Stan James has a blog post called 65 reasons why macs
suck. Despite the
provocative title, the post raises many legitimate issues with the usability of
OSX. I wanted to critically evaluate these issues.
Were they true flaws of OSX?
In particular, apparent problems can cease to be a problem if (a) there is a way
of adding the missing functionality or (b) there is an alternative workflow that
is just as good.
In general, there is this issue that when people come from one system they try to
implement the workflow of the old system in the new system. Thus, it is
important to disentangle failure to grok the new system with a failure of the
system. At the time of writing this post I’ve been using OSX for four weeks.
Thus, going through each of Stan’s points functioned as
a checklist to see whether I was beginning to grok OSX.
Finally, to be fair to Stan his post was written in December 2009. Additional
features have been added to OSX since the time that he wrote his post.
Broadly, I’ve organised Stan’s points into “Not a problem” and “still
a problem”. While I’ve tried to make Stan’s point obvious from my response, you
may want to read his
post in parallel with
Not a problem
1. The menu bar on the Mac makes no sense
There are several benefits of having the menu bar at the top left rather than on
- It increases screen real estate for actual content.
- It creates consistency in expectations.
- Even though it takes longer to hit a target with the mouse when the target is
more distant. It is quicker to hit a target when the target is against an
I also personally only use one large monitor. So multiple monitor issues related to the unified menu don’t apply.
In terms of workarounds I try to minimise my use of the mouse. Thus, if I need
functionality from the menus, I use the keyboard. There are several ways of
- The preferred option for regular commands is to use the designated
keyboard shortcut. It is also possible to configure additional keyboard shortcuts
Preferences - Keyboard.
Cmd+Shift+/ triggers both a help menu search and a general help search. This
is a really useful especially when combined with vi style cursor
Thus, typing in the name of a menu in help search shows where the command is
in the menu hierarchy and can be used to trigger the command. This is
particularly useful for commands that you don’t use often or are just
learning. You can can also take note of the shortcut key if there is one.
- There are also keyboard shortcuts for navigating menus more generally using
Contrl+F2 letters and cursor keys. I don’t use this approach a lot given how
effective the preceding options are.
2,3,4 Issues related to top most program
On large windows there can be many non-overlapping windows.
There can be applications that are active but have no windows.
This can lead to confusion when trying to run a keyboard shortcut or use a menu
when the wrong program is active.
This caused me confusion in the first month or so of using OSX.
Research shows (e.g., check out the eye tracking research by Lee and Anderson,
that over time you learn to acquire expertise in how to allocate visual
attention to absorb task relevant information. In general, I find the indicators
of the active window to be relatively subtle. That said, over time I imagine
I will become attuned to the red/yellow/green lights
appearing, the window title bar going darker, the window getting a wider shadow,
the active application being displayed in the main menu.
Over time, you also learn how the flow of program control works. For example,
I was initially surprised that when opening a file in Finder closing the file did
not return focus to Finder. However, returning focus is only an Alt+Tab away. And with
practice you learn that this is the default behaviour.
Lee, F. J. and Anderson, J. R. (2001). Does learning of a complex task have to
be complex? A study in learning decomposition. Cognitive Psychology, 42(3),
5 No copy and paste from the calculator widget
I completely disabled the dashboard. I see no value in it for my own workflow.
If I want to trigger the calculator, I can do one of many things.
- Open the calculator application typically using the Calculator application
(which can be launched quickly with Alfred). This supports copying a number.
- Use Alfred to run basic calculations
- Open a dedicated program like RStudio, Excel, etc.
The critique is that you can’t drag files from Finder to windows that don’t have
There are several options:
- Drag to the Application in the Dock.
- Activate drag and then use Alt+Tab or Alfred Hot Keys to activate a program, and then
7. The only hint that application is running is a few glowing pixels below it.
At least on my computer with 8GB ram, information that an application is running
is typically not that relevant to me. In general, lots of programs run in the
background and it makes it quicker to activate the application.
Alt+Tab also lists running applications.
9. No Home or End Keys on Keyboard.
This a general critique of the way that home and end keys and text editing
functionality is implemented.
There are different elements to this.
- There are home, end, page up, and page down keys on the extended keyboard and
also by using the Fn Key with the cursor keys.
- The keys for triggering Mac text editing are different, but they are quite
usable. Most of the key combinations seem consistent across applications. The
one key combination that I have found occasionally does not work is Cmd+Delete
to delete the entire line (e.g., in the help menu search).
I’m still working out the degree to which there are general consistency issues
with this and the degree to which it’s just a transitional issue related to the
fact that there is not a one to one mapping between how Windows/Linux uses home
and End keys and how OSX uses these keys.
11. Multiple confusing ways of installing applications.
I agree that it is not intuitive at first that program installation involves
dragging applications into the application folder. And there are a lot of
permutations about exactly how this is done. I also really miss the centralised
software repository and updating system that I used to use on Ubuntu.
It also wasn’t intuitive that you could explore the application file like
That said, once you learn how it works, it’s pretty simple.
16. Lack of OK and Cancel buttons in preference boxes.
I can see pros and cons here. I quite like that the effect of changes
can be seen straight away. This is particularly useful where
there is a slider and you are trying to fine tune a setting. Also, many dialog boxes are
multiple-tabbed. It was always a little confusing on Windows when you changed tabs
whether the changes you made on the previous tab were already applied or not.
18. Minimizing creates confusing flow.
I use Alfred to activate applications. Alfred activates minimised and hidden
windows when an application is activated.
Thus, I rarely need to think about this issue.
In general I double click on title to hide or use Cmd+H.
19 No universal keyboard shortcuts.
This is the same point about the lack of alt-accelerator keys in windows. See my
earlier point under (1) about menus. In general, shortcut keys are the first
choice, and they can be added. Otherwise use the help search system.
21 Zoom/Maximize button is absolutely ridiculous
I rarely use the built-in zoom/maximise window button functionality.
- I use better touch tool to enable window snapping.
Drag window to left or right to snap resize to the left or right size. Drag to
the top of the screen to maximise. Drag to the corner to snap and resize to
a particular quadrant of the screen.
- I also use Better Touch Tool to resize with the keyboard. Specifically I have
a set of shortcut keys that perform the same snapping functionality that
I have with the keyboard.
Here are my keyboard snapping settings:
In general this provides me with most of the simple maximising and resizing
behaviour that I want. I don’t use the Full-screen feature (the animation is
slow and makes me feel sea sick and can not be disabled).
I also have the Zoom key configured with a keyboard shortcut. Sometimes it
provides a useful resize.
In general I am growing to like the OSX model of keeping many overlapping
windows open at any one time.
24,25 Browser stuff
I don’t use Safari, I use Chrome, so I don’t notice these issues.
However, often other programs interact only with Safari. This can be a nuisance.
I use xmarks to synchronise bookmarks between Safari and Chrome to enable Alfred
to access my Chrome bookmarks.
26, 36 No option to Cut files in Finder, only Copy.
I agree that I would prefer the Control+X and Control+V shortcuts to work in
Instead, there is Control+C, and Control+Alt+V to move.
27. Renaming files only possible from time-consuming mouse gesture.
Clicking Enter on a file renames. That’s quick and easy.
28. No* way to copy-n-paste your current path.
I agree that the lack of built-in support for this is a nuisance and is
a general sign of the non-programmer default orientation of OSX.
That said, I have a variety of strategies for dealing with this which I outline
In particular, Alfed and copying and pasting a file/folder into iTerm are two
30. Can’t search external drives
I haven’t looked into this much because I don’t use external drives very often.
One option would be to use the
find command from the command-line.
It’s also possible to add folders to spotlight index.
There are some ideas
31. “Move to Trash” is confusing.
I don’t see this as an issue.
I just use the keyboard to move items to the trash.
32. Right click doesn’t show all available options available on the target.
Perhaps this is an issue. I haven’t noticed anything in particular.
I try to use keyboard shortcuts.
34. Can’t right-click file to email it.
Alfred has support for emailing
the selected file or files in Finder.
35. Can’t right-click file to print it.
It’s not that difficult to open a file and press Cmd+P.
I also generally want to check the settings and the chosen printer before
There are also solutions discussed in various places:
38, 40 Open/Save Dialogs suck big time.
I agree that it’s annoying that you can’t rename or move an incorrectly named or
In general I minimise activities in Save As dialog boxes.
I’ll navigate to the location in Finder.
And then I’ll copy the path across to the dialog box.
Thus, if I already have the Finder focused on the relevant folder it is easy to
perform operations there using Finder.
39. Can’t add columns of info when opening files.
You can do this now by right clicking on the columns headings.
40. Doesn’t remember your selected files when switching views.
Now Finder does remember selections.
43. Thumbnails are tiny, and no way to preview at full size;
There are a range of ways to view images in Finder. Item, Column and Cover Flow
all have their pros and cons.
In Icon view, pressing Cmd+J brings up customise view and there is a slider for
icon size which can be used to increase the size of thumbnails. Reducing Grid
spacing is also an improvement.
I do miss the basic Cmd+scroll style key on Windows.
And I don’t like that
44. Impossible to open hidden files from an “open file” dialog box.
Control+Alt+Cmd+period in the Open dialog box toggles display of hidden files.
45. Interface inconsistencies
Stan specifically mentions the use of Cmd+O to open in Finder but Enter to open
in Open Dialog.
I agree that there are inconsistencies in OSX, but to some extent there are in
every operating system as different conventions come into conflict.
In general I have found OSX to be fairly consistent.
In the case of the Open dialog box, the Enter key performs the blue bolded action in the
dialog box. This just happens to be to open the selected file.
46. No auto completion in save as dialog
Selecting a file name places it in the dialog box.
There are arguments for letting the user specify the file name without
auto-completion (e.g., not wanting to overwrite an existing file).
47. Cmd-tab only goes through applications, not windows.
I generally use Alfred to select the program I want.
I have convenient global hotkeys configured for my most common programs and
there is the typing based application launcher which is for other programs.
I use Alt+tab sometimes.
I agree that it is taking some getting used to discriminating between windows
and switching applications.
That said, there is an argument for the way that OSX performs application switching.
Witch also looks like a promising alternative
that I have not yet explored.
50. Weird side effects with unwanted windows coming to the top.
Open a file from Finder in Preview, close the file. The focus will still be in
Preview. While this is different to on Windows. Restoring focus to Finder is only an
Alt+Tab away. It’s a different behaviour that you need to get used to.
51 Expose is not a substitute
I don’t use Expose or Mission Control most of the time.
It’s a nice interface when working with the trackpad and the laptop, but
otherwise, I don’t use it.
I just activate the application directly as described above.
56,57 Bad ergonomics of macbook
I largely use the macbook with external keyboard, mouse, and monitor.
I think all laptops have poor ergonomics when it comes to extended use.
58.Keyboard and surface are completely flat
I’m still judging this.
In general I quite like the feel of Mac keyboards.
I like the response of the keys and I like the way that the thumb can more
readily be used to activate modifier keys.
59. Goddam a MacBook Pro gets hot!
Yes. It can get hot. I find that it gets slightly less hot than my previous
I think that’s a general complaint with laptops.
60. No equivalent of right-click key on keyboard.
I do find this somewhat of a problem.
There are ways of assigning right click to the keyboard, but it operates where
the mouse pointer is and not where the selection is.
However, I have found a number of workarounds
- Most things that you would get from right click are available in menus. These
can be triggered using shortcut keys or using the help menu search system
I mentioned earlier.
- Alfred provides a context menu for Finder which provides several options such
as email, get path, open with a particular program, etc.
61. No key combo that will quit any application
In general, you are discouraged from quitting applications in OSX.
Programs start quicker if they are left to run in memory.
Nonetheless, if you want to quit an application, there are several options:
- Cmd+Q certainly works in a lot of applications
- Cmd+Tab and then pressing Q when the application selected can be used to quite
a large number of applications at once
- There are also several options for force quitting an application. In particular, pressing Cmd+Alt+Esc will bring up a force quit dialog box
64. Most programs that have a Mac version, it is incredibly crippled or behind in features.
I’ve seen a few instances of this, but in general:
- Some applications do not exist on other operating systems
(e.g., Alfred, OmniFocus).
- Many application work similarly well on Windows, Linux, and OSX (e.g., Chrome,
RStudio, programs that run in the browser)
- Some applications work better on OSX and Linux than on Windows (e.g.,
command-line applications; arguably R and LaTeX)
- Some applications I need either don’t exist or are difficult to configure on
Linux, but do exist or are easier to configure on Windows and OSX (e.g., MS
Office, SPSS, Adobe editing tools, good screen capture software, etc.)
If you really need these programs, then there are various ways of running
Windows or Linux in a virtual machine or using Bootcamp.
65. Poor supply of good free apps, and Mac apps are always more expensive.
Personally, my employer provides me with most commercial applications that
I need (e.g., Office, SPSS, Adobe suite, etc.)
- Open source programs are still free on Mac (e.g., LaTeX, Vim, RStudio,
many command-line utilities).
- I have found other free software on Mac that I have liked (e.g.,
Keyremap4macbook, Skim, etc.)
- The fact that there is a market for software has created some great
applications that I think are well worth paying for. In particular, I like
Alfred PowerPack, OmniFocus, and ScreenFlow. In these
particular niches, I never found anything as good in the open source world.
While I am a big fan of open source software, I like it that there is a market
that generates more options that can fill the gaps left by the open source
world. I also like that I can can have a unix based system but still have the
option of using MS Office, Adobe suite, and other commercial tools.
Still a problem
13. Can’t access dialog elements with keyboard shortcuts.
I agree that keyboard navigation of dialog boxes is lacking. Repeatedly pressing
tab is not an adequate replacement.
I have written generally about
what is available.
However, I do miss the alt based accelerator keys in Windows dialog boxes.
I also miss the Control+Tab method of navigating tabs in dialog boxes.
More generally, preference dialog boxes seem to lack standardisation.
14. Many (most?) lists cannot be navigated with arrow keys.
Greater keyboard navigation can be activated using Keyboard settings.
That said, the lack of keyboard support for navigating certain dialog boxes is
really annoying. It seems to me that there is a whole class of pop up window
that you can’t even activate with the keyboard (e.g., Fonts and Special
Characters in Textedit; the inspector in OmniFocus; the ribbon in MS Office).
I asked about solutions to this problem here
23. Dialog boxes lose focus all the time
This is strange behaviour. I often find this when installing programs.
The Finder window that opens is hidden behind everything else.
However, it’s not a big problem.
33. Cannot permanently delete an individual file.
Stan does mention a few hacks. There are a large numer of suggestions
I think it would be nice to have a shortcut key to delete an individual file or selection of files.
I can see that Apple would do it to reduce the chance that you might
accidentally delete a file. However, if you are more often deleting the entire
trash, then that also creates greater chances of permanently deleting a file.
29. Mac Laptops cannot perform a right-click-and-drag,
It would be nice to have this feature.
That said, there are a few modifier keys that can be combined with drag and drop
to alter behaviour.
I also don’t feel the need for this functionality very often.
36. No shell extensions.
This does seem like a limitation.
That said, I haven’t really explored workarounds.
The Alfred context menu also provides a few extra features.
48. Cmd-backtick has behavior that is completely different from Command-Tab:
I think this is a good point that cmd+backtick navigates windows in a different
way to Cmd+Tab. If you want to bounce back and forward between active windows in
an application it would be nice if the order for windows reset after each click.
That said, there is Cmd+Shift+backtick to go back in the list.
55. Always plays the startup sound
I agree that this is annoying, especially when the volume is up loud and you are
trying to be quiet.
As a mitigating factor, I don’t need to restart very often.
Points not discussed
I have not discussed points 8, 10, 15, 20, 22, 42, 49, 52, 53, 54. In general this
was because they didn’t really apply to me.
To summarise I read Stan’s article after one week and again after four weeks of
using OSX. Over that time the list of points that remain under the “still
a problem” heading is a lot smaller.
Hopefully over the next month or so I will discover more workarounds to the
I like to learn what the asymptotically most efficient way of doing
things. In general, my biggest concerns are the impediments to efficient
keyboard based navigation.