Top ten Mac OS X annoyances by Owen Linzmayer

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
January 9th, 2006 • 5:52 pm

ImformIT‘s Owen Linzmayer has a list titled “Ten Things I Hate About Mac OS X,” and I am afraid most of the things he mentions are indeed major annoyances that fully deserve our collective hatred.

I am particularly glad that he put the “Dock Items Bounce Indefinitely” one at the top of his list. At first, I thought it was about Mac OS X applications failing to launch properly altogether. (It used to be a problem with earlier versions of Mac OS X, but the problem appears to have been eliminated in recent versions.) But it’s not about that. It’s about background applications allegedly requiring your immediate attention and bouncing endlessly in the dock until you actually switch to them.

It is one of my top Mac OS X pet peeves too. I have been annoyed by it from the very first day I started using Mac OS X in 2000, back when this endless bouncing was a major CPU hog and would actually prevent you from doing anything else. With today’s hardware, it’s no longer a performance issue, but the insulting nature of the behaviour itself remains. Like Linzmayer says:

This is so annoying and unnecessary it makes me want to scream back, “Listen up ya little punk. I hear ya, but I just don’t care, so shut yer trap!”

This is exactly how I feel, each and every time. Why Apple still hasn’t changed this behaviour, after all these years, is beyond me. It probably has limited effect for inexperienced Mac OS X users, who rarely do more than one task at the same time and are likely to be using the application in the foreground when it actually requires their attention. More experienced Mac OS X users, on the other hand, make full use of the system’s multi-tasking capabilities, and they are the ones who are confronted with this behaviour all the time, with no option to turn it off or change it to something less intrusive.

I keep hoping that a crafty third-party developer might come up with a small hack that would replace the bouncing with a static, non-intrusive visual effect, such as a “warning” logo on the application’s Dock icon or a different background colour. But I have only ever encountered utilities that turn the behaviour off altogether, and I don’t really want to do that, because I do want to know that a background application requires my attention. I just don’t need to be constantly reminded of it by this intrusive bouncing until I actually switch to it.

Linzmayer’s #2 annoyance (background programs forcing themselves to the foreground) is also a pet peeve of mine, although things seem to have improved in recent versions of OS X. I suppose that third-party developers might be partly to blame in some cases. But I also suspect that Mac OS X itself has its part of responsibility. Besides, Apple itself is guilty of the thing. For as long as I remember, for example, there have been window layering issues with iTunes.

Another one that I would add in that same vein is background windows (or tabs) in Safari forcing themselves to the foreground while you are viewing another web page. This typically happens when you leave in the background web pages that are still in the process of being loaded. It’s particularly frequent with Amazon product pages. I frequently load a bunch of them in various tabs or windows, and almost always their loading causes the focus in Safari to jump from window to window or from tab to tab with no intervention on my part. It is extremely irritating. I don’t care if the page has finally finished loading! I’ll go check it out when I choose to do so. Geez…

Here again, maybe third-party web page designers are partly to blame, because they are using JavaScript hacks or I don’t what to cause the web browser to bring the page to the foreground. But it seems to me that Apple could very well design Safari so that no web page can ever force its way to the foreground without the user’s content. It’s Apple’s choice to let pages do that through JavaScript hacks or whatever. It goes completely against one of the fundamental rules of the web, which is that it is the user (or the user agent) who is in control, and not the web page. Web sites should never, ever have any control over the user’s window layering. If they require the user’s attention (and I don’t know of many situations where they would), they should be able to notify the user in a non-intrusive fashion.

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