Mac OS X 10.6.0 (Snow Leopard): Breaks ‘Cycle Through Windows’ shortcut on Canadian CSA keyboard layout

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
August 31st, 2009 • 4:49 pm

I have been running early builds of Snow Leopard (I am a member of the AppleSeed program) on my test computer for a while now, and I have the last build sent to us before the program closed, which was 10A432 and appears to be the same one as the one used for the official release.

Unfortunately, based on my own tests, this official release still suffers from a new bug that I reported to Apple a couple of months ago and urged them (without much hope) to try and fix before the final release.

It’s a bug that does not affect American users using the standard “U.S.” keyboard layout (the one with the American flag), but only French Canadians using the standard Canadian French keyboard layout, which is called “Canadian French – CSA.” (It has a Canadian flag icon with “CSA” underneath it.)

The bug is that, when using the Canadian CSA keyboard layout, Snow Leopard no longer supports the standard keyboard shortcut for the “Cycle Through Windows” command, which is the shortcut that can be used to jump quickly from window to window within the current application.

This command appears explicitly in the “Window” menu in the Finder application, but it is also supported implicitly in numerous other Mac OS X applications, even when it is not an explicit command under the “Window” menu. For example, if you are in Preview, Mail, Safari, or Microsoft Word, even though there is no such thing as a “Cycle Through Windows” command in the “Window” menu of that application or elsewhere in that application’s menu bar, you can still use the “Cycle Through Windows” keyboard shortcut to cycle through all current document windows within that application.

It is a very handy shortcut and I personally use it all the time.

In the standard “U.S.” keyboard layout, the shortcut for the command is command-`, where ` is the backtick key located next to the left Shift key. It’s an excellent location, because the shortcut can be typed with the left hand’s thumb and index fingers, while the right hand is free to do other things.

On the Canadian CSA keyboard layout, the backtick is obtained using command-shift-option-À, where À is the “accented A” key that is located next to the Return key on the right-hand side of the keyboard. It is a very awkward shortcut that, for most typists, requires both hands and is nowhere near as convenient as command-` in the “U.S.” keyboard layout.

Recognizing this, for many years Apple has designed Mac OS X so that the shortcut for the “Cycle Through Windows” command is different for people using the Canadian CSA keyboard layout. Instead of command-shift-option-À, the proper shortcut for the command in Mac OS X on machines using the Canadian CSA keyboard layout is command-Ù, which makes perfect sense since the Ù key in the Canadian CSA keyboard layout is located precisely where the backtick key is located in the standard “U.S.” keyboard layout, i.e. next to the left Shift key.

Unfortunately, Snow Leopard breaks this. Obviously, during the changes that Apple made to the OS’s architecture for keyboard shortcuts, they neglected to ensure that everything would continue to work as expected for non-U.S. users. So now, in Snow Leopard, the keyboard shortcut for “Cycle Through Windows” for users using the Canadian CSA keyboard layout is… command-shift-option-À, which is totally inappropriate.

If the “Cycle Through Windows” command appeared explicitly as a menu command in the “Window” menu of each application that supports it, it wouldn’t be a problem, because one could use the System Preferences application to customize the keyboard shortcut and change it back to command-Ù. But the only Mac OS X application that I know that lists the “Cycle Through Windows” command explicitly in its “Window” menu is the Finder.

So if you have a Canadian CSA keyboard and you customize the keyboard shortcut for the “Cycle Through Windows” command in System Preferences to change it back to command-Ù, it will work, but only the Finder.

In all other applications, the command-Ù shortcut will be ignored, and the only way to use the “Cycle Through Windows” command with the keyboard will be to use the command-shift-option-À shortcut, which is not convenient at all.

There might be a third-party keyboard shortcut tool that enables the user to bypass Mac OS X’s built-in shortcuts and force Mac OS X to support command-Ù in all applications, but I have not done the required research and testing yet. And besides, I am a bit wary of purchasing and adding another third-party utility to my system just for this.

As I said earlier, I did report this bug to Apple a couple of months ago, as soon as I discovered it. (I would have discovered it earlier if I had installed early builds of Snow Leopard on my main machine, but it’s obviously a risky proposition to do such a thing—Apple recommends against it—and I just had too much work this year to be able to afford to take the chance, so I limited myself to running Snow Leopard on my test machine, and consequently did much less testing than I would have if I had had it on my main machine. In case you don’t know, participation in the AppleSeed program is on a volunteer basis and you don’t get any compensation for the testing you do. At best, you get the occasional free T-shirt, and a free copy of the final product—although they have yet to confirm that they will send anything to Snow Leopard testers.)

I had very little hope that Apple would be able to fix this bug before the final release, and I am afraid 10A432 confirms this. The system is such that bug reports take a while to be processed, and that bugs that don’t affect U.S. users inevitably have a lower priority, unless they are deal breakers. So it’s hard to tell when the bug will be fixed—if at all—and that means that French Canadian users will probably have to try to find a workaround of some kind, unless they are willing to live with command-shift-option-À (I definitely am not) or to stay with Leopard until the problem is fixed. (It could take months, if not years.)

The sad reality is that this type of problem occurs almost every time there is a significant system upgrade. There are always things that get broken, and then take a long time to get fixed again. If you are affected by these things in your daily life, then it can make computing a very frustrating experience indeed. In my many years of using Mac OS X, I have yet to encounter a major system upgrade that does not have at least one such issue. The “Cycle Through Windows” shortcut is the first one for Snow Leopard. There will probably be other ones. (Even though Snow Leopard is officially mostly focused on bug fixing, that obviously does not preclude it from introducing new bugs.)

One Response to “Mac OS X 10.6.0 (Snow Leopard): Breaks ‘Cycle Through Windows’ shortcut on Canadian CSA keyboard layout”

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

    […] 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, […]