictive Kin.

Mac OS X Annoyances and Resolutions

A few days ago, I posted my Top X List of Mac OS X Annoyances. As predicted, there were a few useless responses from the zealots who felt a need to defend the Mac, but there were also many useful comments - more on those in a minute. Some people seem to confuse being the best with being perfect. A valid defense of an annoying characteristic of Mac OS X is not that it's better than Windows - that's setting the bar awful low, don't you think?

The other thing that many people seem to miss is the fact that my list comes from years of using Mac OS X and Linux (not Windows). If Linux is tainting my perspective by offering a better desktop experience, the Mac has serious problems. Isn't it supposed to be the archetype of usability?

The reason why I want to find solutions for the things that annoy me is because I want to buy a new MacBook Pro (or whatever the cool laptops are called by the time I buy one) and use it exclusively, plugging in peripherals when I'm at my desk. In most cases, I've tried to adopt "the Mac way," because I know it's futile to try to affect change in the Mac world. (It's almost as much of a quagmire as US politics, where people are quick to place you on "the other team" if you dare speak out of line.) However, there are a few things that are quite simply annoying, and regardless of whether you agree, it's hard to ignore the fact that there's room for improvement.

Luckily, most of the annoyances can be resolved. Before I get to the solutions, however, I want to list the two major annoyances for which no solution has been offered (please feel free to make a suggestion):

  1. Maximizing

    I learned that the little green button is a "zoom" button. (In other words, maximizing isn't broken - it just doesn't exist.) Regardless of whether you think the zoom feature is useless (I do), it's no replacement for maximizing.

    I frequently speak at conferences. If you've ever seen me demo something during a talk, you've probably seen me open a terminal window. I manually resize the window to be as small as possible, increase the font size to a comfortable viewing level (which increases the size of the window), then manually resize the window to fill as much of the screen as possible. I'd rather maximize the window and be done.

    When I'm using my 12" PowerBook, I'm impaired by the resolution. I don't mind, because that's part of having such a small laptop. (I love it.) However, I'd like to maximize my windows rather than manually resizing them to fill the screen. Yes, having lots of maximized windows is usually annoying, but Expose pretty much eliminates any disadvantage. Plus, even without maximizing, it's hard to grab the edges once you have more than a few windows, so depriving us of this feature offers no real benefit.

  2. Command-Tab

    At first, it might seem that selecting between applications instead of windows is a good thing, but not when you consider other characteristics of the Mac. First, when you close the last window of an application, it continues running. This isn't annoying in isolation, and there are advantages to leaving apps running, but it has a nasty side-effect: command-tab pollution. The Finder is always running, so there's some pollution by default. Plus, if you command-tab to an application with only minimized windows, they stay minimized. Again, in isolation, these characteristics may not seem so bad, and they're not. Combined, they make command-tab on the Mac almost useless. Yes, Expose is great, and I use it frequently, but it's no substitute. (A possible fix is Witch, but this is one thing that shouldn't be broken in the first place.)

Except for a few annoyances that are just part of "the Mac way" and not likely to change, most of my other annoyances can be solved:

  1. Only One Desktop

    The solution to the "only one desktop" problem seems to be Desktop Manager. Quite a few people have suggested it.

  2. The Clock

    Nate Klaiber sent me a solution to the clock annoyance. The trick is that the clock format is under the "International" section of your preferences. Thanks, Nate!

    Adam pointed me to MenuCalendarClock, which looks even better. wClock looks good, too.

  3. Safari

    Matt Simpson pointed out a "Full Keyboard Access" option that you can set to "All Controls" to make Safari behave correctly. In other words, you can navigate forms without a mouse. Thanks Matt!

In summary, although the Mac has many shortcomings by default, the vast majority of them can be resolved, and only a few of them require the installation of additional software. Thanks to everyone who offered suggestions about how to make the Mac less annoying! :-)

About this post

Mac OS X Annoyances and Resolutions was posted on Thu, 16 Feb 2006. If you liked it, follow me on Twitter or share:


1.Daniel said:

For me, zooming the Terminal has the same effect as resizing. Do you experience it diffently? If not, I'd really like to hear an example of an app that really should maximize but doesn't (except iTunes).

Fri, 17 Feb 2006 at 09:23:46 GMT Link

2.Daniel said:

I forgot to mention that Expose sucks with many same-sized windows because of a bug. Open Safari, open new windows (all same size). Then press F10 (or whatever single-application Expose key), all n windows are arranged in 1 row, n "columns". So Expose is pretty much useless when having only same sized fullscreen windows (works across apps with F9, too).

I can send you a screenshot if you don't know what I mean.

Fri, 17 Feb 2006 at 09:29:03 GMT Link

3.Gavin Foster said:

Forgive me if I'm reading this the wrong way.

"As predicted, there were a few useless responses from the zealots who felt a need to defend the Mac"

I read that to mean if someone disagrees with your taste on a particular implementation detail, they are a zealot posting a useless response? How obnoxious.

I guess you should have put "Do not post unless you agree with me, I'm not interested in counter viewpoints" at the end of your original post.

But ignoring the chris-centricity of your post for a moment:

Have fun with the MacBook!

Let us know how it fairs, my move over to Intel is scheduled for mid to late 2007, so I have time to take on feedback from the early adopters.

I bought an iMac too early, which was a big mistake, after fighting with fan problems for months I had to have the mid-plane replaced.

Fri, 17 Feb 2006 at 10:26:10 GMT Link

4.Chris Shiflett said:

"I read that to mean if someone disagrees with your taste on a particular implementation detail, they are a zealot posting a useless response? How obnoxious."

That would be obnoxious, as would someone suggesting that's what I meant. :-)

Fri, 17 Feb 2006 at 14:02:11 GMT Link

5.Gavin Foster said:

I cant see any of these zealous comments in the blog post your referring too.

I see only one single post (by Daniel) that disagrees with every one of the points you made. Every other post agress on some and disagrees on others. Which of these you regard as zealous I don't know.

The zealous Mac user stereotype is exactly that.

Fri, 17 Feb 2006 at 15:20:02 GMT Link

6.Nate Klaiber said:

I think that, overall, mac users will ALWAYS be stereotyped as zealots, lemmings, anything related to praising steve jobs, etc.

Part of that is because we really love the OS we are using - so much more than ... um ... Windows, that we fail to see some of the flaws in the OS X interface. Some are preference, some are usability, some just dont make any sense at all.

Quite honestly, and maybe this is what Chris was referring to, the TONE with most of the responses was a defensive tone, like 'How DARE you say such things about my OS - even though I do agree on some points."

Chris, I am glad you are finding some solutions to your problems. IDEALLY, all of this could be fixed in the OS itself without having to look to third parties to get things to work the way you would like.



Fri, 17 Feb 2006 at 15:52:49 GMT Link

7.Gavin Foster said:

Good comment - I must be tone-blind!

Fri, 17 Feb 2006 at 16:37:18 GMT Link

8.Nate Klaiber said:


Your response is one of a perfect example. I could take that one of several ways.

a. You could really somehow be tone blind

b. You are being extremely sarcastic

c. You are complimenting me on my previous comment

It isn't hard to pick out the right answer - which is exactly what I was referring to with the previous posts in regards to Macs - it isn't hard to figure out the tone in how people are responding to the topic/question at hand.

Yes, that is the beauty of the Internet and mis-communication, but it is our jobs to decipher (unless explicitly spelled out, or even with visual cues) the tone of the message being relayed.

Ill leave it at that. If I could post a big picture of me with a smiling face - you would understand that I am not trying to bash or ridicule anyone - Im a pretty laid back guy.

Now, before this starts to get like digg.com (which turns into ego bash war), Ill shut my mouth :)



Fri, 17 Feb 2006 at 16:54:25 GMT Link

9.zealot said:

About the Command-Tab.

I agree on application pollution. And that's exactly where Command-Tab becomes incredibly useful : at the time you command-tab, holding your Command key pressed, type Q (for quit), H (for hide) on any application. Maybe learn also that your mouse can quickly target any application icon in the command-tab pane, for quick access.

You'll get rid of these polluting applications in a few seconds, without having to go to each and require it to quit or to hide.

Isn't it great ? Yes : applause ! :o)

Hmmm. Did you know you can Command-tab during a drag & drop ? Say from a Finder window hiding your mail window ? Give it a try also.

BTW : there's a nasty bug for azerty keyboards in the Command-Tab pane : type A instead of Q for quitting (this is a well-known bug, but Apple won't fix it, it seems).

Fri, 17 Feb 2006 at 17:12:55 GMT Link

10.Chris Shiflett said:

I think Nate hit the nail on the head, especially about tone, but I do want to point out a few additional things.

There are many responses that are not in the comments of my previous post. The technorati link at the bottom can be useful for discovering some of the others.

I don't use the term zealot in a derogatory manner, although I see how it can be interpreted that way. I see nothing wrong with a passionate appreciation of Mac OS X. The unnecessarily defensive responses originate from a small subset of Mac zealots, not all of them.

There are only a few useless responses, and many useful ones. In other words, most responses are useful, and I have tried to thank everyone who has contributed something positive.

Apple will continue to innovate and improve the desktop experience, often to the dismay of some zealots. There will always be room for improvement, and as soon as Apple stops improving the desktop experience, we all lose.

Fri, 17 Feb 2006 at 17:28:41 GMT Link

11.Nico Edtinger said:

The default for full maximize is shift+click the green button. But the App has to support this. I.e. the current version of SubEthaEdit supports both modes of maximize.

Fri, 17 Feb 2006 at 18:10:57 GMT Link

12.Daniel said:

The only reason I replied to so many statements in your previous post is that my experience is different from yours: It's been less than 4 months since I bought my first Mac, and I just love my Powerbook. I think this makes me a zealot in training, but I really dislike numerous things about the Mac and filed about 30 bugreports since last Christmas.

But I think the things you mentioned depend clearly on your previous experience on other systems, for example the need for multiple desktops. The good thing about the Mac (in contrast to Windows which I used before) is that extensions to its functionality integrate seemlessly, Witch for example.

Fri, 17 Feb 2006 at 21:23:57 GMT Link

13.Gavin Foster said:

Nate, the correct answer was c, I thought it was a good comment.

Sun, 19 Feb 2006 at 21:39:22 GMT Link

14.Gavin Foster said:

Chris, yes I'm interpreting zealous (using the detected... read 'assumed'... tone as context) to mean shortsightedly supportive to the point of imbecility, which it of course does not mean, so I take back my comment.

I would like to say I'm optimistic when assuming the tone of a textual response, but given the above this is obviously not always the case!

But in all honesty, I would be absolutely horrified if Apple changed the interface to satisfy your points I to IV. Those points have always stood out to me as the most satisfyingly well-designed parts, that are not predicated on conformity to the pre-existing designs.

Sun, 19 Feb 2006 at 22:09:51 GMT Link

15.Chris Shiflett said:

Hi Gavin,

No problem about the interpretation. :-) I've noticed that, until I've met someone in person, it's really hard not to misread what they say sometimes. The Internet really sucks the personality out of us.

I've found solutions to so many of my Mac annoyances that I think I'm ready to give it a shot. I'll post more thoughts when I take the plunge, although my "switch" is sure to be less exciting than most, since I already use my Mac pretty frequently and don't use Windows. :-)

Tue, 21 Feb 2006 at 01:42:34 GMT Link

16.Andrew Johnstone said:

Hi Chris,

Thanks for the last couple of posts, I have taken the plunge and am awaiting a MacBook Pro too. Which is quite a leap as I have only ever used a Mac once or twice about 4 or more years ago and recall having a hard time then. I realise OSX has come along way since then, however as you mentioned, there are several critical applications that I require as a developer, I am bound to end up stuck in mundane routine as I am on other operating systems.

One of my fundamental concerns is an IDE for development, I have never been comfortable with emacs or VI, although I have heard nothing, but praises for TextMate. I would be very interested to hear how it has changed your experience whilst programming. Secondly, mail is another critical concern with handling multiple Exchange accounts.

Tue, 21 Feb 2006 at 21:32:10 GMT Link

17.Nate Klaiber said:


Just take the jump and start using the MAC regularly - you won't regret it. Yes, it has its 'quirks' as any OS does, but the pros far outweigh the cons.

I used the IDE for PHP from Zend (I believe). I tested this for a while and it was pretty nice - I had no real complaints. However, I ended up settling with and LOVING TextMate. So simple and so easy for development (and I primarily program PHP). It is a great tool - coupled with Transmit for your FTP. The interfaces are simple (very Mac-like for Transmit) and the functionality is there. I don't see me switching to another IDE or FTP program for a LOOONG time. I will say, the toughest piece to find is an SQL editor to connect to our ERP at work, and to MySQL. I have a Java program doing the trick now, but its slooooow. The MySQL (I believe) was built in to the Zend IDE.

Im not sure what to tell you with multiple Exchange accounts - I use one exchange and 2 IMAP accounts and it works well for me. I love the simplicity.

So, I hope some of this helps in your decision making process. If you have any questions keep asking away!



Wed, 22 Feb 2006 at 13:53:43 GMT Link

18.Eric B said:

Nate K

Try CocoaMySQL. It is the best! =)

Wed, 22 Feb 2006 at 22:10:22 GMT Link

19.Gavin Foster said:

Hi Chris,

I dont remember if anyone suggested a solution for your need to switch between windows rather than applications, but here is a program that allows you to do this:


Fri, 03 Mar 2006 at 14:39:12 GMT Link

20.Chris Shiflett said:

Thanks, Gavin. I link to that in my post, but it's one of those things I wish didn't require the installation of more software. :-)

Fri, 03 Mar 2006 at 20:40:20 GMT Link

21.Gavin Foster said:

Yes, it does seem a bit short-sighted.

Mon, 06 Mar 2006 at 13:45:18 GMT Link

22.Niku said:

Regarding maximizing and Command-Tab: Witch (already linked by someone else) does sort of solve both problems. It allows you to Alt-Tab between application windows, un-minimizing minimized windows in the process. It also allows you maximize a window by Alt-Tabbing to it and, while still holding Alt, pressing z. There are a bunch of other features too... Give it a look.

Mon, 20 Mar 2006 at 09:16:43 GMT Link

23.Mick L said:

Hi Chris and contributors,

Thanks for the most interesting blog article I have read in ages. (The Top 10 List, that is...)

But Chris, you keep complaining about the alt-tab failing to open a minimised window.

Others have pointed it out, but maybe you overlooked: use hide, don't use minimise.

If you want an app out of your face, hiding is far more useful, as it hides _all_ the app's windows, and brings them _all_ back when you return. Command-H becomes reflex pretty quickly.

Minimise, on the other hand, is clumsy. The only time I find it useful is _within_ an app (lets say photoshop) when you want to juggle between several open docs. But even then, using the window menu seems just as quick.

Sun, 16 Apr 2006 at 01:24:02 GMT Link

24.Mick L said:

Oh I nearly forgot...

The other thing the minimise button is good for is to shift-click every so often, to see that cool genie effect in slo-mo.

But only when you are really out of it :-)

Sun, 16 Apr 2006 at 01:28:28 GMT Link

25.Kanguru said:

I've been using Mac OS X for years and only a couple of months ago I discovered that it is easier *never* to minimize windows but to hide them instead (Command-H). With hidden windows Command-Tab works at it's supposed to.

Tue, 07 Nov 2006 at 00:19:52 GMT Link

26.Chris Shiflett said:

Thanks, Kanguru. I've been doing that, too, and it works pretty well.

Tue, 07 Nov 2006 at 00:23:08 GMT Link

27.Nathan said:

The thing I find most annoying is: the blue pill. You click on something and the dialog box comes up, and I can't simply use my keyboard to press left or right, or press y or n than enter, or just press enter, I have to move the mouse over than press the darn button.

The other thing I find annoying is that when I want to scroll down a folder, I like to push letters to go down there faster, but macs seem temprmental about when/if it wants me to do that.

Finally, I downloaded a few things of the net, ie firefox, I followed the install instructions, but each time I use firefox, it has to mount the disk and dialog boxes than bring up firefox, how annoying.

Wed, 15 Nov 2006 at 22:40:27 GMT Link

28.Randy Hudson said:

I am an experienced XP user and can't wait to jump ship to OS X. I use mnemonics and the keyboard liberally because it's simply faster than the mouse. Here are some hidden features I found in OS X.

Command+TAB cycles apps, while Command+` cycles through open documents (perhaps in the same app only, I'm not using OS X right now).

The bleeping "Don't Save", "xxx", "xxx" dialog was one of my pet-peeves. I finally discovered that Command+D invokes Don't Save, etc. No one at the apple store knew this. This doesn't seem to be standard across all dialogs with buttons. Perhaps only the "message box" variants. It seems like it wouldn't work in all languages either. Oh please Mr. Jobs, please give us m&nemonics !!

ALT+Char to pull down an application menu doesn't work. I can't believe OS X considers themselves to have the high ground in usability or accessibility when accessing a menu without the mouse is so cumbersome. There is some combination of keys with F2 to get focus on the menu bar, but then you have to navigate to the menu you want.

Finally, Apple has caved in and given us a mouse with the right-mouse button. But, it has non-deterministic behavior! If your index finger is resting even slightly on the left button, the right click is interpreted quite often as left. So you are forced to throw it out or lift your index finger completely off the mouse. And that anti-antiperspirant scroll wheel nub is pathetic.

Thu, 28 Dec 2006 at 17:34:35 GMT Link

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Wed, 01 Dec 2010 at 05:03:39 GMT Link

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