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. Michael says:

    I’d like it to be easier to turn active content on and off in Safari.

    I’d prefer not to go everywhere with JavaScript enabled. And with “plugins” enabled I get Flash wherever I go, which can be something of an annoyance. The ads here are just fine, but they’re just too much in some other places; and once Safari grabs memory, it seems not to give it back, so that the current “too-rich” web can cause it to bog down.

    But with AJAX and so on, there’s a lot of this stuff around, and going into the Preferences dialog in Safari to turn these things on and off constantly is impractical.

    Camino now has a Flash-blocker. Firefox could be used with a whitelisting approach with the extension NoScript. You can, apparently, set site-preferences in Omniweb; and, although I don’t know, I’d guess that means you can allow nothing to run by default in Omniweb and use the site preferences for whitelisting.

    The indications are that scripting attacks will become both worse and more prevalent in the future. One recent example was the demonstration of a cross-site scripting attack that could be used to grab a user’s GMail address book. A site running this script could simply take those records, whenever a user who was logged into GMail at the same time visited it. This kind of attack is platform and browser agnostic: if your browser can run JavaScript you’re essentially vulnerable to this kind of thing.

    And this was one of only three XSS flaws found in GMail in recent months. If Google can’t get this right, is the average outfit going to be likely to?

    I think whitelisting or “site preferences”–or simply the ability to toggle JavaScript on and off from the toolbar–probably aren’t something most people want, or are even aware of. It also flies in the face of Apple’s commendable wish to make interfaces clean and simple. But I do find the lack of such functionality mildly annoying.

  2. Terry says:

    Fix the Finder

  3. Dobbs says:

    “But the larger issue is that, except for a very basic educational iMac, you’re stuck with the camera.”

    There’s a wonderful little program you should know about that can instantly disable the camera on any Mac. It’s cheaper than most shareware, can display in a variety of colours, and it is guaranteed secure against any attempt to disable it with a software hack and reactivate your camera. In fact, it’s pretty much open source and the codebase is so elegant that I can list it for you right here…

    GET MASKING_TAPE
    REPEAT WITH X FROM 1 TO THE NUMBER OF MACS IN THE BUILDING
    SET PIECE_OF_TAPE TO CENTIMETERS 1 THRU 2 OF MASKING TAPE
    PUT PIECE_OF_TAPE OVER LENS ENCLOSURE OF MAC NUMBER X
    END REPEAT
    HAVE DINNER WITH GIRLFRIEND

    I admit I went a little bit overboard on the eye candy interface, but hey — no point in inventing something if you can’t figure out how to make it appeal to the market! It’s still pretty simple and most importantly it will compile run on the only universal platform in existence: the human brain.

    This is only the first in a line of software titles I intend to release, all themed around how to deal with the annoying problem of those pesky surplus computer capabilities. In fact, I’m working on a virtual machine that will allow you, in any language, to access in a standardised way the latest technological advances in this field, such as black magic marker, reinforced cardboard toolbar blockers, and the cutting edge looking-the-other-way pill.

  4. reinharden says:

    Okay, I’ve got a new Mac mini, the “center of my digital hub”, I’ll just plug in my camera and video recorder and maybe a flash card of pictures and get right to work…um…let me pull it out, turn it around and plug some stuff in.

    Well, it’s low-end. That’s expected. My my new iMac. Now that’s high-end and the “center of my digital hub”. Um…nope, got to dig around behind it to plug things in. And why are all the USB ports on the one side, I hate string cables around to the other side.

    Oh well, at least the Mac Pro allows me to plug stuff into the front.

    I guess I’ll just wait for an 802.11n or Ultrawideband wireless-to-USB hub. Then I won’t care.

    reinharden

    PS: I hate the power connector being on the left side of my MacBook Pro. I liked it being in the back. And for some unknown reason in not in one location where I live/work/play is it convenient to bring the power back to the left side of the machine.

  5. “But the larger issue is that, except for a very basic educational iMac, you’re stuck with the camera.”

    There’s a wonderful little program you should know about that can instantly disable the camera on any Mac. It’s cheaper than most shareware, can display in a variety of colours, and it is guaranteed secure against any attempt to disable it with a software hack and reactivate your camera. In fact, it’s pretty much open source and the codebase is so elegant that I can list it for you right here…

    GET MASKING_TAPE
    REPEAT WITH X FROM 1 TO THE NUMBER OF MACS IN THE BUILDING
    SET PIECE_OF_TAPE TO CENTIMETERS 1 THRU 2 OF MASKING TAPE
    PUT PIECE_OF_TAPE OVER LENS ENCLOSURE OF MAC NUMBER X
    END REPEAT
    HAVE DINNER WITH GIRLFRIEND

    I admit I went a little bit overboard on the eye candy interface, but hey — no point in inventing something if you can’t figure out how to make it appeal to the market! It’s still pretty simple and most importantly it will compile run on the only universal platform in existence: the human brain.

    This is only the first in a line of software titles I intend to release, all themed around how to deal with the annoying problem of those pesky surplus computer capabilities. In fact, I’m working on a virtual machine that will allow you, in any language, to access in a standardised way the latest technological advances in this field, such as black magic marker, reinforced cardboard toolbar blockers, and the cutting edge looking-the-other-way pill.

    Covering the camera with tape doesn’t mean you didn’t pay for one, however. There ought to be an option that excludes the camera in all models for which it’s provided as standard issue. Even if it’s $50 cheaper, that’s a decent dinner for two, right? 🙂

    Peace,
    Gene

  6. MichaelT says:

    Not only do we pay for the camera here at my government job, we also pay to have it disabled. Because the camera is not optional, we pay around $85 extra to have our vendor unplug the camera. A double whammy.

  7. Not only do we pay for the camera here at my government job, we also pay to have it disabled. Because the camera is not optional, we pay around $85 extra to have our vendor unplug the camera. A double whammy.

    $85 extra to unplug a camera. What a racket 🙂 I’m in the wrong business.

    Peace,
    Gene

  8. MichaelT says:

    $85 extra to unplug a camera. What a racket 🙂 I’m in the wrong business.

    Yeah, I’m sure these guys are enjoying their government contract. Tell you what, I’ll come over and turn your TV on for $50. I’ll change channels for $20. 😉

  9. Yeah, I’m sure these guys are enjoying their government contract. Tell you what, I’ll come over and turn your TV on for $50. I’ll change channels for $20. 🙂

    Only if my friend David Biedny pays for it 🙂

    Peace,
    Gene

  10. Love says:

    * If the camera really costs Apple $50 in bulk, they’re probably doing something wrong. The iSight, yes; it had a fancy privacy filter, custom case, etc.

    * Eventually, you will be expected to have video if you want to communicate with other people. Apple’s just ahead of the game again. It’s clear that Apple expects the camera to be omnipresent and ubiquitous. I’d be more comfortable with it if it always had a physical privacy screen, though.

    * The ‘fixed Finder’ — this isn’t going to happen until someone convinces Steve Jobs there’s something wrong with the current one and that he should fund a new one. External evidence would seem to indicate the Finder team is working on Time Machine integration (that Time Machine UI contains a Finder window — no way is that done without using actual Finder code) and braindead under-the-hood improvements, and slight tweaks to what’s already there in terms of UI. There isn’t a Miracle Finder in the works behind the scenes, unless Apple has a parallel team working on one. We’re stuck with infinite tweaks to the NeXT halfbreed at least until 10.6.

  11. * If the camera really costs Apple $50 in bulk, they’re probably doing something wrong. The iSight, yes; it had a fancy privacy filter, custom case, etc.

    * Eventually, you will be expected to have video if you want to communicate with other people. Apple’s just ahead of the game again. It’s clear that Apple expects the camera to be omnipresent and ubiquitous. I’d be more comfortable with it if it always had a physical privacy screen, though.

    * The ‘fixed Finder’ — this isn’t going to happen until someone convinces Steve Jobs there’s something wrong with the current one and that he should fund a new one. External evidence would seem to indicate the Finder team is working on Time Machine integration (that Time Machine UI contains a Finder window — no way is that done without using actual Finder code) and braindead under-the-hood improvements, and slight tweaks to what’s already there in terms of UI. There isn’t a Miracle Finder in the works behind the scenes, unless Apple has a parallel team working on one. We’re stuck with infinite tweaks to the NeXT halfbreed at least until 10.6.

    With regard to the Finder: Well, if they just fix the performance problems, that would be sufficient for me. I’m sick and tired of doing manual backups to two or three external drives, while the Finder is brought to its knees.

    Peace,
    Gene

  12. Love says:

    $85 extra to unplug a camera. What a racket I’m in the wrong business.

    I have no idea how much time it actually takes, but if you consider how difficult it is to take apart an iMac, that could represent something like $40 an hour labor, which doesn’t seem completely unreasonable given the delicacy of the task, although it’s on the high side of what I’d pay.

    Always remember that government contracts have a lot of costly regulations and requirements that strictly commercial contracts usually do not. These requirements are imposed on it by those very same congresscritters who claim to be in favor of smaller government. I looked into these sorts of pricing boondoggles; it’s almost never as simple as it looks. The exception to this is gross cases like Halliburton/Blackwater in Iraq, where there is in fact very little to no regulation, and they’re grossly overcharging and delivering substandard products/services. Obviously, it does happen. But not every seemingly inflated price is due to contractor overcharging/profiteering.

  13. MichaelT says:

    With regard to the Finder: Well, if they just fix the performance problems, that would be sufficient for me. I’m sick and tired of doing manual backups to two or three external drives, while the Finder is brought to its knees.

    Peace,
    Gene

    What are “Backups”? 😉

    Seriously, I wonder how backups will go with Time Machine? Better, I hope. I’d hate to have it automatically backup and FREEZE ME WHERE I AM!!!

    I’d rather use the Finder. At least then I KNOW it’s going to slow me down.

  14. MichaelT says:

    I have no idea how much time it actually takes, but if you consider how difficult it is to take apart an iMac, that could represent something like $40 an hour labor, which doesn’t seem completely unreasonable given the delicacy of the task, although it’s on the high side of what I’d pay.

    Always remember that government contracts have a lot of costly regulations and requirements that strictly commercial contracts usually do not. These requirements are imposed on it by those very same congresscritters who claim to be in favor of smaller government. I looked into these sorts of pricing boondoggles; it’s almost never as simple as it looks. The exception to this is gross cases like Halliburton/Blackwater in Iraq, where there is in fact very little to no regulation, and they’re grossly overcharging and delivering substandard products/services. Obviously, it does happen. But not every seemingly inflated price is due to contractor overcharging/profiteering.

    My offer was due to ovecharging/profiteering. And greed, you forgot greed. 🙂

  15. Michael says:

    “I’d rather use the Finder. At least then I KNOW it’s going to slow me down.”

    For backups? Why not use the command line? After all, rsync is built in.

  16. stevew says:

    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.

  17. 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.

    Think of all the exercise for your wrists. Think of the doctors profiting from treating you for wrist injuries. Maybe they give commissions to Apple? 🙂

    Peace,
    Gene

  18. Michael says:

    Think of all the exercise for your wrists. Think of the doctors profiting from treating you for wrist injuries. Maybe they give commissions to Apple? 🙂

    Peace,
    Gene

    *grin*

    I knew Apple were in league with the medical profession–otherwise, why bring out the “mighty mouse”? I can’t believe that thing wouldn’t do damage to your hands.

  19. stevew says:

    Here’s another major gripe.

    OSX is unbelievably stable for most folks. It almost never crashes for most folks. But when is a system crash not a system crash? When the GUI hangs. Underneath the GUI everything could be going smoothly but if you can’t do anything at all because the GUI has gone down, we might as well consider it a crash. Then it’s time for a hard reset with all the risks involved.

    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.

  20. Brant Sears says:

    I’d like to see the ability to mute the sound for an individual tab in Safari. Lots of websites have sound that I’d rather turn off and don’t provide a mute button.

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