Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard): Why the unattached Help window is wrong

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
November 29th, 2007 • 11:45 am

Here’s a simple scenario which illustrates why the choice made by Apple engineers in Mac OS X 10.5 to make the Help window a floating window that stays on top of every other window in Mac OS X is wrong.

This morning, I wanted to see if I could print a list of keyboard shortcuts for Pages 3.0. There is no such list in the Pages manual, supplied in PDF format on the installation CD, so I had no choice but to bring up the “Keyboard Shortcuts” page in the on-screen help for Pages (which can be accessed directly from the “Help” menu in Pages).

A blank Help window appeared, with the list of keyboard shortcuts showing up after a few seconds. (The Help feature is still annoyingly slow due to the excessive reliance on on-line content that needs to be downloaded from Apple’s web servers.)

But then, naïvely, I pressed command-P to print that page.

Since the Help window is now unattached and does not belong to an application (Help Viewer) with its own menu commands, the command-P shortcut does not actually work.

Instead, in this case it brought up the “Print” dialog for… the Pages document that I was currently working on.

When I saw that, again naïvely, I pressed the Esc key, to exit this “Print” dialog that I did not want.

And guess what happened? The Esc key caused Mac OS X to close the Help window instead!

This is clearly due to the total confusion regarding what the keyboard focus is on when this unattached Help window is visible. The window is in front of everything else, but the keyboard focus is still, to a certain extent, on the foreground window behind it. To what extent? Well, it all depends. For the command-P shortcut, the focus is on the foreground window and its parent application. But for the Esc shortcut, the focus is on the Help window.

This is wrong, simply and purely wrong.

One Response to “Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard): Why the unattached Help window is wrong”

  1. ssp says:

    A very good point I must say.

    So far I was only annoyed by the floating help window because it keeps covering up stuff I want to see. Yet another reason to simply not use help I guess ;)

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