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  • It’s the Little Things that Irritate!

    March 28th, 2007

    For a long, long time now, you’ve been told that Apple designs the best user interfaces. They “just work,” and the learning curve — such as it is — is relatively short. Of course, that doesn’t explain the consistent sales of “Dummies” books about various and sundry Apple products through the years, but compared to other personal computing platforms, Apple is far and away the best.

    But it’s not perfect, and every so often, I want to change the things that come out of left field to irritate me and others. I realize that you may not find what I have to say inspires such feelings, but that’s why we offer a Comments panel here, so you can chime in with your own annoyances.

    It’s also possible that some of these problems can be resolved, and I’ll start with one, since the matter managed to upset one of my clients until I revealed the solution. You see the client in question, Jack, is a long-time Mac user and a senior citizen who demonstrates that the age of 82 is the new 60. He’s bright, active, and there’s very little in his demeanor to show his age, except for an occasional slight shaking of his hands.

    After I configured his new 24-inch iMac, he asked about the Front Row remote, which I proceeded to demonstrate for him. Since my 17-inch MacBook Pro was just a few feet away, it also received the signal, and he wondered aloud how he can sort that out if he got a new Apple note-book.

    Well, there’s an easy solution to this, which involves locking a remote to a single Mac. In case you haven’t heard of this little trick, it’s done this way:

    1. Place the remote to within three or four inches of your Mac.
    2. Take the remote and point it at the Apple logo.
    3. Now press and hold both the Menu and Next/Fast-forward buttons for five seconds.

    That’s all it takes, so one irritant was quickly resolved, but there’s always more where that came from. Jack wanted to set up his new Logitech MX-400 mouse to zoom an application window to fill the screen, only the various options in the device’s preference panel wouldn’t perform that function. You see, its “zooming” was limited to controlling an application’s built-in Zoom function for the contents of a document. He sighed and went on with his work.

    Earlier that day, when I turned the iMac on for the first time, I asked Jack to sit in his office chair, while I showed him how the built-in iSight camera worked as it took his picture during the setup process. Now Jack isn’t enamored of cameras, but that’s not the issue. Consider the office or educational environment where cameras and remotes aren’t welcome. Yes, you can lock up the remotes, but the cameras? Well, you can set up Tiger’s Parental Controls feature to block access to applications, such as iChat and Skype, where the iSight would operate.

    But the larger issue is that, except for a very basic educational iMac, you’re stuck with the camera. Ditto for the MacBook and MacBook Pro, and the remote comes with every model save for the Mac Pro, since content creators aren’t supposed to have such toys.

    Indeed, these issues aren’t the only ones that can provoke concerns. Take the location of the power switches on the Mac mini and the iMac, which are found at the rear of these units. Now matter how often I use these models, I find myself groping to find them. I suppose if I had them in my office for any length of time, things would be different.

    Of course, the iMac used to have the power control up front, on the original pear-shaped version, but Apple has decreed that its consumer desktops should look sleek, and buttons aren’t sleek if you can see them. Then again, you really aren’t supposed to turn off your Mac unless you’re installing a firmware update or you’re leaving your home or office for a few days and don’t want any devices left on to draw even a trickle of current. Otherwise, it’s Sleep all the way.

    But what am I saying? After all, I can’t remember the last time my MacBook Pro was shut down, other than to replace a defective battery.

    Speaking of the 17-inch version of the MacBook Pro, some folks have complained about the fact that the keyboard strikes you as a little lost and lonesome at the rear of the note-book, with all that empty space to fill. So what should Apple do about this design shortcoming? With those large outboard speakers, would there be room for a numeric keypad? Talk about busy.

    Personally, it never bothered me. It took me quite a few years to become accustomed to a note-book keyboard and trackpad and your irritant in this case is of no consequence to me.

    But I hope I’ve opened a larger discussion. What bothers you about your Mac and about Mac OS X? And, please, no more demands to restore the Classic Mac Finder. I do not think there is any hope for that. The need for a fixed Finder, however, is something I think we can all agree on, even if it doesn’t otherwise differ all that much from the present version.



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    32 Responses to “It’s the Little Things that Irritate!”

    1. Robert Mac says:

      Gosh, it sure would be nice to have a power button on the keyboard again.

      I cannot even use keyboard prefs to map the Shut Down menu item to a function key!

      While we are on the subject, a decent keyboard, so I don’t have to buy a third party keyboard (which doesn’t have a power button, either!) would save my money and my hands.

    2. Gosh, it sure would be nice to have a power button on the keyboard again.

      I cannot even use keyboard prefs to map the Shut Down menu item to a function key!

      While we are on the subject, a decent keyboard, so I don’t have to buy a third party keyboard (which doesn’t have a power button, either!) would save my money and my hands.

      I have one of those Microsoft “Comfort” keyboards, the one designed for the Mac, which is part of the Wireless Laser Desktop package, and it has a Sleep button that brings up a Shut Down command. Doesn’t do the reverse, however.

      Other than the drab dark gray/silver color scheme, however, it’s an excellent and supremely comfortable keyboard, by the way. Indeed, Microsoft can build a good product on occasion.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. Robert Mac says:

      I have one of those Microsoft “Comfort” keyboards, the one designed for the Mac, which is part of the Wireless Laser Desktop package, and it has a Sleep button that brings up a Shut Down command. Doesn’t do the reverse, however.

      Other than the drab dark gray/silver color scheme, however, it’s an excellent and supremely comfortable keyboard, by the way. Indeed, Microsoft can build a good product on occasion.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Yes indeed!

      I have used Microsoft mice for years, and love them. Their keyboards want more of my desktop than I am willing to sacrifice, however.

    4. Yes indeed!

      I have used Microsoft mice for years, and love them. Their keyboards want more of my desktop than I am willing to sacrifice, however.

      Yes, Microsoft can be greedy 🙂

      Peace,
      Gene

    5. Yay for Michael. I too have been bitching for better browser control of active features. I use SeaMonkey with AdBlock. When I want flash, I use Safari, but there should be a better way.

      Yay for reinharden. I too wish that MacBooks and MacBook Pros were designed for us righties. We tend to sit at the right end of the couch so we can put stuff on the table to our right with our right hands. With the power cable on the left, I have to loop it through the couch cushions.

      I’ll put in two cents for better file dialogs. Why can’t I have my favorites be application context dependent? Why can’t I delete files, bookmark things, rename things and so on from within the file dialog. If improving this gets us an improved Finder, I’m for it.

      Yay for Dobbs. I’ve been using a Post-It note on my unwanted iSight camera. I can’t imagine why I’d want a camera pointing at my face. The only time I videoconference I use the camera is to show documents and models. Maybe iChat needs a Scribblephone feature like the old remote conference doodling program I saw back in the 1960s.

      I’ll also ask for a standard way to get rid of the Caps Lock key. I figure that I only use it every 500 million years. If I want a Caps Lock key, I’ll evolve one.

    6. Robert Mac says:

      Yay for Michael. I too have been bitching for better browser control of active features. I use SeaMonkey with AdBlock. When I want flash, I use Safari, but there should be a better way.

      Yay for reinharden. I too wish that MacBooks and MacBook Pros were designed for us righties. We tend to sit at the right end of the couch so we can put stuff on the table to our right with our right hands. With the power cable on the left, I have to loop it through the couch cushions.

      I’ll put in two cents for better file dialogs. Why can’t I have my favorites be application context dependent? Why can’t I delete files, bookmark things, rename things and so on from within the file dialog. If improving this gets us an improved Finder, I’m for it.

      Yay for Dobbs. I’ve been using a Post-It note on my unwanted iSight camera. I can’t imagine why I’d want a camera pointing at my face. The only time I videoconference I use the camera is to show documents and models. Maybe iChat needs a Scribblephone feature like the old remote conference doodling program I saw back in the 1960s.

      I’ll also ask for a standard way to get rid of the Caps Lock key. I figure that I only use it every 500 million years. If I want a Caps Lock key, I’ll evolve one.

      Hi, Seth!

      With three active computers on my desktop, I too am sensitive to where the wires come out.

      Perhaps a little epoxy putty under the caps lock key… Oh, you’ve got a laptop.

      At least with file dialogs, there is an option. Default Folder X will do evertything on your wish list.

    7. My major gripe with OSX is the print dialog. I cannot think of a worse design. It has been called a dancing monkey in the past and that is an understatement. I cannot believe that the GUI people at Apple happy with it but we are made to pull down those menus to set all those different options, wasting time and doing more mousework than is necessary.

      I gather you’d prefer to see a larger Print dialog then, with more options displayed by default?

      Peace,
      Gene

    8. Stevew says:

      Most definitely. The current design not only requires more time and hand movement but also requires a lot more mental effort. This is one area where Apple is supposed to have a lot of experience.

      If you want to get a summary view, the default setting is to have all the folders closed. Wouldn’t it be better to have the default view with all the folders open? After all I’m choosing the option to see what options I’ve set. Luckily, I think the summary pane will remember the folders you left open the next time you print. But the problems don’t end there. We have to suppose that I’m looking at the summary pane because I want to confirm that everything is perfect before hitting the print button. But what if I find something I need to change? The summary pane is just a static list of settings giving you no option to change settings from within it, making you lose time selecting (from that horrible pulldown menu) the correct menu item and then changing the setting itself.

      Worse still, if you hit the ‘expand all’ button from within the summary pane, the actual summary window remains the same size and the user is required to scroll within the the window (more time and effort lost) to see all the options. We live in a world of resizeable windows but this is not one of them.

      And just to putting the icing on the cake, the summary information itself is presented in a way that is just plain ugly.

      We now live in a world with large screens. I wish Apple would start taking advantage of the fact and start making things easier for its users.

    9. Dobbs says:

      “I’ve seen iPhoto crash the GUI. I’ve seen PowerPoint do the same. Any time an app goes full screen there is a risk the GUI could go down. I’m talking about not even having access to force quit by any means.

      “If you had another Mac you could probably sneak in round the back and sort things out via network but if you don’t have a spare mac hanging around you’re dead in the water.

      “There must be a less drastic solution to restart the GUI.

      “My preferred solution would be for Apple to “softwire” a GUI reset into all macs and have it triggered by a magic button combination on the remote.”

      On the remote, eh? Sheesh.

      I have a better solution for you. Just restart the computer and count on file system journalling to save you from losing any data. That’s what it’s for.

      I swear, sometimes I think people would rather run to the house next door to solve the problem over the internet than just slap the machine and show it who is boss.

    10. Stevew says:

      Journalling is a protective measure but It does not provide a 100% failsafe mode to protect against possible data loss as a result of a hard reset. Of course, journalling is on on my system. However, you are not seeing the bigger picture. What will a hard reset do to my apps/docs that were open at the time the GUI went down and not in a saved state? I always have multiple apps/docs open. The GUI going down is extremely irritating but shouldn’t need such a drastic remedy.

      If Apple cannot build a reliable solution into OSX to this problem via local mouse or keyboard input then I still propose the use of the remote as a last ditch attempt to get things back to normal without restarting the entire system

    11. Brant Sears says:

      Stevew: One way to troubleshoot a situation where the GUI has locked up is to ssh into the computer from another computer and kill off whatever is causing the problem.

    12. Dobbs says:

      Stevew, you are right, and I agree with you: Apple should have a better solution. But in the absence of that, it seems paranoid to go to any great lengths to avoid a hard reset on a modern system. However, I do not make a habit of keeping unsaved data in a variety of inactive windows, either, because of potentials power-outs and whatnot.

      Just always save before switching apps is more useful general advice in this situation (and many other situations) than ‘find another computer and log in to save your huge collection of orphaned data’.

      BTW the app that was frontmost at the time of the crash will very likely go down with the GUI, anyway, so it is unlikely that the SSH will rescue the data that you were currently working on.

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