15 Things Apple Should Change in Mac OS X

Two of our top operating systems editors sound off

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8. Printer Setup. The process of configuring printers in OS X is confusing. It's almost as if Steve Jobs never actually tried this himself, because the way the printer-configuration screens work is quite un-Mac-like. Apple, you can do better than this.

(Several readers wrote in to say that the Mac configures printers automatically by plug and play, but we're talking about more challenging printer setup tasks here. For more, see How to Make Mac OS X Better: Readers Show the Way.)

7. Inconsistent User Interface. Open iTunes, Safari and Mail. All three of these programs are Apple's own, and they're among the ones most likely to be used by Mac OS X users. So why do all three of them look different? Safari, like several other Apple-made apps such as the Finder and Address Book, uses a brushed-metal look. iTunes sports a flat gun-metal gray scheme and flat non-shiny scroll bars. Mail is somewhere in between: no brushed metal, lots of gun-metal gray, and the traditional shiny blue scroll bars. Apple is supposed to be the king of good UI, and in many areas, it is. But three widely used apps from the same company with a different look? Sometimes consistency isn't the hobgoblin of little minds.

6. Laptop Screen Dimming. Yes, you can change the way your screen brightness behaves in the Energy Saver, setting it to dim before the computer goes to sleep. Or you can set it to use a lower brightness when on battery power. (It's one way to help get more juice from your laptop battery.) Unfortunately, setting that preference doesn't always "stick," meaning your screen will dim in about three or four minutes, regardless of how you set it or whether you're on battery power or AC. So far as we can tell, that automatic-screen dimming behavior is not user configurable. Apple has smartly made the dimming function turn off on its own while you're, say, watching a DVD on your Mac. But it's an annoyance that users should be able to defeat.

(For a rather inexplicable follow-up to this problem, see How to Make Mac OS X Better: Readers Show the Way.)

5. Managing Finder's Columns View, Problem No. 1. The Finder's "Columns" view, which offers a hierarchical display of successive folders, has many nice touches. For one thing, it's instantly understandable. It also scrolls to the right automatically as you click into each succeeding level. But there are three annoying aspects. The first is that sometimes the column areas open up too narrow to read their folder and file contents. Apple puts grab points only at the bottom of each column. The entire column separator should be grabbable. At the very least, there should be grab points at the top and bottom.

4. Managing Finder's Columns View, Problem No. 2. The second problem is that the columns should automatically attempt to open to a size that fully (or more fully) displays the names of the folders and files they contain. If you depress the Option key while you drag one of the grab points left or right, the Finder will expand all of the columns in unison, which is some help, but not ideal.

(For a partial workaround to Finder's columns view problems no. 1 and 2, see How to Make Mac OS X Better: Readers Show the Way.)

3. Managing Finder's Columns View, Problem No. 3. A third problem can occur when the Column view Finder window opens as part of an application dialog. In this setting, as you tunnel down a deep folder hierarchy, you may find that the left side of the Finder window has been pushed off the screen. That's because the starting point is anchored by the location of the application dialog box. Sometimes you may find that the button you need to press (like Save, Open, New Folder, whatever) is actually somewhere off-screen once you've navigated to the proper location in the folder hierarchy. While this doesn't happen often, it's ugly when it does.

2. Finder's Hobbled Cut Command. As far as we can tell, there's no way to Cut a file in Finder. The common usage in Windows is to use Edit > Cut and Edit > Paste to move a file from one location to another. The Finder does make it relatively easy to perform drag-and-drop moves, but there are times when that can be awkward, especially on smaller-screen Macs. In that case, being able to cut a file in one window, navigate to another window, and paste the file there is a handy alternative. While Finder offers the Cut command on its Edit menu, it doesn't work on files. And if you use keyboard commands instead (Command X and Command V, for example), it leaves the original file in place -- or in other words, it becomes a Copy, not a Cut, operation.

(For more on this issue, including information about OS X's spring-loaded folders, see How to Make Mac OS X Better: Readers Show the Way.)

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