Safari 5.1: Cycle Through Windows is broken

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
July 23rd, 2011 • 11:53 am

For people who, like me, have quite a bit of screen real estate and tend to keep a lot windows open in any given application, the “Cycle Through Windows“ command is essential. It’s a command that only appears visually as a menu command in the Finder’s “Window” menu, but its keyboard shortcut (command-~ on US keyboards, command-Ù on my Canadian CSA keyboard) is pretty much universal and works in any well-behaved Mac OS X application that has a “Window” menu, even if the command does not appear in that menu.

(All these applications also support the reverse shortcut to cycle through the windows in the reverse order, which is shift-command-~ on US keyboards, and shift-command-Ù on my Canadian CSA keyboard.)

Sadly, Apple has a long history of carelessness when it comes to keyboard shortcuts in general and to the shortcut for the “Cycle Through Windows“ command in particular. It seems that Apple’s engineers assume that most users interact with the Mac OS X user interface (and with multiple windows in particular) with the mouse pointer — and that is probably true — but then they also assume that it authorizes them to completely neglect the needs of users who do rely on keyboard shortcuts, and treat them at best as an afterthought.

As an example, I will just refer you to what happened to the “Cycle Through Windows” shortcut in Snow Leopard, which I wrote about here, here, and here. Or Pages’s idiotic keyboard shortcuts for adding rows and columns in tables, which interfere with essential text selection shortcuts.

Unfortunately, ever since Mac OS X first burst onto the computing scene, Apple’s engineers also seem to have develop a singular problem with window layering. As a reminder, here are a couple of posts I wrote on the topic:

Mac OS X: Fundamental problem with layering and cycling through windows

iTunes and window layering

More recently, with Snow Leopard, Apple completely broke the “Cycle Through Windows“ window order. Since the first release of Snow Leopard, if you cycle through all available windows in a given application and elect to close once of them, the mere act of closing the window completely breaks the window order, and then if you try to continue to cycle through available windows, you are taken back through the ones that you had just viewed prior to closing that particular window (whereas before Snow Leopard, Mac OS X would simply continue cycling through the rest of the windows, i.e. the ones you hadn’t viewed yet, before going back to the beginning of the cycle). The simple act of clicking on the foreground window, even without closing it, can also break the window order.

This is eminently frustating for me, because I often use the “Cycle Through Windows” command to cycle through all open windows in Safari, for example, just to see what I have left open and what I still want to read or watch before closing the window.

And now, with Safari 5.1 for Snow Leopard (and, I assume, for Lion as well), Apple’s engineers have gone even further, and completely broken the “Cycle Through Windows” command altogether. It’s not just that the window order is messed up. It is that the “Cycle Through Windows” command regularly ignores some open windows altogether. It does not even include them in the cycle!

At first, I thought it was because I had a dual-monitor set-up and I tend to have Safari windows open both on my main screen and on my secondary screen. But no, I can also see the problem with windows that are on my main monitor and not on the secondary one.

This is extremely irritating. More often than not, when I want to access a particular window, I am now forced to use the mouse and the “Window” menu, which of course is not substitute for visually cycling through windows, because the window title listed in the “Window” menu is only the title of the front-most tab in the window. If you have a window with multiple tabs, there is no way to see the titles of the other tabs in the window in the “Window” menu (you cannot even tell that the window has more than one tab) — whereas when you cycle through windows, you can actually see each window, with its several tab titles. These tab titles might be truncated more often than not, but at least you can see them partially.

Once again, Apple appears to have ignored the needs of power users and in particular of users who do not rely exclusively on their mouse or trackpad for interacting with their machine. With the emphasis put on iOS-like features in Lion, this is perhaps not too surprising, but I cannot help but feel that it is part of this general trend towards a dumbing-down of the OS X user interace, which totally fails to take the needs of professional power users into account. If they don’t want to put any effort into better meeting our needs, at least they could try not to break those things that work (more or less) properly now.

With Safari 5.1, I am afraid they have failed to do even that.

[UPDATE: A reader reports that he cannot reproduce this in Lion. So maybe it's a problem that's specific to Safari 5.1 under Snow Leopard.]


One Response to “Safari 5.1: Cycle Through Windows is broken”

  1. Betalogue » iTunes 10.4: Adding files no longer works reliably says:

    [...] week I wrote about the fact that the Safari 5.1 update has broken the “Cycle Through Windows” command in the web [...]