Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard): Clicking on foreground window breaks ‘Cycle Through Windows’ order

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
October 14th, 2009 • 5:07 pm

I didn’t wait for Apple to invent the “Spaces” feature in Mac OS X 10.5 to develop my own strategies for managing large numbers of windows. I obviously don’t have time to describe those strategies in full detail here, but one very important aspect is the ability to use the “Cycle Through Windows” command—and especially its keyboard shortcut, which is command-` on US keyboards and command-Ù on my Canadian CSA keyboard—to cycle through all document windows in the foreground application.

In other words, I am a heavy user of the “Cycle Through Windows” command, and it is quite frustrating for me when Apple changes or breaks something in that feature. (See for example when happened when I tried to use the usual keyboard shortcut on my Canadian CSA keyboard in Snow Leopard.)

I am afraid I have to report that something seems to have been broken in Snow Leopard with respect to the order in which the “Cycle Through Windows” command goes through all available windows, i.e. with the internal ordering scheme on which Mac OS X relies to determine which window comes after which one, and so on.

Reproducing the problem is fairly simple. Let’s start by making sure TextEdit is not open.

Then launch TextEdit. This will automatically open a new blank document window. Let’s label this window A.

Now press command-N to open a second new window on top of window A. Let’s label this window B.

Now press command-N to open a third new window on top of window A. Let’s label this window C.

Now, if you haven’t used your mouse at all here since launching TextEdit and if you now hit the “Cycle Through Windows” keyboard shortcut repeatedly, normally Mac OS X should go through the three windows in this order: C-B-A-C-B-A-C-B-A-etc.

No problem so far. This is the reverse order of the order in which they were created, so it’s logical.

Now still without using the mouse, continue to use “Cycle Through Windows” until window A is in the foreground.

Then click once with the mouse somewhere inside window A.

And now hit the “Cycle Through Windows” keyboard shortcut repeatedly again.

If you are using Snow Leopard, you’ll notice that the window order has changed and that Mac OS X now goes through the three windows in this order: A-B-C-A-B-C-A-B-C-etc.

All it took for Mac OS X to change the window order was a simple mouse click on window A when it was already in the foreground.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I feel that, if I interact with a window that is already in the foreground, this in no way indicates that I want to change the order of my windows.

I tried the same thing on a machine with Mac OS X 10.4, and clicking on window A when it was already in the foreground did not change the window order in anyway. Using “Cycle Through Windows” repeatedly still went through the windows in the C-B-A-C-B-A-C-B-A-etc. order.

I don’t have a machine with Mac OS X 10.5 handy today, but I am entirely sure that Mac OS X 10.5 is the same as Mac OS X 10.4 in that respect, and that clicking on the foreground window breaks the window order only in Snow Leopard.

Maybe someone at Apple would argue that this is a feature and not a bug. I don’t know. I fail to see how clicking on a window that is already in the foreground indicates in any way that I want to change the order of the windows in my application.

Unfortunately, this change affects several Mac OS X applications, not just TextEdit. The first application in which I noticed the problem was Safari, because it’s probably in Safari that I use “Cycle Through Windows” the most. So I initially thought this was a Safari-specific bug. But I can also reproduce it in TextEdit, and Pages ’09.

I cannot, on the other hand, reproduce it in BBEdit or in Microsoft Word 2008. So it would appear that these applications use a different scheme for keeping track of the order of their various document windows. So if it’s a new “feature” in Mac OS X 10.6, it definitely breaks the consistency across Mac OS X applications.

But I highly doubt that it’s intentional. I am pretty much convinced that it is a bug, because “Cycle Through Windows” is probably not an important command for most Apple engineers, and they probably broke this thing without realizing it.

So I am filing a bug report. And if it bothers you as much as it bothers me, I strongly urge you to do the same.


One Response to “Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard): Clicking on foreground window breaks ‘Cycle Through Windows’ order”

  1. Betalogue » Safari 5.1: Cycle Through Windows is broken says:

    [...] recently, with Snow Leopard, Apple completely broke the “Cycle Through Windows“ window order. Since the first release of Snow Leopard, if you cycle [...]