After Three Years With a Mac, It Still Drives Me Crazy

I have been a long-time windows user, but in 2009 I got a big, beautiful iMac for our living area. And in general, it's been great. I love how it looks, I love the remote control, I love iTunes. It's the desktop computer, stereo, and TV of our house. If only I could hook my xbox up to it.

Unfortunately, when I am trying to get work done, it drives me insane, and I can't wait to get back to my Windows machine at work.

It drives me crazy in a few ways, but I'll just talk about one.

Window Manipulation With the Keyboard

On Windows, if you want to switch the focus of the windows, you:

Use Alt+tab until you highlight the window you want. When you release, it's brought to the fore. 

It's that simple.

Here's how it works on Mac OS, and I use the term "works" very loosely:

To switch between applications, you use command+tab. 
To switch between two windows in the same application, you use command+` 
To do this next bit of kung fu, you must first go into system preferences, Mission Control, and assign some key to "Application windows." I used Right command. You only have to do this once.  Okay, here we go: To switch to a window that's been minimized to the dock, you make sure you are in the right application, then hit right command, then move the arrow key until you highlight the right window, and hit enter.  
Here's a particularly frustrating example:  if you're in Chrome and want to switch to a minimized Word document, you command+tab to get to the Word application, then Right Command, then arrow as many times as you need to, and hit enter.

Not only is this very complicated and difficult to remember, but it makes very little sense from a cognitive perspective. With Windows's alt+tab, you know you're going to get to the window you most recently were using. This is very handy, and easy-- your mind remembers quite easily where you just were. Hit it twice and you get to the second-to-last window you used. Beautiful! On a Mac, you have to not only remember which window you want, but also whether it is in the same application, and whether you had minimized it or not. Why should I have to use different commands for all of these things?

Of course you can always use the keyboard, but you can on Windows too. Often it's faster not to.

The dock, in my opinion, is a terrible imitation of the Windows task bar. Unless you do the special key assignment described above, the only way to get to minimized windows is using the mouse--and then, it's hard to know which minimized window is what, because it uses a little picture of the window rather than text that describes it. I don't know about you, but one Word doc looks a lot like another in my Dock. With the mouse I have to mouse over to read the text description.

If you have a Word document open, and you minimize it, you can Command+tab to the Word application, but Mac will not even bring that window to the fore. The only indication that you're in Word is that its name is in the upper left part of the screen. The screen might be blank. Then you have to do my kung fu, use the mouse to find the doc in the Dock, or use the Window menu at the top.

I'm constantly switching windows. Sometimes I'm copying things from one document to another in Word. (use command+`) Sometimes I'm flipping back and forth between Chrome and Word (use command+tab). And God forbid I'm using three or more windows in multiple applications.*

I want to remind you that I've been using the Mac now for three years. At first, my friends told me that I would get used to it. I haven't. Some aspects are just bad design.

Now it wouldn't surprise me if I got comments telling me some creative way to do the things I want to do. And I want to know those things, believe me. However, the fact that I don't know them already means that they are not common knowledge nor intuitive. This is something Apple prides itself on.

As someone who likes to keep up with computers, I use Mac, Windows, and Ubuntu Linux often. I like each of them for different things. The Mac is a wonderful entertainment device, and it's not bad if I'm just writing a Word document or surfing the web.

But when shit gets real, I go to Windows.

UPDATE: After posting this, a friend recommended using a piece of software called Witch, allowing me to use command+tab just like Windows. It works very well and is available in the application store on Mac OSX.

Pictured: iMacs at the Apple Store. In Ottawa, the Apple Store is right across from the Mac store (it sells makeup.)

* I often am using more than three windows. When I am updating my book with new papers, I have two windows with the paper's information in chrome (the email from my student and the literature review google doc for that book), a finder window with the PDF file displayed (so I can refile it), and Emacs open with my book. I just give up on the keyboard and use the mouse, which has its own problems. But that's a rant for another day.

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Mitch McQuoid said…
Dr. Davies, why not just use Ubuntu with Wine?
Support open source while you're at it, and for the most part, you'll be getting things done.
I haven't had any serious troubles that I have not yet to work out, I figure you'd have the same experience. I find using computers and software, in general, to be a problematic experience where ever you are. Since Ubuntu is a learning experience everyday, I feel like I'm always learning something about the underside of the bonnet, which is great, always keeps me guessing and learning.
Oh, and if you're interested in supporting open-ish platforms, I recommend an Android TV from X OEM, my choice; Boxee, convoluted and buggy. But at the end of the day, Netflix works great, grooveshark for music if I must. Just don't bother with streaming media off the net, it's just too cumbersome.
I like to support the underdog in a lot of cases, competitive market demand is a healthy personal activity, which will help high-tech produce better products in the future.
Thanks for the interesting post, ensuing reflections about technology is always interesting for me!
Mike said…
Personally, I think they should just remove Alt+Tab and minimize - there's already better ways of managing multiple windows. Here's some requested (albeit not obvious) workarounds:

1. Expose (F3 by default).
This shows all windows. Granted, its memory intensive, but my 5 year old iMac can handle it just fine. Just click on the window you want.

2. Spaces. (Also triggered by F3 by default, on OS X Lion and up)

This takes up more memory -but it basically is Mac's version of the virtual desktop ( like a linux wm). If you've used Ubuntu, you'll feel right at home with this.

Hope that helps. Granted, those features aren't obvious. But the division between obvious, and something your just used to isn't clear to me. Alt+Tab certainly isn't obvious to anyone who hasn't used windows.
Mike said…
...Actually, if shit really gets real, use Control+side arrows to go between spaces.

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