Mac Annoyances

(Ed. Note: this was copied and pasted from its original location in the now-defunct blork blog/2. I have also pasted in the comments, at the bottom, in Italics.)

When we were in San Francisco last week, the owners of the apartment where we stayed kindly allowed M and me to use their computer. It’s a Mac G4 with a nice flat-screen LCD monitor, running OSX. “Oh goody” I thought, as I’ve been wanting to try out a 21st Century Mac ever since OSX was launched.

Well, I’m sorry to say I was under-whelmed. Before I get into what I consider to be “Mac annoyances” I will state firmly that I am no Microsoft marketing hack trying to pull a “reverse switch” promo. Indeed, I believe that Microsoft is evil, and Windows is as shot full of holes as an OS can be.

The Mac OS is supposed to be way better than Windows because it is so easy to use and intuitive. That may be true in the case of newbies and greenhorns, but for an advanced user (like me) the OS comes off as stupid and dumbed down. Windows infuriates me because it is fundamentally unstable and non-secure. Mac infuriates me because it slows me down so much.

Thus, with apologies to my many friends who are dedicated Mac users, I present my Mac annoyances.

One Button Mouse
This is my longest-standing beef with the Mac. Newer versions of MS Windows are built around the concept of a two-button mouse with a wheel. I am so accustomed to using the right mouse button and the wheel that when you take away either (or in this case, both!), I grind to a halt.

Windows users understand this. Mac users almost universally go “huh?” when I bring this up. It’s like trying to explain to someone who’s never driven stick that you get more performance out of a 5-speed manual than an old-fashion four-speed automatic. They just don’t get it.

For me, a mouse with only one button and no wheel is as slow, clumsy, and irritating as a complete lack of mouse would be for a Mac user. It’s like taking away a fundamental tool. With my two button mouse and wheel I can copy, cut, paste, scroll, reload, bookmark, select all, go back or forward, and any number of other things using only one hand and without touching the keyboard (great for when I’m eating my lunch with one hand and reading blogs with the other). To watch me, it looks like I’m using only mind power because of the speed and minimal physical movement. On a Mac, I need two hands (one for the mouse and one for the Apple key — or is it the Ctrl key?), or one very busy hand that drives all over the screen pulling down menus and searching for menu items.

Some Mac users may argue that this is a bogus complaint — that one can buy a two-buttoned and wheeled mouse for the Mac. True enough, but (a) the fact that the one button mouse remains the default format indicates that Apple is still in 1987 when it comes to Mice and how they design the ergonomics of interacting with the computer, (b) because virtually no Mac users buy a third-party mouse, I am always stuck with a one button mouse whenever sit down to use a Mac, and (c) if you want to use a Mac laptop you’re stuck with that one big dumb button — unless you want to plug in a mouse, but who does that with a laptop?

That Crazy Apple Key
It’s bad enough with Windows that you have to remember whether a key combo uses Ctrl or Alt, but with a Mac you have a third option — that crazy Apple key. Given that every other OS on earth (as far as I know) uses Ctrl for things like copy and paste (Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V, etc.), why does Apple stick with it’s proprietary methods? What is the point of the Apple key?

Stupid Multi-user System
This anecdote is true. The first time I used that loaner Mac with OSX, I logged in as “guest” and it started up some kind of auto-initiated backup process. (It must have been on a timer.) It kept asking me to insert some kind of disk into some kind of backup drive. I had no idea what to do, so I tried to cancel out of it.

Unfortunately, I could not cancel out because “guest” does not have “admin” rights, which are required to cancel the process. Fortunately, I was able to work on top of those dialog boxes, but when I finished I couldn’t shut down the machine because it hadn’t done the scheduled backup. I could neither do the backup nor cancel it, so I was unable to shut down the computer.

In the end, I unplugged it. Now tell me: what kind of retarded OS will start a process that requires admin rights when the user is logged in as “guest?” That’s Microsoft-level stupidity, but as far as I know even Microsoft isn’t that stupid any more. Fortunately, the next time I started the system it simply scolded me for shutting down rudely, and didn’t try to start the backup process.

The Menu Paradigm
My biggest beef with Mac is regarding the menu paradigm. This is something that Mac users defend (AJ and Empey did so rather eloquently in the comments of M’s blog last week). AJ talks about the Mac being document-centric instead of application-centric, meaning it pins the active document’s menu bar to the top of the screen. The result is that you have only one menu bar visible at any given time (the menu for the application of the document that has focus).

If you ask me, that makes it application-centric! If I change focus from one document to another and the one solitary menu bar changes from application A to application B, then that is application-centric action!

On a more practical level, the idea of showing only one menu bar at a time is very 1993. It assumes, for the most part, that you are using a small 15-inch monitor and that you work in “full screen mode,” meaning you only need to see one menu at a time.

I have news for you. When I’m at work I use Windows XP with a 21″ monitor set to 1600×1200 resolution. My computer’s desktop looks like my wooden desktop — strewn with documents. It’s a busy but efficient place. At any given time I might have two email clients, two word processors, ten documents, and half a dozen Web browsers open. To go from one item to another I need only roll my cursor a few pixels, because the menus are at the top of the documents, not the top of the screen. (Another argument that Windows is doc-centric, not app-centric.) In fact, for the most commonly-used operations I’d just click anywhere in the document and right-click to have a menu pop up where the cursor is (see “One Button Mouse,” above).

If I was using a Mac and wanted to access the menu of a different document, I would have to roll the cursor across 40 miles of screen, all the way to the top. Then I’d realize that the document I want to access uses a different application than the one that currently has focus, so I’d have to roll all the way down again, click the document to give focus to its application (app-centric), and then roll all the way up again. (Can I get air miles for all that travel?)

In the meantime, the entire screen has to refresh to accommodate the switch in menus. That may be instantaneous on some computers, but in my experience it takes a half-second. Half a second adds up over the course of a day, a week, a month. The time loss is not the issue, it’s the uh! aggravating little delay, again and again and again. Plus the sore wrist from all that excessive mouse driving.

Again, this would be less of an issue if I were using full-screen mode on an 800×600 pixel monitor. But guess what? I haven’t worked like that in ten years. I never use full screen mode. (OK, that’s a lie: I use full screen mode on my vintage 1998 micro-laptop — which I rarely use — but only because its monitor is 800×600.)

It’s Not All Bad
I give Apple full marks for hardware interoperability and for “industrial design.” The iMacs sport a truly beautiful design and even those damn one-button mice are ergonomic and visual wonders. OSX seems to be very stable (with its UNIX foundation) and I hear it does networking very well. So why don’t they take a few lessons from Microsoft users (note I did not say “from Microsoft”) in how to speed up the interface? How long before the Mac OS breaks out of it’s own dumbed-down 1980s shell and turns high-performance? When will it drop the steering-column-mounted Chevy automatic and give us a finely-tuned 5-speed?



nice, non-religious writeup. the networking is fantastic, and if you look under the covers and discover darwin, you’ll find the unix power your looking for. we’ve recently added a number of powerbooks to our household of 1 technologist; 1 luddite_though_trying_wife; 2 boy technologists in training (high school & middle school). so far the addition (not switch) is going seamlessly – airport extreme (802.11g) is speedy and reliable, plus we hung a printer off it so all powerbooks can print off it. we still have windows laptops floating around on our couple year old 802.11b network, plus a windows desktop and a linux server. all are co-existing well, for the most part. for this typepad beta – i’m using both a powerbook & a windows 2000 laptop, no difference so far. we love montreal, btw & snowboarded in tremblant last winter which was a blast. bye for now…
Posted by: mike dunn | July 12, 2003 11:07 PM

I see your point about menu-bar differences. Regarding mouse diffs, apparently you didn’t try holding down the mouse button long enough to see what the Contextual Menu will pop up under the cursor — which menu differs depending on where on the screen you click, document, Desktop, background doc…oh, and doing so while holding the mysterious Apple key? Even more options!

As far as OSX, well, no experience, so nothing to say.

Thanks for your well-considered critique.

How do you like TypePad so far?
Posted by: empey | July 13, 2003 01:20 AM


Ok, about the one-button is very stupid of Apple to still bundle the damn things with every Mac – the idea being that one button is easier for newbies – but you can go down to any computer superstore and buy a two-button USB mouse for $5 US, and a two-button mouse with scroll wheel for about $10. The Mac operating system (OS 9.x and later) automatically recognizes all these things with no configuration necessary. The minute I got my Mac the mouse became a pretty Christmas tree ornament and I substituted the cheap and efficient Microsoft Optical Scroll mouse ($20 CDN at Staples). So in effect your complaint is less that Apple has a one-button mouse paradigm – it’s as contextual-menu-filled as Windows is – but that they are too cheap to bundle a second “pro” mouse with their systems. (Truth be told, the only Windows contextual menu item that I think is missing from Mac OS X’s Finder is the “Send as E-Mail Attachment…” command, which I find supremely useful on my W2K box at work. OS X’s system is, believe it or not, much more open to modification. I’d be surprised if some enterprising haxor out there hadn’t put out a UI patch to turn OS X’s UI into a clone of Windows, Atari, Amiga or whatever you find more usable…

As for the login weirdness and the backup requirements, that seems like a particularity of the way your friend’s machine is set up, not the way OS X works. I have set up multiple guest accounts (and subsequently deleted them) for people who’ve had to use my Mac with none of the backup rigmarole or admin-level registration that you describe. You need an admin user to create a new user account, sure, but after that it’s smooth sailing…

One thing that will be quite cool in the next version of OS X, 10.3, is Fast User Switching (similar to XP) – but done a little bit nicer with an animated cube transition…sweet :)

The Apple key is, for all intents and purposes, the ctrl key on Mac. Once you get past that brain mapping, and remember that it isn’t the Start key, it shouldn’t be a problem. Yeah, there’s another ctrl key – and that’s useful because on Mac it gives you another modifier key in additon to ALT (option) and Shift. It lets you accomplish complex things in as few keystrokes as possible. In Windows, outside of apps like InDesign which have a Glyphs palette and advanced auto-typesetting features, trying to type accents, bullets, fleurons, and ligatures requires going to the Character Map and doing a copy-and-paste song and dance. How do you type a bullet in Windows? You don’t. On the Mac, I just type Apple-8.

If you’re not a typographer, in the operating system and in applications, it allows you another layer of keyboard shortcuts as you can type option-Apple-Shift-(character), for instance – which makes it quite fast once you know what they are.

Let me emphasize that:once you know what they are. I’ve been using Macs since 1990 and grown used to their quirks. I’ve been using Windows regularly for two years, so I don’t know all the quick keyboard shortcuts and tricks (at least, the ones that aren’t common to both platforms), so I’m probably slower on one platform than the other.
You got to use OS X for about a week, casually at that – if you got to spend a week using it 8 hours a day (with a decent mouse, and a properly-set up account) it would probably seem less foreign to you.

I actually find OS X more like Windows than any previous incarnation of the OS (the Taskbar-like Dock, the Windows Explorer-like Finder, the Task Manager for killing errant apps), but with a load of UNIX functionality underneath – ostensibly more of appeal to hardcore geeks, if you delved around the Utilities folder you’d see a passel of graphical applications for system monitoring, IP testing, etc. all the way up to the powerful NetInfo management application, an update of the version from NeXTStep.

Overall, I find OS X on a day-to-day basis, to be more sensible – it gets out of my way when I need it to, calls my attention to things without interrupting the flow of my work. Things like Sheets (application dialogs attached to windows) are a great improvement over non-dismissable dialogs that hijack the whole system for simple things like “save or quit”, etc. It’s a compendium of little things like that that I find useful and smart about it’s design. Granted, they originally threw out about 15 years of accrued UI niceties from OS 9, but they are gradually working them back in (things like Labels, which Windows *still* doesn’t have, are returning in 10.3).

To clarify my original statement, the menus are not document-centric, the *windows* are document-centric. There are no instances of applications that appear entirely in their own window, as in, ahem, Windows. Whether this is useful or annoying is up to the user, but, as in Windows, you can Tab between applications (using Apple-Tab and Apple-Shift-Tab to switch forwards and back among open apps). Still, this is an issue for people coming from Windows who look to the document’s window for the application menu.

What I’d like to know is, what do you consider high-performance? What Windows UI tools are missing in OS X that you absolutely, positively can’t live without? I’d bet half of them are actually in there, just in different places. So again, it’s a matter of properly getting used to it. To borrow your own analogy, you can’t easily drive stick-shift if you’ve been using automatic your whole life, but with a week of practice it’ll seem second nature.
Posted by: aj | July 14, 2003 09:37 AM

Um, and how old was the Mac? You complained about slow menu redraws. Because OS X’s core graphics layer, Quartz is based on PDF compositing, you need either a fast G4 Mac or a newer graphics card to get the best performance out of it. Older G3s tend to be a bit pokey with it – but still usable. (Ah, the old forced-upgrade gambit :) Thankfully, a company called Unsanity LLC has some nice shareware “haxies” that let you turn off the graphically intensive things like window drop shadows, font smoothing, etc. for faster performance on older machines. That’s a cool thing about OS X – it is eminently more ‘hackable’ than Windows in some respects..
Posted by: aj | July 14, 2003 09:43 AM

Good comments all. It’s all going into the ol’ OS/GI tract for further digestion.

Empey, what happened to your comment? It’s blank now…
Posted by: blork | July 15, 2003 10:29 AM

Huh. Weird. Empey, your comment was blank until I made my comment, and then it came back!
Posted by: blork | July 15, 2003 10:30 AM

sorry for the novel-length comment there :/
Posted by: aj | July 15, 2003 01:23 PM

Don’t apologize! You brought up some very good points. (Although I’ll try to blunt a few of them if I get a few minutes…)
Posted by: blork | July 15, 2003 02:53 PM

Hey Ed – you’re still crazy!

First of all – the menu issue isn’t that bad because the target is stable. So you know when you go where you’re going. And mouse behaviour in general is much less jumpy while still as fast as on any windows machine, so again the target is much more easily acquired. Plus – because the keyboard shortcuts are extremely stable, most mac users that I know hardly ever use the menus for everyday things.

The one button mouse is boneheaded, but you don’t have to ADD anything to the OS to use a two-button mouse with a wheel. They know about the mouse thing – it’s just a quirky company thing to insist that it’s better. Theoretically, it is; practically it’s not at all, and it is simple to deal with.

The control-key Apple-key thing is really just revisionist history on your part my friend. Even long after Apple came along and insisted on stable kybd shortcuts every application would have its own variety and in the manuals you’d get stupid little cards listing that app’s shortcuts. Windows eventually did insist on some stability, recognizing Apple’s superiority in this, but they used their crazy extra key for something totally lame – the Start key, instead of something useful.

As far as the backup thing is concerned, there’s a 90% probability that the owner of the computer was specifically asked to ensure that everything was ready for the next automatic backup before the last one quit. That he responded yes when the answer was no has nothing to do with Apple.

And lastly – why don’t you give me a call – let’s have a beerio.
Posted by: Michael | July 15, 2003 04:28 PM

Awwwww… you Mac people are just sore because I get to beta test TypePad and you don’t!
Posted by: blork | July 15, 2003 06:07 PM

Not so fast, young fella. Kindly refer to The Very First Comment Posted To This Site, wherein I exclaimed I, too, had been offered the chance to beta-test TypePad.

And I’m on a Mac!! HAhahahahaaaaa!!!

I might take them up on it. Just to show you. Hmph.
Posted by: empey | July 16, 2003 12:25 AM

See, Ed? You’ve learned what John Dvorak did a long time ago – write something slightly critical about Macs and your site becomes a lightning rod :) If you had ads, you’d be raking in the impressions…
Posted by: aj | July 16, 2003 02:37 PM

Most of that stuff is personal preference. I’m a hell of a lot more productive on OS X than I ever would be on any version of Windows. At least 70% of the stuff I do, from syncing to controlling my Mac/syncing with my cell phone to *good* video/audio chatting to *zero*-configuration networking, is either impossible in Windows… or semi-possible with a week’s worth of headaches.

(How is a multi-user system “stupid?” I’d consider it smart… and doesn’t XP have a default “guest” account, making it multi-user out of the box?)

As for switching between apps, check out Expose. Good luck getting *that* to work on Windows. Regarding the menu bar, on a well-designed app, use of the menu bar is very limited.

Oh… and Typepad on a Mac here. And aren’t Ben and Mena, Typepad’s creators, OS X users? Hmmmm…
Posted by: Michael | July 20, 2003 11:16 AM

Tard Factor 11 (out of 10)!

I made the mistake of modifying my template while using Mozilla. I like Mozilla very much except for one thing… It destroys Blogger templates!

Does anyone know of a workaround or a fix for that? Does anyone in their right mind who uses Blogger actually use Mozilla? And is this destructive template re-writing a Blogger bug or a Mozilla bug? Grrrrrrrr!!!

[Update: template fixed. Blork still angry…]

Revenge of the Google…

Like many people, I am slightly obsessed with Googling former acquaintances such as people I went to high school with. In the case of people I didn’t like, there’s a nasty part of me that wants to find out they’re in jail or otherwise miserable.

Some people I Google are from more recent times, like the guy who gave me my first job in Montreal. It was 1987, and this guy hired me to be a “photographer’s assistant” in his studio. He specialized in high school graduation photos. He differentiated himself from the other photographers by providing (for an extra fee) a second set of “casual” portraits outside of the traditional “cap & gown” stuff.

He was very good at it, and his business was thriving. So he had decided to expand — quickly. By my third week on the job he was sending me off to schools on my own. I was no longer the photographer’s assistant, I was the photographer.

As I said, the guy was good at what he did. He was a natural clown, a hit with the teenagers. He would photograph a dozen or more people every hour, each getting three or four cap & gown poses and another three or four casual poses. He made a huge profit by selling armloads of highly-priced prints. It bought him an expensive house on Nun’s Island, three cars (including an antique two-seater roadster), a trophy wife, a sailboat, and real estate investments all over the West Island of Montreal.

So there’s me — with less than three weeks training — expected to go out and produce portraits at the same speed and quality as he did. Right.

It was tough work. I’d be at the studio at 7:00 AM, loading up the van with equipment, and at the school by 8:00. I’d be shooting by 8:30. It would be busiest at lunch time, so I’d inhale a sandwich during a ten minute break before noon, and would work through until 3:00 or 3:30 in the afternoon.

Then I would pack up and head back to the studio where I would deal with the exposed film and do paperwork. I wasn’t allowed to leave until 5:00 PM, even if I had done all my work, because “business hours are from 9 to 5” (regardless of the fact that I’d been working since 7:00 AM and had only taken a ten minute lunch break). Sometimes there was so much administrative work that I wouldn’t get out until 6:00 PM or later.

One day, just before 5:00 PM, he announced that he was really tired and didn’t want to go shoot the photos for an award ceremony at one of his high schools that night. (He had agreed to shoot the ceremony in exchange for getting the portrait contract for the school.) So I had to go. I had 90 minutes to go home, change into a suit, get back to the studio, pack up the equipment, and go find some auditorium in Laval. I didn’t get home until almost 11:00 that night, but next morning at 7:00 I was back at the studio gearing up for another day.

I didn’t get any extra pay for that, nor even much of a “thank you.” Although the guy was really popular with the students, he was a self-centered prick with a massive ego and a complete lack of empathy for those around him. He initially paid me only $250 a week for that gig, but after a few weeks he bumped it up to a whopping $375 after I mentioned I was starving. You see, he was one of those “entrepreneurial” types who figured he had to drag me down and then build me up again in his image, and that I had to pay my dues. If I survived, maybe I’d have a crack at a big and rich life like his, or so went his logic.

I stuck with it because I needed the job and because part of me thought I might actually learn something. I clung to it even when his ego was unbearable and he made me feel utterly stupid. Nothing I could do for this guy was ever good enough.

I didn’t complain about the long hours because we had a “gentleman’s agreement” that I would work my ass off from September until school closed for the Christmas holidays, and in the new year (the slow season) I could take it easy and work part time (at the same pay) until things got busy again in the late spring.

But sales dropped. I tried to do a good job, I really did. And I didn’t do so badly. Most of my work was decent, some of it even good, but I couldn’t match this guy. While I’d be at one school struggling, he’d be at another whizzing through it like it was nothing. He expected that with double the photographers he’d get double the profit. His plan was to hire even more people to follow in his footsteps so eventually he could just sit back and rule his empire. “I won’t be doing this in ten years” he said to me from behind the shutter one day.

But it didn’t work out, so a week before Christmas he fired me and that was it.

I few years later I noticed that he had closed the big expensive studio and moved to a smaller one in a cheaper part of town. I’ve never seen any advertising or Web sites for his operation. I saw him once in the early 90s at the Atwater Market but I did a quick 180 and went the other way.

Today I Googled him. I found a handful of references to other people with a similar name, but only one hit referred to him. It was from some kid’s blog, dated 2001, in which the kid complains about something stupid that the grad photographer had done — something about retouching the posing chair or whatever. The kid then wrote “stupid <that guy’s name>.”

And there’s my nasty little revenge. Fifteen years later, in a world transformed by the Internet, where a Google search of my name returns more than 150 direct hits, this guy is still snapping grad photos in obscurity and his only presence on the Web is a one-liner where someone calls him stupid.

Churn time?

I’ve been getting text message SPAM on my mobile phone. To fully understand the gravity of this, you must be aware that I am not a phone person. I love talking with people, but I hate talking into a damn piece of plastic. This isn’t some sort of post-modern proto-luddite affectation or whatever — it’s just something that I’ve come to realize about myself.

I just don’t like it. Phone talk interrupts my personal time, my TV shows, my cooking, my blog writing, you name it. When the phone rings I swear at it, no matter what I’m doing and before I even pick it up to see who’s calling. Unless it’s a far-flung friend whom I can’t speak with face-to-face, I want the phone call to be over as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, I sometimes comes off as being very gruff because of this, but the simple truth is that I just want to get off the damn phone.

I’ve had this mobile phone (from Telus, formerly ClearNet) for at least three years now. It occasionally comes in handy, so I don’t regret having it. I only turn it on when I want to make a call, so incoming calls are exceedingly rare. (People know how slim the odds are that the phone is turned on, so they don’t call that number unless it’s been pre-arranged that they will.)

Last year I got the brilliant idea to switch off the $25/month plan (which was actually $40 after taxes and other costs) and instead use the “pay-as-you-go” option. A $10 Telus card gives me about 30 minutes of phone time, and expires in 30 days. Typically, I’ve used only half the value by the time my 30 days are up. A few times I’ve probably made only two calls in that period. By some people’s accounting that means I’m making $5 phone calls, but that’s better than making $20 phone calls — as I was under the old plan.

So I have a cheap phone that I almost never use. Fine. Lately, however, when I turn on the phone to make a quick call, there’s often a text message waiting for me. So I go bloop bloop bloop bloop bloop…, punching in the various menu items and codes to access the message, and it ends up being some dumb-ass SPAM advertising some lame event around town or some product I don’t want. In some cases it’s coming directly from Telus.

The worst part is that it usually takes a couple of minutes after I turn the phone on for it to realize there’s a text message waiting for me. The result is that I’ll be in the middle of a call when my phone starts to ring, signaling that I have a text message waiting!

The first time this happened I panicked. What…? What the…! What’s happening??? How could my phone be ringing when I’m in the middle of a call? Now I know what it is, but it still takes a moment for me to rememeber what’s happening, and it makes my blood boil. I swear I’m going to just throw it across the room one of these days…

I’m thinking about telling Telus to stop spamming me (and to stop selling my number to spammers) or I’m going to switch to another service provider. In telecom talk that’s called “churn” (when customers switch companies). Churn is the most frightening word in the mobile phone vernacular, so maybe they’ll listen. But then, the other companies probably have the same SPAM problems, so what’s the point?