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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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