In the Details: Label Anchors

In Mac OS X’s Dock, labels appear above items as you cursor over them. Typically, a label is centered above its item, remaining centered as the item grows and shrinks with the Dock’s magnifying behavior. At the very edge of the screen, however, that isn’t possible. So, the entire label stays on the screen while its little anchor slides back and forth, pointing to its item.


Unfortunately, if the label is short enough, as is the case with the Trash, the anchor ends up floating away from the label.


Full Screen Apps

There are some applications that I like to use in Mac OS X’s full screen mode, especially applications that I have running all the time but only occasionally reference, like iTunes, Yojimbo, and NetNewsWire. These are also applications that have been designed as single window apps, and they work quite well that way. I would never use, say, Adobe InDesign in full screen mode, because that wouldn’t jive with all of the palettes. I use three displays, after all.


And then there is an application like Apple Mail. It’s mostly designed to be a one-window application, and that works fine for reading mail in full-screen mode. However, when it is time to create a new message, that pops as a new window. In full screen mode, it becomes a modal in the middle of the screen. It covers up whatever is in the main window, such as the message you are replying to, and you can’t move it.


If you want to reference something in another mail message—a very likely scenario—you have two options: take it out of full-screen mode or press the Cancel button. Now, as it turns out, when you press Cancel, it prompts you to save the message. You can find it again in the Drafts folder. That’s not exactly intuitive.

So, while I want to treat Mail as one of the other single window applications that I run all the time and occasionally reference, running it in full screen mode is just a hassle.

In the Details: Disabled

I was starting to make use of the new tagging capability in OS X Mavericks by tagging all of my applications so that I could display the Applications folder organized by tags. I have nearly 200 items in my Applications folder, and I occasionally can’t remember the name of some little utility I picked up in a bundle. Having them organized by general use will be helpful. There is a button in the window toolbar that allows you to assign tags to selected items. A lot of the applications didn’t enable the button because of their permission settings. This was what triggered my realization.

Apple only changes the appearance of the icon when a button is disabled, not the button itself. It’s rather subtle, and in the case of this particular icon, not very effective. I didn’t realize it was disabled until I clicked it several times with no result.

It’s obvious when the two states are compared side-by-side, of course, but not so apparent when only comparing it with the buttons beside it. The disabled icon color of the tag button is similar to the outline of the share icon to its left.

It would be much more effective to “gray out” the entire button, as they do when the window does not have focus.

One More Reason

When I heard about the improvements to Keychain and Safari’s password features in Mavericks, I wondered about the continued viability of 1Password as a product. The more I learned, however, the more I realized that Apple was just adding the bare minimum capability that would improve security for casual users. 1Password has become an irreplaceable dependency for me.

It annoys me when Safari tells me that it won’t autofill a password because a website told it not to. I don’t care what a website says. If I want Safari to save the password, that’s my prerogative. I found a preference setting that will “Allow AutoFill even for websites that request passwords not be saved”. But, when I tried to turn it on, I got the following message.

“Your Mac must have a screen lock to allow AutoFill for websites that request passwords not be saved.”

I’m not putting a screen lock on my personal computer in my own house. That’s ridiculous. Yet one more reason I’ll stick with 1Password.

In the Details: Scroll Barred

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Apple’s Magic Mouse. I also quite like the absence of scroll bars in the Mac OS while I’m using it. This is one inherited feature from iOS that really works, except for one thing.

The scroll bars appear while scrolling occurs and fade away about one second after scrolling stops. That is, unless you move your cursor over top of them, in which case they don’t fade away, but get larger, so you can click and drag them. This becomes an annoyance in the column view.

Notice how the horizontal scroll bar overlays the folder at the end of the list? If you are trying to select that folder, your cursor is there, and the scroll bar doesn’t go away. You have to move your cursor away, wait for the scroll bar to fade out, and then select the item. Apple should include a scroll bar’s height of empty space at the bottom of each column so that when you scroll to the bottom, the last item is above the scroll bar.

In the Details: Force Field

I’ve noticed a change in the way the dock responds in Mavericks when running an application full-screen. Actually, I suppose it could have behaved the same way previously. I rarely used apps full-screen because that made my additional monitors useless. With the changes in Mavericks, however, I’m finding benefits to using some applications full-screen. Since I am doing so, I have noticed the aforementioned behavior.

If I move the cursor to the bottom of the screen and stop, the dock doesn’t appear. If I continue pushing against the bottom, the dock slides up. This is noticeably different from the behavior when I don’t have a full-screen app up and the dock appears immediately. I assume this is to guard against accidental dock triggering when trying to interact with something at the bottom of the full-screen app. It’s as if there is a force field guarding the dock.

It’s taking some getting used to, but I think it will be beneficial.

In the Details: Clear Labeling

Previously in Apple’s Mail application, to change the sort order of a mailbox, you would select “ascending” or “descending” from a menu. Of course, that comes with an expectation that users understand the meaning of those terms. I don’t believe average users do.

With Mavericks, Apple has improved the microcopy.

Now the options in the menu are as clear as they can be. It takes a few more words, but that doesn’t hurt anything here.

In the Details: Too Few Buttons

I’ve heard a lot of complaints about there being too many buttons in a user interface, but I rarely hear anyone denigrate a UI for not having enough. Apple’s OS X notification popup for software updates is a case of too few buttons.

Clicking on “Details” will open the App Store and display the available updates. Clicking on “Restart” will, obviously, restart the computer. But what if I don’t want to do either of these? I may just want to dismiss the notification and take care of it later. The popup stays on top of everything, sitting in the top right corner of the screen. Depending on what application you are using, it could cover up something important.

It turns out that there is a way to dismiss the popup. I once tried to drag the notification out of the way, and it let me drag it several inches to the left, but when I released it, it slid right back to where it started. Then I dragged it to the right. Low and behold, it started fading out, becoming more translucent the farther off the screen I dragged it, until it disappeared completely. At this point, it didn’t come back, but could still be accessed from within the notifications panel, which notably is revealed underneath the right edge of the screen.

It is an elegant microinteraction, but there are no visual affordances to suggest that you can do that. A dismiss button would be more intuitive and require less effort on my part, but I admit, it would also be less enjoyable, now that I know the secret.

In the Details: iChat Notifications

I really like the universality of iChat. If I’m sitting at my desk, it’s a lot easier to reply to a message than using my phone. However, the notifications aren’t smart enough. Three things happen when I receive an iChat message on my desktop. A Mac OS X notification message popups up in the top-right corner of my screen. I have that set to remain until I dismiss it. Second, the iChat dock icon starts bouncing, and third, the icon displays a badge, indicating that I have one unread message. If I acknowledge the message by closing the notification popup, that should be enough to indicate that I got the message. However, the icon continues bouncing in the dock until I at least hover over it, and the badge remains until I actually view the message in the iChat window. Now, I have the option of turning each of those notification types off, but it’s not that I don’t want them—I just want them to talk to each other.

The Perfect Storm: Part 2

As I said, I had checked everything out. So, I proceeded to delete everything off my old computer. I boxed it up and had it ready to ship off to Gazelle for a nice little chunk of change. My new iMac was already backed up to my TIme Machine, so I deleted the backup of my old machine to free up space. Then I made some unfortunate discoveries.

  1. None of my application preferences were copied.
  2. My keychain wasn’t copied.
  3. iTunes said it moved my library, and some of the tracks played just fine, but over 6,000 tracks can’t be found. They are all right where they should be, but iTunes doesn’t recognize them and tries to find my old machine on the network when I try to play them.
  4. While I was very careful about transferring all of my received email, I had forgotten about my sent messages. All of the email I sent from my primary email account on my home machine since about 2003 is gone.

Issues 1 and 2 are inconvenient, but not too big a deal. Every time I launch one of my apps for the first time on the new iMac, I have to enter my license key and then set up the application. All of my passwords are stored in 1Password, so losing my keychain only means that every website that I’ve told Safari to remember my credentials for has been forgotten.

Issue number 3 is more of a pain. I could point iTunes to each track individually to fix them all, but that would take forever. Since it tries to connect to a remote server each time, there is a long pause before I’m able to point it to the correct file. And while it should find all the other missing tracks in the same location, it for some reason refuses to recognize them. Luckily, I subscribed to iTunes Match, so I’m just having it redownload all of the missing tracks from iCloud. Then I’ll trash the duplicate files.

Issue number 4 is the real kicker. If I hadn’t been in such a rush to get my old machine off to Gazelle before their offer on it expired, I would have been able to recover the email messages from Time Machine. Then, of course, there was my Backblaze remote backup, from which I should have been able to restore anything. No luck. After the initial Migration Assistant transfer, the new iMac tried to back up to Backblaze identifying itself as my old machine. Soon after, I got a message from Backblaze stating that my backup was locked. Their recommended fix was to delete the existing backup, create a new backup account, transfer my license to the new account, and then back up everything from scratch. I had already started this process. So, while I typically have everything backed up in multiple places, in this particular instance, I had deleted all of my backups. Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb!

So there you have it: the perfect storm. I’ll take my lesson from this, and in the future, I won’t be so confident in cutting my lifelines. I hope you, dear reader, can benefit from the warning of my mistakes.