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The Small Stuff

November 16th, 2008

There are a lot of reasons I prefer Mac over Windows (if you’ve read this blog regularly then you may scoff at that understatement), but let me give two examples of very small details that make a big difference sometimes.

First is the use of arrow keys and cursor movement in text. In Windows, using the left- and right-arrow keys to move left or right in text will go character by character. The up and down arrow keys only go up and down line by line–they cannot be used to jump to the beginning or the end of a line at either end of the document.

Go ahead–if you are using Windows, go to a text box or your browser’s address bar. Click somewhere in the middle, and then try to use the up-arrow key: after you reach the top line, nothing happens. You have to either keep tapping or hold down the left-arrow key until the cursor gets to the beginning of the line, or else use an alternate move (function-arrow-key?), something involving a two-handed keyboard move.

On the Mac, if you hit the up-arrow key after reaching the top, the cursor pops to the beginning of the line–or to the end if you down-arrow beyond the last line. This is such a natural and easy move that I am frankly astounded that Windows doesn’t do it. In fact, it seems to even be Microsoft’s preference–if you use MS Word for Mac, Microsoft has actually disabled this feature (at least with the up-arrow key), making it impossible for you to use it in that suite.

Another small thing that annoys me constantly in Windows is when you start an app and there is a delay in the app’s opening–sometimes for severals tens of seconds. The delay itself is annoying, but the real problem is that Windows, as far as I can tell, has no way of letting you know if the app is really opening or not. It usually looks just like nothing happened, that your command did not register. Many users think that they didn’t click the icon right or select the menu item correctly, and will wonder for a bit as to whether or not the app is actually opening. Worse, the machine will register repeated attempts to open the app, causing the situation to worsen. I have often seen people who think the move didn’t work retry opening the app, sometimes many times, only to have multiple instances of the same app open once the system has gotten around to drawing some actual windows.

On the Mac, this never happens. If you try to open an app, and you’re not sure if it registered, just look at the Dock–if the app is opening, then the Dock icon should be bouncing, or will have an indicator below showing that it has opened already. And if you happen to try to open the app again, it won’t open the same app more than once.

Stuff like this is what makes the UI so much more enjoyable.

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  1. Leszek Cyfer
    November 17th, 2008 at 08:57 | #1

    I guess that I’m so Windows conditioned that I don’t get your arrow explanation… If I want to go to the beginning or the end of a line I push Home or the End buttons respectively (or ctrl-leftarrow, ctrl-rightarrow). Frankly it’s got in my fingers already and I don’t even have to think about it…

    As for the long starting apps it’s true, though when an app is starting, the cursor arrow changes into a hourglass, and I’ve learned to wait for a moment before trying to start an app again in case the system didn’t get my double click.

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