Thursday, August 16, 2007


Settled into the Macbook

About two months ago (has it really been that long?), I posted an item about my new Macbook. I've been using it exclusively since then — I still have to sync my BlackBerry with Lotus Notes on the ThinkPad, because I can't get the Lotus Notes sync to work on the Mac, even under Parallels, but other than plugging the BlackBerry in, I haven't been using the ThinkPad — and I'm mostly used to the differences.


There are still a few things about MacOS and the way applications work that bother me, and a couple of annoyances with the Macbook itself. And by the way: one thing people always tell me about the Mac, as opposed to Windows, is that it's rock solid, and doesn't crash. Camel chunks. It's frozen on me a number of times in the two months, in a state where the mouse moved but nothing else happened. I had to power it off and back on, just like with the Windows blue screen of death. And, in fact, Windows XP is quite solid, and I can't remember the last BSoD I got there.

So, on the Macbook:

  1. You can't close the lid without putting the machine to sleep. The ThinkPad has a configuration option in which you tell the computer what to do when the lid is closed, and one of the options is “nothing”. I had always used that option, which let me close the lid and walk into another room with the laptop, or close the lid and leave it next to me on the sofa arm or leaning against the chair on the floor. When I wanted it again, I'd open it and immediately use it. The Macbook comes awake pretty much instantly, and if that were all I wouldn't mind. But it has to reconnect to the network (a few seconds, usually, not bad), reconnect to the VPN if I'm using that (several seconds, maybe as long as 30), and re-establish any Internet connections (several more seconds, at least, maybe another 30, and some applications don't deal well with reconnecting and it has to be done manually). Taking the computer off the network is disruptive and unnecessary. And having it go to sleep also means that I can't start a program or download, and then shut the lid and get it out of my way while it runs. Ick.
  2. The button that unlocks the lid to let me open the computer has a little light on it. When the Macbook is in sleep mode, the light pulses. Cute, but unnecessary, and surprisingly annoying sometimes. I've found that when I have it in a hotel room, especially, I have to make sure the light is covered or the pulsing will bother me. Just having the light on at its dimmest point would be fine — it would tell me it's in sleep mode, but wouldn't be bothersome. But if there's any way to do that, I haven't found it.
  3. Update, 17 Aug: The single mouse button.

MacOS and application issues:

  1. As I mentioned in the June entry, the single menu bar is an odd bit of design, and it's still annoying to me. I have to move the mouse (and my attention) too far away from the window I'm working in. And this makes dual-display mode nearly useless, except for giving presentations. If I have a window on the second display, I have to move the mouse all the way to the primary display to get to the menu. That's especially bad if the two displays are using different resolutions, because then I often bump into the edge of the display rather than moving to the other display. I do sometimes use the keyboard shortcut to get to the menu bar (ctrl-F2), and navigate the menu with the keyboard, but that doesn't work too well if I'm going through a long menu list, such as the Bookmarks menu in Firefox.
  2. Related to that, I've found that I often can't use the keyboard to get through menu items quickly. This is an application issue in MacOS, but the OS ought to be doing it instead. In Windows, the window manager takes care of zooming to a menu item if I type its first character (and that can be overridden by the application). In MacOS, it appears that the application has to enable that function, and many don't, so I have to use “down, down, down, down...” to get to an item on the menu with the keyboard.
  3. In MacOS, you can close or hide (minimize, in Windows) all of an application's windows, and that application will still be the active application and will control the menu and the keyboard. There are probably times when this is a good thing, but it most often confuses and annoys me. Suppose I'm in the Finder and I use the keyboard to navigate to a jpeg file, and press command-O to open it. The Preview application will open and show me the file. I then press command-W to close the Preview window, and it disappears, showing me the Finder window again. Except it's still the Preview application that's active, and when I try to move the cursor to the next file, it doesn't work. I have to press command-tab to switch back to the Finder first. This bites me often. Yes, I could use command-Q to quit Preview (instead of command-W to close the window), but I'm only going to open Preview again right away on another file, so that wastes a lot of time (it takes much longer for Preview to restart than to just wake up and show another file).
  4. As I also mentioned in June, there seems less consistency in how applications use the modifier keys in conjunction with the arrow keys than there should be. I get different results in different applications when I use, say, command-down or fn-down or ctrl-down or command-right, etc. I might get to the end of a line or to the end of a file or to the next page of a file or to the next window in the application... I have to remember, for each application, what each combination of the four modifier keys (command, option, ctrl, fn) does with the four arrow keys. And it's actually worse than that, because you can combine the modifiers (in Firefox, fn-ctrl-down moves to the next tab, if you have multiple tabs in your window).
  5. This one is causing the biggest slowdown in my use of the computer, and I'm trying a different mode of operation to compensate for it. In Windows, a minimized (hidden) window is treated the same as a visible one, and when you use alt-tab to go through the active windows (or when you look down on the task bar for them) you find them all. In MacOS, that's not the case. Visible windows appear only on the desktop. Hidden windows appear only in the Dock. I've found no way to get both sets together, which means that I have to know whether I've left the window I want visible (but buried under other windows) or I've hidden it. This is causing a lot of delay in finding other application windows quickly. Just today I've decided to try an alternative way to work: I will never hide a window, but just leave them all visible (as I type this, I have twelve open windows; I figure I might have as many as twenty at times). That way, I should always be able to use exposé mode or command-tab and command-` to find what I'm looking for. I prefer a “clean desktop”, but I suppose it doesn't really matter. Well see if this helps.

If any Mac users (well, or anyone else, for that matter) know ways to better cope with the things I've listed above, please comment here or sent me email. I'd love to know a better way....


Lisa said...

These are all things that have bothered me with the MacBook too! The hanging, no options for what happens when I close the laptop, the pulsing light, the poorer (relatively ) support for keyboard control.

I shifted to a mode of never hiding windows, as well. Sometimes I hit the hotkey for hiding a window by mistake so I still waste time looking for a window that I know is around somewhere, but I'm now used to just leaving windows open. I only use one screen and most windows are nearly screen-size so I just tab between then and never see the desktop. This also makes the requirement to mouse to the menu bar not a problem for me though I could see it would be with two screens or even a larger screen.

I'm not sure if this would help you but it helps me: I installed QuickSilver to help launch applications and documents from the keyboard. You can do a fair amount of scripting of QS, if you're motivated, to automate application management.

Barry Leiba said...

I have QuickSilver installed, but I actually never use it... I should probably use it more. But can it be used to find a window in an already-running application?

Maggie said...

I think if you came through all of the generations of mac os's to the current one and had never (or rarely) used windows, you wouldn't be bothered by the things that are bothering you. I realize that's not helpful. But you would be used to having one menu bar, and you would find it annoying, as I do, to accidentally click on the wrong menu bar because you're used to having only one: the one for the current application. You would get annoyed, as I do, that closing all the windows means the application goes away. "Close" and "Quit" are two different operations to a Mac user. I think your brain is just used to working another way. I don't even know what you're talking about with keys, LOL. There's the clover and after that you should be using the mouse. ;-)

Truthfully, I haven't used the current MacOS very much because I don't like it. I liked the one a generation before. The current MacOS looked like a circus to me, and so I avoided it like the plague until I ended up with a windows machine. But I hate change. I just want something that works, and then I don't want it to change. I'm not a "new toy" kind of person.

Barry Leiba said...

Maybe so....
Clearly, the single menu bar came in the days of lower-resolution displays, where it was more important to save pixels, and where the mouse was never that far from the menu anyway. As such, I think of it as an anachronism, but, obviously, if one is used to it, it seems right.

As with the other things: one gets used to them. And maybe I'll get used to more of this as time goes on.

«I don't even know what you're talking about with keys. There's the clover and after that you should be using the mouse.»

But seriously, I believe that the most inefficient thing one can do, in using a computer, is to move back and forth between the keyboard and the mouse. Look at the people who type in username/password, and then pick up the mouse and bobble over to the "login" button... compared with pressing "enter" instead.

So when I'm on the mouse, I use the mouse. But when I'm typing, I need the keyboard to work predictably. It's horrible to be editing a file and need to go to the end of the line... and to have to use the mouse for it. In the editor I use (TextWrangler), command-right gets to the end of the line. Cool. In Adium, the instant-messaging client, command-right moves to the next chat tab. There, I have to use fn-right to get to the end of the line. And no, I'm not going to grab the mouse for a function like that.

Maggie said...

Yeah, obviously the thing about the keyboard was a joke. I prefer to keep my fingers on the keyboard when possible, but I don't use a lot of cmd keys. And maybe the occasional mousing doesn't bother me because I've been doing it for so very long -- half my life, actually.

I remember some of the problems you describe from when I was developing software and had fancier hardware to play with. I used to have two monitors, and I remember "bumping into" the lower res monitor. My big problem then was how slow my compiler was, though! Compared to that, nothing else was much of a problem.

I really don't like the migrating menu bars. To me, the controls should stay in one place. Maybe my brain's just stuck in a rut.

Dr. Momentum said...

I used to love the Mac, but now I don't generally care what system I'm using as they all seem to have their idiosyncrasies. I spend nearly all my time on XP, but I do have a Mac laptop here; I've grown a bit away from MacOS X.

In any case, a few small points.

Have you tried Expose'? It's supposed to help you sort through your open windows. It doesn't really solve exactly the problem you're having with the windows that are minimized (at least the version years ago didn't) but it may make finding one window among all your open windows easier. If you're not using it, I think it can be turned on in your control panel.

As for closing the notebook without sleeping, I think that's a heat issue. I once burned out a laptop because it didn't go to sleep when I closed it (it was a Mac). If you're just going to the next room it's not a problem, but I think they're trying to keep people from ruining their laptops.

In any case, I wish I had a MacBook. I'd give Maggie my laptop (a tiny Dell which I love, BTW) and I'd run MacOS, Linux and Windows off my MacBook.

Barry Leiba said...

Oh, yeah, I mention exposé mode in the blog entry:

«I will never hide a window, but just leave them all visible (as I type this, I have twelve open windows; I figure I might have as many as twenty at times). That way, I should always be able to use exposé mode or command-tab and command-` to find what I'm looking for.»

Exposé is probably the coolest thing about MacOS. Very, very cool.

Brian York said...

This is just a quick note as to the origin of the "single menu bar" system on the Mac. Oddly enough, it isn't as a result of lower-resolution displays, but a deliberate decision based on the ease of accessing the menu with the mouse.

Essentially, it's a Fitt's law matter -- having a single menu bar at the top of the window means that the menu bar has (essentially) infinite height. Rather than having to get your mouse within the proper 20 (30?) vertical pixels, you just have to get to the top of the main window. This idea *is* probably (in some ways) a legacy of the single-*monitor* era, in that with a two-monitor display (as is increasingly common, and as I use almost all the time on my own Mac laptop), you also have to be in the correct window. Still, I find it *much* easier to correctly hit the menu bar in the Mac than in Windows, simply because it's *always* in the same place, and I don't have to worry about my vertical placement as long as I aim high. Of course, this won't likely help you very much with your adaptation, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

Barry Leiba said...

Thanks, Brian. That does make sense.