Mac OS X Annoyances and Resolutions

16 Feb 2006

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! :-)