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The Mac Switching Report: The Application Quitting Dilemma

Most of you know that applications run a little differently when you compare the Mac and Windows platforms. That and other differences are apt to cause some measure of confusion as folks switch to our favorite computing platform.

Such minor issues as the Command versus the Control key for common shortcuts are easily mastered, and if you must float back and forth between the two platforms, you eventually become accustomed to the lay of the land. Of course the best idea comes in the latest version of Parallels Desktop, where you can use a standard preference setting and actually use the Mac keyboard shortcuts under Windows too.


But one thing that doesn’t change is the way menus and the process of quitting applications work. As you know, the Mac OS has a single, unified menu bar at the top of the screen. Under Windows, there’s a separate menu bar in every application window. More confusing, however, is the fact that Windows Vista drops the menu bar labels in favor of icons unless you opt to go to a classic-style menu motif. Leave it to Microsoft to take a tried-and-tested user interface tradition and turn it on its ear for no good reason.

Of course, Apple can pull a few tricks of its own in keeping with its “Think Different” philosophy, but that’s beyond the scope of this article, so hold the comments please.

The other factor is more confusing, and I’m not altogether sure that the Mac way is necessarily better than the Windows version.

As you all know, with a few notable exceptions, to exit or quit a Mac application, you choose Quit from the Application menu or use the Command-Q shortcut. It’s consistent for applications that can spawn multiple windows. However, applications that use a single window, such as System Preferences, may simply quit when you close that window.

The latter is, of course, how it works under Windows with all applications. Close the last window and the application is no longer running. So you can expect that, when Windows users switch to the Mac, they anticipate the same behavior and may leave applications open by mistake, because they closed all its open windows and expected it shut down the application.

Yes, there is a global Exit command in a Windows application, but it’s one that is probably seldom used, since the alternative works well enough.

Such differences ought to be fairly easy to deal with, but there is one more factor that comes into play far more than you might expect, and I bet it’s happened to you. Even though all open applications (other than background processes that generally apply to system add-ons or such things as virus preventive software) are clearly indicated by a tiny arrow in the Dock, that’s easy to overlook.

So, yes, you leave an application open without any document windows. In most cases, this doesn’t mean an awful lot. An properly coded application running in the background, with no documents open and doing nothing at all, shouldn’t hog memory. But that doesn’t mean it won’t.

Having used both platforms for years, I’m accustomed to the variations. It doesn’t bother me a bit, although I can see where novices might find Mac application behavior confusing. The real question is whether the Windows method is better.

Now it’s quite easy to assume that any Windows concept must necessarily be bad because Microsoft developed it or borrowed it. And I’ll leave it to others to decide which is correct, and it really doesn’t matter all that much in the scheme of things.

So what do you readers think? If you’ve used Windows, would you prefer that closing all document windows shut the application off, or do you find that to be just an impediment to good productivity? In the end, the best method is the one least confusing and the most productive.

As far as I’m concerned, I prefer the Mac way. But I don’t mind being proven wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time.