Apple Quirks

Yesterday, I bought a MacBook Air. It’s an amazing little machine. I went for the model with the hard drive, not the SSD. With that purchase, my conversion from a combination Windows/Linux environment to an Apple-only environment is complete. Over the past year, I have bought 3 Macs (Pro, iMac and Air), 4 Apple TVs, 2 Airport Extremes and 1 iPhone, and have been almost completely satisfied with everything I’ve bought from Apple. (Yes, I actually liked the first version of Apple TV, and now with Take 2, it’s even better.) For the most part, things just work, and I really appreciate Apples focus on design. In general, their products just work better than the competition’s.
So, it really stands out to me when something doesn’t work as well as it does in the Windows world. There are three things about OS X that bug me in this way. The first is the menu bar, which is the widget that has the ‘File’, ‘Edit’, ‘Help’ and other menu tabs in it. In OS X, the menu bar for each application always appears at the top of the monitor (if you have multiple monitors, it appears at the top of the main monitor). In Windows, however, the menu bar appears at the top of each application’s window. This is a much better solution, IMO. The menu bar is where you need it, at the window, where your mouse pointer, and attention, is. You never have to take your concentration off the window you’re working in, in order to access the menu. This is especially bad if you have more than one monitor and the menu bar is in a monitor you’re not working in.
The second thing is the behavior of the red, yellow and green window buttons. These, I think, are for closing, minimizing and maximizing a window. But they don’t always do that. Or at least the green button seems to act differently for different applications. Be consistent people!
Finally, and related, there’s the behavior of closing an application. In Windows, if you close the main window for an application by hitting the little X button on the window, it closes the window and quits the application. Simple. Expected. In OS X, if you hit the red button on the application window, the window disappears, but the application still runs. Why would I want that? If I’m closing the main window of an application, I want the application to end. Don’t leave applications running without a window. That doesn’t make sense to me.
So, there you have it. Am I wrong? Have I missed any? Tell me in the comments.



  1. For 3, i agree.
    For 2, i agreed until someone noticed that the green button grows the window to the minimum needed to view all its content (try with Safari), instead of taking all the screen room like Windows does. It was saying Windows badly copied this functionnality.
    For 1, i don’t have any opinion :->

  2. No Right Click option 😦

  3. John R,
    Right, I forgot about that. I can’t stand Apple mice. One cool thing about the Air, however, is its multi-touch trackpad. You do the equivalent of a right click by pressing two fingers on the pad and then clicking the button. Works surprisingly well. But I’ll still be getting a mouse for it.

  4. Only Apple could release a product that is so technologically crippled and still get people excited about it.
    I bought a Thinkpad X60 Tablet PC in early 2007. Not only is it the same size as the Air, but it’s faster — a full 7200RPM drive. And it has a cool tablet-style swivel-lockdown screen as well as being a fully functional PC. It has over 5 hours of battery life, and I can throw in a second battery when the first 5 hours runs out.
    How are you supposed to use a laptop that doesn’t have an ExpressCard or PC Card slot for a cell modem? The omission boggles my mind. I can’t believe Apple even dared to sell it like that. I use my Sprint card all the time. Wi-fi is not reliable enough — and at conferences, Wi-fi is a total bust. Almost every conference I go to these days has some apology as to why the Wi-fi isn’t working. I wouldn’t want the lack of Wi-fi to hamper my ability to get work done. If I bought the Air, it would. And the lack of Ethernet port? I guess they forgot about all the hotels that have Ethernet. By the time I carry all the different dongles around that I need to get my work done, I’ve made up the difference in weight.
    I just don’t get how this company can release a sub-par piece of hardware and yet people still buy it.
    P.S. I don’t use Macs because I don’t like the interface. I have similar complaints to yours. Plus, Windows XP works great for me. But even if I did use a Mac, I still wouldn’t use an Air.

  5. I think it’s mainly what you’re used to. I’m a longtime Mac user who sometimes uses Windows at work (via Parallels). So to me, the Mac behavior makes more sense for the most part.
    Menu bar…
    In Windows, if I have several windows open, I sometimes click on the wrong window’s menu bar, whereas in OS X I always know the menu bar at the top is the one I need to use. That said, the Windows method is nice for a multiple-monitor setup so you don’t have to “mouse up” to the top of the monitor to access a menu bar. (In OS X, I use keyboard shortcuts to avoid that when I can.)
    Green button…
    This does always maximize in the sense that it makes the window big enough to show all the window’s contents (or at least as much as will show on your screen). What it doesn’t do is, by default, maximize the window to take up the entire screen, which is what Windows’ maximize does. I prefer the OS X way because I like being able to see windows behind windows.
    Closing an application…
    Closing a Mac application doesn’t quit it — but rather makes it disappear — so that you don’t have to take the time to re-launch the app the next time you want to use it. OS X’s memory management is good enough that it can handle this without a performance hit (provided you have a healthy amount of RAM). Pre OS X on the Mac, however, I agree — it would have been better for apps to actually quit when closed.

  6. 1) No opinion – I’ve used OS X for so long, it seems second nature. But I can see where you’re coming from. However, one note – the File/Edit/Help are _always_ in the same location. So it becomes a sort of habit to quickly hit File. (But to be honest, I rarely use the menu bar – it’s all about keyboard shortcuts)
    2) The concept of the green button is to min/max to/from the largest needed space for the window. Almost no program really needs to use all 1440×900 pixels available on my MBP. This is something that really pesters me on Windows.
    3) To add to the confusion, open up System Preferences – then click the Red dot. It actually closes out both the window and the application.

  7. Wednesday Keller says:

    Google Fitts Law.
    Basically the Mac’s menu bar is somewhat better than the other options.
    A reasonable explanation can be had here:

  8. Regarding the position of the menu bar, having it at the top of the monitor would only be a problem with multiple monitors. Apart from that situation (where it may be that one has to return to the first monitor to access the menu), having the menu bar appearing always in exactly the same position mitigates against the problem of shifting attention away from the window one is focusing on. There’s no real loss of concentration in going to a static location at the top of the screen. Since the menu is along the constant top edge of the screen, you hardly have to focus on pointing the mouse until the final adjustment. Throwing the mouse pointer to the top edge of the screen requires no careful adjustment. It’s just a matter of moving it horizontally once there. Contrast that situation to having a menu on every window. For one thing, there may be several menu bars on the same screen, making it easier to be distracted to the wrong one. Secondly, the location of the menu changes with the window, so if you have moved the window, getting to the menu requires careful adjustment of the mouse pointer not just horizontally but vertically as well.
    However, the maximize/minimize buttons do frustrate. I definitely agree with you there. I am sure this will be changed.
    The issue of closing a window vs. closing an application seems to be mainly a question of what one has come to expect. Having used both platforms extensively (Windows at work, Mac at home), I do find that it makes sense to differentiate between closing a window and quitting a program. The implementation on the Mac is not perfect, but to me it seems that quitting a program at the wrong time is more disruptive to work flow than closing the wrong window. Hence having a distinct and consistent command for quitting an application is most important. There is less confusion involved with a specific quit command that is independent of the window. It’s quite reasonable to ask, “Why should closing a window close the application?” An application may have several windows open, all of which are important. It’s simpler not to have to distinguish between those windows every time you hit the “close” button. In most situations on the Mac, the only time you lose all of your windows for an application is if you deliberately choose to quit the application. This tendency towards a consistent differentiation between “application” and “window” makes more sense to me. But on Windows, the focus is “windows,” hence the way it’s handled there!

  9. Wednesday Keller says:

    Oh. Forget to comment on the rest of the post.
    I agree that the green button behaviour is weird, but Mac OS works much better with windows of varying sizes than with every window full size (aka how to spot a Windows user using a Mac :).
    On closing applications don’t worry about it: Mac OS X is very good in handling it. System performance and stability does not degrade with multiple applications open like it does in Windows. So frankly there is no reason to close applications unless you need to use something highly resource intensive (i.e. Photoshop, and the like) and even the gain is very marginal.
    The reason, in the larger sense, is because Mac OS X is Application centric and Windows is Document centric.

  10. I zoom button or the maximize button is better in OSX. I don’t want the window any bigger than what it needs to be. The reason this works well is that if you move focus to another window you still have it in your sight to drag things around. Windows is really bad at this and it very annoying not being able to do that.

  11. “No right click option”

  12. Mark, you may have purchased a lot of Mac stuff lately (maybe more so than Mac veterans) but you’re still thinking an acting like a veteran Windows user.
    1. The idea of a fixed menu bar is that your mouse never runs over the menu. You run the mouse to the top of the screen and it’s there. It saves mousing around. It was designed for 1984 when the Mac was al in one, and who thought second monitors would be around? I now use two monitors and agree it require longer mouse movement. The menu bar can be shifted to the second monitor if you intend to do a lot of work over there.
    2. The green button inconsistency is more the fault of the app that than the OS.
    3. This is the most contentious difference. Using the red to button to close a window leaves the app open and in RAM in case you want to return to it. Case it point. I use Pages to type up patients’ accounts. I might work on three simultaneously (my next three) and then might work on a doctor’s letter after seeing one of them. I close all three accounts but don’t have to re-open Pages for the unplanned doctor’s letter. So, you can leave Pages (or whatever app.) open, ready to go, without having to have a document open too. When I switch back to Windows occasionally (for apps not on the Mac like biofeedback), it annoys me that I inadvertently shutdown the app when I just want to close a patient’s recording.

  13. Erica,
    I think our usage patterns are different. I rarely need to use the laptop in an area where there isn’t wifi or ethernet (ya, it’d be nice if it had an ethernet port, I agree), or where I don’t have a power outlet.
    I decided that I didn’t want to deal with Windows (or Linux on the desktop) anymore. I just like OS X better (for the most part, as evidenced by this post).

  14. Louis wheeler says:

    It’s just custom– what you are used to and expect; there are advantages both ways. Apple was first and patented its methods; Microsoft had to do it another way. Most old Apple users think Microsoft’s ways are counter-intuitive. So, you have some unlearning to do.
    Computers are so powerful these days we don’t need to economize on RAM. We can have many applications open, but don’t necessarily have any windows open until needed. We can toggle between applications in many ways– via keystrokes, expose, spaces etc.
    After you get more used to the Mac, you may find this is handy. It allows you to group related applications so that you can toggle between them, but they don’t get in your way.

  15. Having been a Mac user since 1984, but a Windows XP user since 2004 (because of work), I much prefer the Mac OS X way for all three items.
    Being able to keep applications running all the time is a time-saver, except you can’t do it on Windows without getting crud built up. And the Windows world is just as inconsistent: For Word and PowerPoint, the app only quits if you close the last document window. For Excel, clicking on the X wants to close all docs and quit – and you have to remember there’s another little X for just the doc. Terribly annoying and time-wasting if you make a mistake.
    Even now in Windows, I maximize all Windows because I find it easier to find the menu near the top of the screen (I use right-click and other shortcuts as well.) And if I don’t maximize, too often I click another apps window accidentally.
    But the biggest annoyance in Windows for me, is the constant stream of useless interruptions from the OS (and security software).

  16. “No right click option”

  17. As others have said, the menu bar at the top is a bigger target, you can’t mouse passed any of the menus. I find on Windows I’m hunting around for the menus to click on. No good.
    The green button on OS X is one of the great mysteries of the world. It’s supposed to maximize the window but, like in iTunes for example it does not.
    As for closing apps, in some “one window” apps like maybe iPhoto, this will quit the program, but not in most. It is a bit confusing. I think the idea is that in, say Word or something, you may close a document but want to open another one, without taking the time to quit and relaunch the app.

  18. hypermouse says:

    People have kind of forgotten why Windows is called Windows.
    In Microsoft’s Windows, each application is displayed through an application ‘window’, inside of which other ‘windows’ show the various documents within that Application. In Windows it is therefore difficult to view two different types of documents near or overlapping each other.
    On a Mac there is no ‘Application Window’. On a Mac, documents are viewed through Windows, as are the information Applications are currently showing (i.e. the iLife apps). This is why the menu bar can be located in the one central location. Using this fundamentally different approach, view different types of documents together is very easy (sometimes too easily).
    You have to realize, therefore, that many of these Macintosh behaviours pre-date the Windows environment.
    1. As stated in other comments, the single menu bar makes menu selections predictable and consistent for new users.
    2. The green button isn’t maximize (a Windows term, not a Mac term), it resizes to show all the content, and when clicked again, goes back to the original view size.
    3. Just like in Windows, the document windows have their own 3 buttons of control. However, the applications themselves rarely have a main application window (this is often a decision made by the app’s programmer). Personally I think that the Windows solution of a single (easily inadvertent) click of an ‘x’ button shutting down a major application fairly scary for new users 😉
    4. To right-click either use any standard usb multi-button mouse, or hold the ‘control’ key while left-clicking on the mouse.
    Apple’s newish (released in 2005) ‘Mighty Mouse’ is a multi-button mouse, but for some strange reason still requires a visit to the ‘System Preferences to’ enable the two button feature.

  19. For 1), it’s actually to use real estate space on the screen in an optimized way. Whereas in Windows, for every window, you have to show same menu stuff.
    3) I completely agree. It’s easier to launch that application again than to keep it running and launch a new window.
    For 2) I observed another thing. Why the meaning of all buttons is invisible until you hover mouse over it. Why can’t they show all symbols like X, – and + all the time, and after hovering over it, show it in a different color shade?
    BTW, thanks for posting it. When I first switched to Mac, I had also noticed all these points, but thought it’s just that I am new to Mac world.

  20. Just figured I’d chime in.
    First, menu bar vs. menus in windows. The menu bar has distinct advantages over menus in windows, though I do agree that menus in windows is more intuitive.
    To understand the reason why having the menu bar at the top of the screen is better, we need to look at something called Fitt’s Law. Fitt’s Law basically states that the ease of hitting an object on the screen is proportional to it’s size and inversely proportional to it’s distance. In other words, big things are easier to hit than small things and close things are easier to hit than far away things.
    That’s right. Some Graduate Student got a PhD out of that.
    The advantage of the menu bar at the top of the screen, however, is that it is infinitely high–you can’t overshoot it. This makes it far more convenient to access than the menu bar in a window–even though the menu bar in the window may be closer than the menu bar on the top of the screen.
    In fact, if you watch Microsoft Windows’ users access the menu bar, you will see that they usually go to the top of the screen and then down to the menu bar.
    Speaking of Windows, as an aside, this is one reason that Windows users rely so heavily on contextual menus–because the menu bar on Windows is so difficult to access.
    Next, in regards to “maximize” (the green button), the idea is that when you press “maximize”, the window should grow to show all of the content or the size of the screen–whichever comes first. Thus, if you’re viewing a document which is 8.5″ x 11″, needs to only expand wide enough to display the 8.5″, so that’s how far it will expand.
    However, the application developer must calculate this information and let the window manager know. Some application developers are lazy and just make the size be the size of the screen. Also, you end up with applications like iTunes, where clicking on the maximize button will end up showing you a smaller version of the window and clicking on it again will return the window to it’s previous size. You must manually grow the window if you want it to take up the whole screen. You also have applications like iPhoto which don’t really have a maximum size (It’ll scale appropriately).
    So you have the rule about how maximize should work and then you have those applications which, for good or bad, break those rules. According to Apple, that’s why they’re called Human Interface Guidelines, not Rules.
    The third thing, about windows and close boxes and such, has a long and fun history.
    When Apple developed the Macintosh, you launched one application a time–there was no way to run two applications at the same time. The application pretty well owned the machine while it ran. It was the responsibility of the application to support multiple documents. Some applications did, some applications–most famously, MacPaint–did not.
    The first versions of Windows did not have this limitation. In fact, the way Microsoft designed Windows, applications would only open one document. If you wanted to open two documents, Windows would launch another instance of the application. This sounds wasteful, but it actually wasn’t. Windows used this new-fangled concept called Dynamically Linked Libraries. What this meant was that when you opened that second document, Windows already knew that the program code had been loaded and wouldn’t load another copy. So your second instance of the application would only load the document data. The program code would not be unloaded until all documents were closed. Application developers didn’t have to worry about supporting multiple documents.
    That’s right. Microsoft got it right and Apple got it wrong! So what happened?
    Well, Microsoft decided that they were going to port Excel from Macintosh to Windows. This is when they discovered that they couldn’t really resolve these differences. So what they did was “port” the Macintosh UI: Applications created their own desktops in order to have one menu bar and managed their own document windows. This made it easier to port Excel. Microsoft then made it worse by referring to this as the “Multiple Document Interface” (MDI).
    Of course, MDI was optional, and you could still use DLLs to support multiple documents. Microsoft Word worked with DLLs. Some Microsoft applications used DLLs, some applications which came from the Macintosh world (eg, Excel, PowerPoint) used MDI. Of course, in later years, Microsoft added another interface to try to resolve this and just made a bigger mess out of the whole thing. So nowadays in the Windows world, you have some applications which work one way, some applications which work another way, and some application that can switch between the two.
    Meanwhile, Apple stayed the course (for better or worse). Applications dealt with multiple documents on their own. Because Macintosh users were used to quitting applications when they were done with them, it wasn’t that big a deal. But there were plenty of times that people would forget to quit an application. When they ran out of memory, the system would suggest that the user quit applications which didn’t have any windows open (and show you these applications so you could conveniently quit them). In later years, Apple would add DLLs and virtual memory and improve Mac OS, but it wasn’t really until Mac OS X that it was “safe” to leave other applications running.
    Nowadays, as Les Posen points out, leaving applications running can be pretty convenient. Mac OS X does an excellent job of managing memory and processes generally sleep until they are notified that they need to do something, so leaving your word processor running with no windows open isn’t nearly as bad a thing as it used to be.