Mac OS X’s Preview: Lack of visual clues regarding window/drawer focus

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
June 26th, 2004 • 11:07 pm

When viewing a PDF file with Mac OS X’s Preview, if the drawer on the side is open (displaying either thumbnails of each page or a table of contents if the PDF file has one), it is often hard to tell where the focus is. If something is highlighted in the drawer, the only clue as to whether the focus is on the drawer or on the main window area is the colour of the highlighting. If the colour of the highlighting is a dark shade of your highlight colour (as defined in System Preferences’ Appearance pane), then it means that the focus is on the drawer. If the colour of the highlighting is grey, then it means that the focus is not on the drawer. (If your preferred highlight colour is a shade of grey, then good luck to you!)

Why is this important? Simply because the Page Up and Page Down keys don’t work in Preview when the focus is on the drawer!

This is a constant source of irritation to me. I click on something the drawer (a thumbnail or a table of contents entry) in order to jump to a particular section in a PDF document, and then I hit the Page Up or Page Down key in order to navigate that section… but it doesn’t work! First I have to click somewhere in the main window area with my mouse.

It doesn’t make any sense. The Page Up and Page Down keys should work to jump to the previous or next page regardless of what the focus is on.

To make matters worse, if nothing is highlighted in the drawer, it could still very well be that the focus is on the drawer, but you have absolutely no visual clue that it is (no blue halo, no nothing). You’re just supposed to know…

It’s a basic flaw in the design and use of window drawers in Mac OS X. When the focus can switch from the main window area to the drawer and back, there should be some kind of visual clue indicating to the user, at any time, where the focus is. Right now, there isn’t.

(The fact that drawers work differently depending on which application you are using is another confusing factor. For example, the highlight colour in the mailbox drawer in Mail is always grey, indicating that the focus never really is on the mailbox drawer, even when you click on it. This means that you cannot use the keyboard to navigate the mailbox drawer. Yet more inconsistency…)

2 Responses to “Mac OS X’s Preview: Lack of visual clues regarding window/drawer focus”

  1. Pierre Igot says:

    I’m using the same version. The color only changes to grey if the drawer contains a table of contents (not thumbnails) and if you click somewhere on the page itself in the main window area (not in the empty padding around the page).

    When I select an item in the TOC, the Page Up/Page Down keys cease to work, and the Up/Down cursor keys actually go up/down the TOC.

    So the problem is actually only with PDF files with a TOC. My mistake.

  2. MacDesigner says:

    Which version of Preview are you using. The version I have is Preview 2.1.0 (v211), and the keyboard arrows only scroll through a document for me. The highlight color in the Drawer is always the dark system color I use for selections, it never changes to gray. When the viewing window is open to the full size of the document’s page the arrow keys work to scroll through the pages and the highlight moves as the pages change. Also if I zoom and the page is larger than the viewing window the arrow keys scroll to the end of the page then it jumps to the next page. Again the selection in the drawer changes to indicate it has jump pages. Even if I select a page manually using the mouse, the arrow keys will scroll through the page or jump to the next page depending on the situation. At no point do the arrows act differently. While I don’t use it that often for viewing PDFs I checked using a 72 page PDF manual for my router.

    I checked my preferences and there is nothing there to indicate a different behavior. I don’t have any PDFs with TOC, so I can’t check if it behaves differently for those.

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