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Bug of the moment 2006-03-20

Back to Mac OS X

The monitor of the family PC has just died, and a decision was taken to replace it with our dormant iMac DV SE running Mac OS X Tiger 10.4.3. I have just gone through the process of migrating everyone’s Windows profiles (mostly Firefox, Thunderbird and various documents) over to Tiger, and what a process that has been. For example, Firefox and Thunderbird don’t agree on where in the file system to store their data, with Thunderbird living in ~/Library/Thunderbird and Firefox in ~/Library/Application Support/Firefox (the paths are similarly mixed up in Windows). 10.4.3 also refused to let me see into other users’ folders despite being an admin user, so I had to find an ugly workaround to that one. The update to 10.4.5 seemed to solve that one however.

Despite feeling accustomed to Mac OS X, I was still not prepared for just how thoroughly buggy it remains! For example, here, I have just deleted the final item in the window:

The window is still scrolled down, but it decided to delete the scroll bar anyway. I would be surprised if even Windows pulled a stunt like this, but this is just par for the course with the Finder. But lo! It gets worse. In the next screenshot, I had deleted all but four files from the window; as well as inappropriately removing the scroll bar, the Finder vanished all the remaining icons as well:

(For the curious: the above images, like all screenshots on my site, are cropped so that they work well on an 800×600 screen without making the page wider than the window. I just could not be bothered to link to uncropped versions like I normally do!)

Windowing in X is universally hopeless. Excluding all the “obvious” problems such as keyboard access to minimised windows and windowless applications, it has some really bizarre faults that defy belief. Here is how the Finder’s preferences dialog opens:

Again, I would be surprised if even Windows behaved like this.

Somewhere during window navigation, Software Update has “forgotten” that it has a modal dialog box open; I can use the window underneath as if there were no dialog, but the dialog just beeps at me when I try to focus it or click the buttons:

I finally told Software Update to quit, closing the main window in the process. The dialog continued to remain at odds with the mouse but it did let me press return to close it.

I do not know what is up with zoom (the twee green button in the title bar) but it makes absolutely no sense any more, generally resizing the window to a new size that proves to be no more helpful than the previous size. In the good old days, zoom was there to resize a window to snugly fit its contents (enlarging or reducing accordingly), or maximising the window to the size of the screen (minus a space for the right-most column of desktop icons if you’re lucky), but nowadays it seems to have no purpose at all. The first time I hit zoom in Firefox I got a window about 130×130 px at most, which was quite bizarre.

The following also make no sense either. Here is the Finder in its typically drug-enduced state:

Safari seems unable to read items from a mounted disc image:

What is more worrying is that Mac OS permits the path of the item to be seen as something the user neither wants to see nor should be seeing, instead of, say, /Volumes/Witch. Finally, if you don’t enable assistive device access on behalf of Witch, each press of opt-tab opens a new message dialog, in a very Windowsish way:

Worse, there is no way to cancel them, and they don’t close even when you quit System Preferences, from where I was working with Witch. Mac OS X has quite a penchant for parentless windows and dialogs that don’t belong to anything and cannot be reached by keyboard navigation, and in some if not all cases, vanishing from the screen while using Exposé to view all windows.

I worry about Mac OS X; it lacks the ease of operation of Windows. And I am not kidding. For example, it implements File > Copy for copying files like Windows and EPOC does, but strangely omits support for moving files via Cut. The Back and Forwards buttons in the Finder cannot skip more than one folder at once, and they neither tell you where they will lead to, nor offer a menu of previous or successive folders like you see in browsers and Windows Explorer. When I have multiple open Finder windows with the same title, there is no way to differentiate them visually like I can with the Explorer address bar. Nor is there any way to rapidly reach a window by its title, although Witch comes in handy there. I just wish Apple would quit being possessive and permit Witch to take over cmd-tab so that I don’t have to learn a separate shortcut for Mac OS X compared to 9 or X boxes without Witch installed. And someone please tell me why Safari cannot have a New Tab toolbar button?

The entire operating system froze twice during the evening but that may just be because we’re running a hoser of an iMac, but I am not so sure!

Posted 20th March 2006 – Comments and questions?