Five Things About OS X That Annoy Me

In my house today, all of the computers are Macs. This is a long way away from three and a half year ago, when I said that Jaguar could not replace my PC. We’re chugging along happily running Tiger, just as productive as before, and enjoying every bit of eye candy. But OS X isn’t always cherry pie, it’s got its own set of faults, and some can be downright annoying. UPDATED

Since I wrote an article some time ago about five things that annoy me about Windows, I thought I’d do the same about Macs, which, although sleek, lovable, and awfully pretty, have their own shortcomings.

1) Mounting & Unmounting
I’m still not sure why Microsoft can get this right and Apple is still fooling around with the same typical UNIX unmount baggage. Although properly unmounted (by dragging to the “Trash”), I constantly get errors when unplugging my iPod and my Transflash adapter, which mounts via a USB connector. I don’t get why on Windows, I can simply unplug a device without fear of problems, while on OS X, I not only have to worry that the data has been corrupted (which is a Windows issue too), but also that as long as the computer remains on, I will continue to get Finder errors. In addition, although the Finder can be re-launched when it’s in a usable state, I have often found that once the Finder is hosed, it requires a reboot to fix.

It’s 2006, I want my devices to be plug and play, I’m not interested in error message when I want my devices unplugged. Period.

The reason this is so important is that Finder is the lifeblood of the Mac experience. Once the Finder is unstable, using OS X is hopeless. Even relaunching it won’t work, and in many cases, the shutdown process won’t even work: you’ll need to perform a hard reset. These days, I have many USB devices: a mouse, a thumb drive, an iPod dock, my transflash adapter, an external hard drive, etc. If connecting and unmounting devices is a problem, the entire Mac experience is a problem.

UPDATE: I’ve gotten several emails telling me that not unmounting is stupid. The gripe here is not unmounting- it’s unmounting and then STILL getting Finder errors even though the device is apparently unmounted.

2) Media Browsing
While using Windows XP, when I open a folder containing pictures and click one, I get an application called “Windows Picture & Fax Viewer. It opens near instantly (another issue entirely), and allows me to quickly and easily cycle through all photos in the directory. When I attempt this feat on the Mac, I get “Preview,” a multi-purpose application which can view everything from animated GIF files to PDFs. The problem is, Preview takes a good three seconds to open and only lets me view one picture at a time. Although Preview can handle more than one picture and allow you to cycle through them via the “drawer,” there’s no simple way to cycle through a large directory without extra clicks.

As we get into a true multimedia age, I need to quickly access my media. Using iTunes and iPhoto for everything is a hassle. I want to open photos quickly without adding them to any library, but I also want to play music as quickly as I can with WinAmp. Neither of these things can be accomplished today – not even closely. The fastest audio apps for Mac include Cog, MacAmp, and sadly, Quicktime Player. In all cases, the term “fast” is relative: none are fast, they are just faster than the equivalent iLife counterpart, iTunes. Why can’t any Mac application open in less than several seconds?

Furthermore, and more importantly, the iLife media management apps insist on you adding a double-clicked file to your library. I don’t want every MP3 in my iTunes library, and I most definitely do not want every photo I want to view at full fize entered into my iPhoto library. Fast media browsing and access ought to be key for OS X 10.5 “Leopard.”

UPDATE: I’m aware of the slideshow built into the Finder, and it’s great. It still involve many more clicks, which is the point. No one has bothered to argue with my point about fast sound file access. Apple – perhaps for Leopard, a play-on-hover feature?

3) Those F#&@ing Beach Balls
I’m running a dual-core 1.83 Ghz Macbook Pro with 1.5 GB of RAM. This is one of the fastest Macs on the market, according to Apple. However, it’s still pretty slow. In fact, I’m willing to concede that my 1.42Ghz iBook is just about as fast during all tasks except boot (which is, admittedly, definitely many times faster). Launching an application like Camino and loading an intesive web page like Gmail or can lock up the entire OS, down to the point that my dock icons won’t magnify for several seconds. Safari’s done it too, as has the Finder, as has mounting a large disk image. One of the big Windows kickers that Mac people laugh at is the ever-present hour glass. That stupid beach ball prevents me from doing anything, and although generally rare after the login process is complete, it shows itself at least once a day.

4) VPN client
In 2006, productive workers require a VPN client. The Mac PPTP VPN tool is pretty simple: it’s in System Preferences > Internet Connect. The big complaint is that there’s no obvious way to decline using the gateway on the VPN. In Windows, it’s pretty simple to do, but the problem is that if the VPN doesn’t allow you to relay internet traffic, you’re either connected to the VPN *OR* online. When I can preserve my default gateway, I can do both. This is why there are so many commercial VPN apps for Mac, because the bundled native client is lacking. There are workarounds, but they often involve knowing your IP (which means it’s not dynamic) and/or changing system files, which is reserved for power users and those with the guts to go to the command line and type commands with sudo.

UPDATE: I can eat crow with the best: it’s been pointed out to me that this option is available under Connect > Options.

5) Closing apps
This is the controversial one, for sure. When I bought my MacBook, I gave my iBook G4 to my fiancé. She originally used to use XP Home, then I migrated her to Xandros 3. After 4 months of using Linux with no real problems (other than the terrible Xine interface), she upgraded to my iBook. Although she has grasped using the Mac for the most part, including closing apps with Command+Q, she confessed that she doesn’t understand why she has to use Cmd+Q rather than just closing the application like she did in Windows and Linux. Her words: “If I hit the red X, that means I want to close the application, so why do I still have to use Cmd+Q?”

She’s right: when the last window of an app closes (and only when the LAST window closes), an application ought to quit, like it does on every OS ever written except those that run on Macs. Mac users have been apologists for this unintended behavior for too long. Applications should not expect to remain in memory eternally (until shutdown or reboot) unless explicity told otherwise. They should expect to close down and release all memory when closed via the red button.

Yes, this is contrary to what I said a few years ago, but after using it full time on my primary computer for awhile now, I’ve become ticked by this. Closing an application should not require a keyboard stroke intervention, and if the menu isn’t docked across the top of the screen, using the mouse to choose Appname > Quit is cumbersome.

UPDATE: As predicted, people got emotional about this. Here’s a hint about effective debate: when you start by telling someone that the way they prefer something is wrong, you’re not going to convince them, ever.

Despite a list of annoyances – and mind you, this is 5 of about 20 that actually get to me – I still think OS X rules the roost today. Novell’s next desktop product looks quite promising, but the ease and polish of Tiger are, in most aspects, unmatched today. All said, I’m still a successful, proud, and productive Mac user.


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