Monday, February 15, 2016

Transitioning from Microsoft Windows OS to Apple Mac OS – Non-trivial Annoyances

By Oga Ajima

Having been a Windows user since the days of Windows 95, I have grown to be a fairly competent user. Though I wouldn’t quite call myself a “power user”, I consider myself slightly above the average user. I have also used various flavors of desktop Linux including Ubuntu, Fedora, CentOS amongst others so when I decided to get a new laptop, and the MacBook Pro was the only option that met the conditions of size, battery power and hardware specification, I didn’t foresee any usability issues as I considered myself a better than average user. I had never used a Macintosh before but had heard how easy and intuitive Apple’s OS was and being an avid follower of technology, my thoughts were how hard would it be to start using. With this mindset, I had no intention of spending any time learning the user interface, that was for “noobs” I thought, that made it harder to seek for help when I ran into what were different design choices between the Mac OS and Windows. In retrospect, some of these would have been fairly obvious if I had taken a little time to learn how to use the OS but in other cases, they make no sense and I still do not know why certain UI choices were implemented in a particular way. The following is a list of trouble I ran into while transitioning from a Windows laptop to a MacBook.

1.     Red Close/Minimize button
Closing an application (really closing) requires you to go to the file menu and select quit or use the “Command + Q” keyboard shortcut. This was my most frustrating encounter with the Mac OS. The three buttons UI design is used across practically all OS GUI in the folder control and they tend to represent a Close, Minimize to taskbar and Maximize commands. The Mac OS X instead closes the application window but not the application when the “X” button is clicked. I would think from a layman’s perspective, “X” would represent “exit” and this in combination with the red colour signifies in my own interpretation, a desire to “stop” an application. Coupled with the fact that across all other OS, it closes the application, it is a rather odd UI choice and not particularly intuitive.

Figure 1: X means “minimize”, not “close”

Another minor annoyance is the lack of a “proper” maximize button. There are times when having multiple windows side by side is useful but after you are done with the task, simply clicking the maximize button to resize the window to full size seems more intuitive than going full screen. However, this task is achieved by clicking the maximize button while holding down the “Option” key or by double clicking the title bar of the current application window. Again, going full screen would seem to be better relegated to the “Option” + click combination as that seems to be the less frequently desired outcome. Again, this choice in UI has no apparent advantage that I can see and seems to exist just to annoy.

2.     No cut and paste in right-click menu
Mac OS X implements only an option to copy files/folder when using the mouse and in order to cut an item, one needs to make use of a keyboard shortcut “Command + Option + V” that does not seem terribly intuitive. This is in contrast to Windows and other desktop Linux variants that include it in the right-click menu or make use of the “Ctrl + V” shortcut. While the “Command + V” is used to start the OS in verbose mode, it doesn’t seem to be assigned to any command within the OS itself and assigning it a different command within the OS seems like a better option than the three key shortcut the “cut & paste” command presently uses.

Figure 2: No cut command

3.     Taskbar does not restore between applications minimized using the Minimize button
Restoring a minimized application takes up a lot more effort than seems useful especially in comparison to Windows. While the “Command + Tab” shortcut allows one to switch between multiple open applications, if you happen to have minimized an application window, releasing the key combination seems to have no effect as you are still left with the last window that was open. Closer inspection of the menu bar reveals that focus has actually shifted to the selected application but in order to get the application window into focus, extra steps are required. A left click of the application icon in the taskbar is necessary or the complicated keyboard shortcut of “Command + tab”, release “tab” while holding “Command” then “Option”. Coming from a Windows world, this is very frustrating as there seems to be no rationale for a situation that arises fairly frequently I would think. A similar annoyance is the ability to switch between multiple open windows of the same application. This requires holding down the left mouse button for at least a second to bring up a menu or using the right click button to bring up the same menu. The nature of implementation in Windows appears to me to be more intuitive and less time consuming. Open applications are cycled through using the “Alt + Tab” key combination and considering multiple windows of the same application can be considered as a single instance of an open application, why the Mac OS X implementation doesn’t show them up in the open applications UI doesn’t make much sense. This saves time since switching to an application using the Tab should allow you select the specific window at the same time rather than having to use the mouse. Using the “Command + Tab + Option” key combination opens up the last minimized window which may not always be what is desired.

4.     Copy and paste of a folder overwrites any other folder bearing the same name in the same location.
This is another baffling decision coming from a Windows OS to the Mac OS. Moving folders is a fairly common operation and having the ability to merge folders of the same name would seem to be a useful command implemented by the OS. Rather, the Mac OS overwrites folders bearing the same name with the new one being copied. In order to merge the contents of folders, one needs to hold down the “Option” key while copying a folder using the drag-and-drop functionality. A better implementation would be to pop up a dialog asking to merge or overwrite.

5.     Selecting multiple files in a non-contiguous manner
Windows allows you to select multiple contiguous files by using a combination of “Control + Shift”. In addition, releasing the “Shift” key while “Control” is still being held preserves your selection while you have the added ability to select other files not contiguous with your selection using the arrow keys and the spacebar. All these can be done without having once to reach for the mouse. While this is a multiple key combination that could get cumbersome, it is very useful especially when organizing or selecting multiple files in a folder. While the Mac OS allows a similar functionality using “Command + Shift”, there doesn’t seem to be a comparable one to selecting non-contiguous files without reaching for the mouse; one can only select a any desired number of files and perform  an action after which the next set of files can then be selected and the same action performed again. To gain a similar functionality requires the use of the keyboard and mouse and in my view, an incomplete implementation.

6.     Using the Return/enter key to launch applications
The Return/enter does not seem to have a consistent action in Mac OS. While it can be used to select the default action in dialog boxes, using it in a folder however “highlights” the file/folder/application’s name. This is useful if the intent is to rename the file in question but if the intent is to launch the file, then there’s a more cumbersome key combination “Command + O”. Again, not assign the launch action seems to be counter-intuitive as launching files seems to be a more frequent action than renaming files. Coming from a Windows background and having experienced similar behavior in Linux, there doesn’t seem to be any gain for this decision. Having a two-key combination no doubt ensures that launching an application is a deliberate action and prevents accidental launches but any positives gained from this is minor compared with the inconvenience associated with multiple key shortcuts for an action that will be engaged in fairly frequently.

7.     Separating the calendar from the clock
This is another odd decision that seems to carry no benefit beyond giving a distinct approach to the Mac OS. Checking the date and time are usually part of the same work flow as knowing the time tends to go with a need to know the date and vice versa. While the Mac OS incorporates a user’s schedule within the calendar, there seems to be no reason while the time and calendar app are not integrated as one application. The process of checking the date is not a particularly onerous task but it entails some annoyance as it requires multiple steps to accomplish a task that could be done in one step.

8.     Navigating using the “Tab” key not natively enabled.
Using the Windows OS does not require a mouse and where this is very obvious is navigating options in popup dialog boxes. The “Tab” key can be used to navigate among the various options available within a dialog box. Within the Mac OS, this option seems to be unavailable and this is rather frustrating. This hole in UI implementation is usually most obvious when you desire to select the non-default option in a dialog box. This requires an interruption since you have to reach for the mouse as there is no default navigation option in the Mac OS. The default option seems to have been changed as earlier versions of the Mac OS had this enabled. In order to enable this behavior, users have the option of going to System preferences and navigating to Keyboards/Shortcuts/Full Keyboard Access option and selecting the desired behaviour of switching the keyboard focus. This option can also be accessed using the “Control+F7” shortcut.

9.     Having a shared menu bar for applications
There are both pros and cons to sharing a common menu across applications. Using a common menu provides consistency across applications as the user becomes accustomed to where to search for commands irrespective of the application but on the other hand, coming from a workflow where having multiple application windows open side by side is more often the state, it becomes rather frustrating as you have to keep track of which application window is in focus. This is a minor annoyance which is more of a pet peeve since I believe that for a greater proportion of users, having a common menu is more advantageous.

I am over a year now in my journey in the use of the Mac OS and these different UI implementations still aggravate and not just because of the learning curve but rather the inconsistencies that they seem to embody for a UI that is makes an effort to be easy and intuitive. A lot of the issues and grievances I have is that the OS does not seem to allow you use a one in put device to achieve all UI tasks. You might be using the mouse to perform certain tasks but in order to have full functionality, you have to perform an extra step or use a combination of the mouse and keyboard; similarly, while the Mac OS employs a lot of key combination and shortcuts, it does not provide full interaction with the OS using just the keyboard but rather forces the use of the mouse. These do not come across as very user friendly. There are probably keyboard shortcuts to achieve all these tasks but from the perspective of the average user, it would require a time commitment and memorization of commands. The OS by itself is not particularly useful except as a platform to get tasks done and making it have a more time and effort investment in order to get access to all the features available means a lot of those features won’t get used by the average user.
While the user paradigms used on both systems are no doubt very different, the anecdotal stories of the origins of the GUI in Xerox PARC system creates some preconceived notions with regards to GUI implementation, unfortunately that was a misunderstanding on my part but in the same vein, having now used the Mac OS for over a year now, there seems to be no explanation of using multiple key combinations for tasks that are done fairly frequently.                  

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