Blog Post

10 Classic Features to ‘Bring Back’ to OS X

Classic Icon When Apple created Mac OS X, they didn’t build on the creaky foundation of the Classic Mac operating system. So when OS X was first released, there were a number of features that long-term Mac users considered missing. Over the course of four major upgrades, Apple added a number of those features to OS X and trumpeted their return: Spring-Loaded Folders, Labels, Desktop Printers, USB Printer Sharing, Software Base Station (Internet Sharing). However, there are still a number of features from Mac OS 9, 8 and even System 7 and 6 that deserve to be resurrected for OS X. Here are my Top 10 (in no particular order):

1. WindowShade

Introduced in System 7.5, WindowShade allowed users to “roll up” any standard Mac window so that only the titlebar appeared. Users could either click the button on the right-hand corner of the titlebar or they could double-click the titlebar. In OS X, double-clicking the titlebar can minimizes the window to the Dock.

On first glance, it would seem that minimizing the window accomplishes the exact same goal as WindowShade. But it is actually far less useful. First, un-minimizing a window always requires a trip to the Dock, while using WindowShade requires no mouse movement whatsoever. You can easily see what’s behind your frontmost window with a single click on the widget and quickly return with a single click in the exact same location. Second, minimizing a window removes it as the active focus while WindowShade keeps it active. This can be incredibly useful if you want to keep typing in the window while looking at what’s behind/under it. Third, using WindowShade for multiple windows keeps the titlebars in their same location but with minimal screen space used (you could option-click to shade all windows in a single app). Minimizing multiple windows fills up the Dock, potentially causing the Dock and all its application icons to shrink.

While minimizing windows can be useful (although it seems more like an attempt to ape Windows functionality with a slick animation), it does not offer equal benefits as WindowShade. There is certainly no technical reason that WindowShade cannot be implemented, considering that OS X’s Stickies application supports it. And the fact that Unsanity has created WindowShade X should not dissuade Apple from re-implementing this functionality. It should only persuade them that users still want it, and if it is built into the OS it will not require the installation of possibly-buggy third-party software.

2. Trash Features: Put Away, Total Size Equals

Dating back to at least System 7, you could choose any item in the Trash and select Put Away. This would return the item to the location from whence it was trashed. It was a handy feature, especially if you had multiple items to put back. The argument against having this feature may be ‘If you put it in the Trash, why would you want to take it out?’ Yet that is the entire purpose of having a Trash can in the first place: having the ability to take something out of it. Otherwise, you wouldn’t move items to a Trash icon, you would just be deleting them immediately (a different sort of feature request).

Another feature of the Classic Trash was that after choosing to empty it, the ‘Are You Sure?’ warning would pop up and list the amount of items and the total size of those items. This was useful in determining how much free space you were to regain (one of the biggest reasons people ever empty the trash). Now the only way to measure the total size of the Trash’s contents is to open the Trash, select all the items and View Inspector via Command-Option-I or Get Summary Info via Command-Control-I. And even that is not surefire, as the Info window will sometimes state the size as “Calculating…” and simply never finish. At the very least, put the total size of the Trash’s contents in the window’s Status Bar.

3. Map any application or file to any F-key

One of the last new features of the Classic Mac OS was the ability to assign specific applications or documents to the F-keys on the keyboard. You could put a browser on F1, e-mail on F2, a commonly-used document on F3, and so on. This was prior to the standardization of brightness and volume controls using F1-F5 on all Macs, but you could also use modifier keys like Option or Fn (on laptops). And Apple already provides a feature in the Keyboard preference pane to switch the necessity of using the Fn key with the F1-F12 keys. And since Apple also allows you to customize which F-keys launch Exposé and Dashboard there seems to be no reason they couldn’t easily return this functionality.

4. Ejecting one partition of a disk

Prior to OS X, if you had an external hard drive with multiple partitions mounted on your desktop, dragging one of those volumes to the Trash ejected only the individual partition. The same was true of CDs with multiple sessions. In OS X, Apple decided that dragging any external volume or CD session would eject all related partitions and sessions. This method has value … IF that’s how you want it to work. If you don’t, you’re required to open Disk Utility, select the individual volume and press the Unmount button. It’s understandable if the goal is to make things simple for basic users who want to eject the physical CD. But the physical eject button (which is what most basic users probably use anyway) already does that. And those are the same users that are probably less likely to use drives with multiple partitions and CDs with multiple sessions. A preference setting should be created in the Finder to allow either the all-eject or single-unmount method.

5. Internet Helper preferences

One feature that actually made the jump to OS X and was then removed (in 10.3) was the ability to set Internet helper preferences. In OS X’s original System Preferences, there was an Internet pane where you could assign your default web browser and e-mail client. In 10.3 and up, these settings were moved to the respective preferences of Safari and Mail, forcing an unnecessary visit to unwanted applications. And even that long-gone Internet pane was a far cry from OS 9’s capabilities, where default applications for other protocols could be set, like ftp, rtsp, udp, and more. Users are now required to open various applications and check the preferences (if they exist) to make them the default. The third-party RCDefaultApp now provides this functionality, but there’s no good reason for Apple not to make its users lives a little easier. The underlying technology already exists and they simply have to provide basic access.

6. Tabbed folders

In OS 8 and up, you could drag a Finder window’s titlebar to the bottom of the screen and it would create a tab the width of the folder name that would quickly pop the folder window up and down when clicked on. Items dragged onto the tab would also pop the window up. And because the window would pop quickly back down, a tabbed window could be used as a kind of app-launcher. If you had three browsers, for instance, you could drag an HTML file onto the tab, the window would pop open and you could drag the file onto any of the browser aliases contained within. The file would then open in the application and the window would pop back down, leaving only the tab.

The Dock is clearly the main reason why tabbed folders have not appeared on OS X. Obviously you cannot have tabbed folders sitting below or on top of the Dock. But the Dock can also be placed on the side of the screen, leaving room for tabbed folders on the bottom. Similarly, why couldn’t tabbed folders be created on the sides of the screen?

Although the Dock certainly has drag-and-drop launching capabilities, the number of applications is limited to the horizontal space of the screen. This is why some users put folders into the Dock filled with applications, so they can right-click on it and get the full list. But a docked folder will not pop-up its list of contents when you drag a file onto it. And a docked folder will only pop-up a list, not a window with icons arranged to your size and liking.

7. Appearance themes

With the exception of desktop patterns and custom icons, the Classic Mac System was a largely customization-free affair until the arrival of the Appearance control panel in OS 8. It provided a unified area for users to change desktop pattern and picture, the fonts used to display in Finder windows and the menubar, the color of selection text and scrollbar grabber, the sounds associated with various computer activities, and even alternate interface themes. These settings could be grouped and saved (like Network Locations in OS X) and then quickly switched from one to another.

OS X has largely eschewed the entire concept of themes, providing no ability to even change the menubar font, much less the Finder’s icon and list view fonts. This seems to be a religious issue at Apple ever since Steve Jobs returned and banned the sharing of the few Apple-developed demonstration themes (Gizmo and HiTech). But forcing your beliefs onto the users doesn’t make anyone like it. The fact remains that many users like to customize the appearance of their computer. Not allowing built-in capabilities forces those users to seek out third-party alternatives, which increase the risk of incompatibilities and crashing, especially since they involve more fundamental changes than running a basic shareware application.

This backwards leap in capabilities makes OS X look primitive compared to OS 9 and Windows, whose users Apple is increasingly courting. If Apple truly feels that its Aqua look-and-feel is so superior, they shouldn’t be afraid of letting its users make up their own mind.

8. Print Finder window

A commonly-used feature of the old MacOS was the Finder’s Print Window command. It was very handy to be able to print out a window of a Zip disk or CD to fold or cut out and slip in the case. Users moving to OS X often ask where that feature is, only to find that Apple has attempted, but failed, to replicate it.

One solution given is to drag and drop a folder to the printer icon. The first problem there is it requires the printer icon to either be in the Dock, the Sidebar or on the desktop. It’s not unreasonable, but it wasn’t necessary before. The second problem is the result sucks. It prints a list view with no folder name or icons, columns that aren’t labeled, and allows for no choice of which column information is shown. What if you want to print out a Finder window that lists all the files with their labels shown? Too bad. What if you wanted to print out a Finder window that has a number of images, each with a custom preview icon created by Photoshop? Too bad.

The other option is to use the Print Window script in the Script Menu (if you’ve enabled it), which asks you the unnecessary question: ‘Which Window Do You Want To Print?’ There’s simply no denying that OS X’s Print Window functionality is a blindingly-pale imitation of the old Mac OS and users shouldn’t have to seek out third-party software to get that functionality back.

9. Put URL of downloaded files in Get Info’s Comments field

This is actually not a feature of the old Mac operating system, but of Internet Explorer for Mac. But it was the default (and, arguably, best) browser. One of its nifty features was to put the URL of any downloaded file in the Comments field of its Get Info window. This was useful for keeping track of where files came from or where they could be found again. The feature did not survive in Internet Explorer for OS X, but that browser is officially dead and buried.

Now that Apple is creating the default (and, arguably, best) browser for OS X, it should return that feature. It would be especially useful in 10.4 because the Get Info window’s Comments field has been renamed Spotlight Comments and its contents are indexed by Spotlight. Of course, downloaded files do have a ‘Where from’ field in the More Info pane of the Get Info window, but that text is not selectable. Say, for instance, that you had a desktop image you liked and had downloaded months ago. If you wanted to go back to the specific area of the site where it came from to see if they had added others, you could select and copy the relevant portion of the URL and paste it into Safari. It would save a lot of retyping effort. Either add the file’s location into the Spotlight Comments or just make the More Info text selectable (not writable, of course, just selectable).

10. Flash menubar on alert when sound is muted

Going all the way back to at least System 6 (it’s the earliest I can remember), if the volume level was silent and an alert occurred, the menubar would quickly invert its colors, resulting in a visual flash. This was a simple, good idea that respected your wishes to shut your Mac up and yet still be informed of what the computer deemed attention-worthy. Just because you want silence doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be alerted somehow.

Unfortunately, somebody forgot this simple, good idea in OS X. If you mute your Mac (even easier to do in OS X thanks to F3) and an alert occurs, it occurs in silence and you aren’t alerted. Apple hasn’t completely forgotten the concept, as there is a “Flash the screen when an alert sound occurs” option in the Universal Access’ Hearing tab. Visually, the screen flash is much more sophisticated than the menubar inversal. But there are two problems with this. First, it’s all-or-nothing regarding volume. The screen will flash if your volume is muted, but it will also flash if your volume isn’t muted. Second, it doesn’t work correctly 100 percent of the time. There are numerous occasions where an alert sound plays and the screen doesn’t flash.

At the very least, Apple should fix the problems with the current setup. But to make things even better, they should implement a ‘new’ “Flash the screen when the computer is muted and an alert sound occurs” feature.

Often, when longtime Mac users ask where old features are in OS X (Where’s the Control Strip?! The Apple logo isn’t a rainbow!), they are reminded by other users of the shortcomings of those old systems (There was no preemptive multitasking!). But OS X’s rock-solid underpinnings are not at odds with useful user interface features. And adding ‘back’ these 10 features would be useful for both longtime Mac users who remember them and new Mac users who wouldn’t know any better.

72 Responses to “10 Classic Features to ‘Bring Back’ to OS X”

  1. What about, “Click, There it is.” ?

    This was my favorite timesaver- beyond the customizable apple menu. (I used sail through deep catalogs of files completely based on a network of aliases I managed in my apple menu. I miss that ability!)

    I TOTALLY agree about the trash thing, and I’m worried about this time travel nonsense- I hate not being able to delete crap for good when I want to.

    I HATE permissions, file vault and passwords. I never want my computer telling me I can’t do this or that. I’m the boss, no one uses my computer but me, and if I forget my password, that’s my prerogative!

    Sometimes Final Cut Pro can’t find files, so it asks ME to help- and it usually takes about 30 seconds. Isn’t the computer supposed to know what files it has, where they are, and HOW BIG they are all the time, never fail, info at my fingertips, serving me the information I’ve entrusted to it? These ridiculous problems make me wish you could buy 5 minutes with Steve Jobs and make him listen to these absurd problems.

    I used both a PC and mac at one job, and I got awfully used to the cut and paste files option. I’m always shifting stuff around between my drives to make room for video captures or renders etc. I hate trying to remember which files are going what direction.

    I always wished there were F-keys like that old system 7 third party thing where you could program the fkeys with long strings of text. Seriously, I could do this in 1982 with my vic20.

    My last big beef may have been solved by a third party, but I wish I could mount all my web servers into the finder so they look EXACTLY like hard drives or folders, except they’re remote. That would be so much better than Fetch, and solve the dot mac dilemma in iWeb.

  2. Brennan Young

    Windowshade was good, as was ‘folder tabs’ but did anyone here try BeOS? They combined the two approaches, so that the window title bar was a horizontally-movable tab.

    That meant that you could have several windows on top of each other, with their tabs beside each other, exactly like the tabs on a physical hanging-folder index system. The frontmost window had a bright yellow tab and all others were pale grey. (OK, we could compromise on the bright yellow). Switching from one window to another (even a window from another app) was therefore much easier because it didn’t require moving or hiding anything, neither did it require a visit to the dock or the window menu.

    There were a couple of extensions for classic Mac which implemented BeOS window bars, which I used all the time, but AFAICT there are none for OSX. I miss it!

  3. Sprocket999

    Ummm . . . the forgotten Classic ‘classics’. Being one who still happily does a lot of work in Classic, I do miss some of these features very much. When I have to start up one of my older PowerBooks with OS 8.1 ‘all cherried out’ it does seem faster and all very familiar again. I don’t see why Apple couldn’t add some of the simpler things to OS X like WindowShade, Flash menubar on alert, and Print FINDER window. For those of us who have used them, they are very useful — for those who haven’t, they may find them useful. I also agree with the poster #43 ‘mnb’. Speed. Please add it! Classic is STILL sooooooo much faster!

  4. For me, the most useful part of the “put-away” command (Cmd-Y, I still remember) had nothing to do with the trash.

    It was that it could be used on files that had been dragged to the desktop.

    Removing this functionality basically broke the desktop metaphor. Now it is something useless that gets cluttered. IIRC, this functionality was present at least in some version of System 7.

  5. Henry the Horse

    Leora, in list view of an open window, go under the ‘view’ menu and choose “Show View Options”. In there is a checkbox called “calculate folder sizes” or some such verbage. Is that what you need?

  6. What about being able to view folder size from list option? It used to be there, but now you have to “get info” and it takes too long for the information to be calculated.

  7. Henry the Horse

    to #50, as far as I can tell, that only works on the last move you made. “Put Away” would work no matter when you put the files in the the trash, so long as you didn’t empty it. That was the whole beauty to “put away”.

  8. I really miss #2 Put Away. Someone suggested ctrl-z, but that’s not working on my mac.

    The weird thing about #4 is that I have a Petito USB drive which came with 2 partitions and I have to select both drive icons on my desktop when ejecting. I don’t know what they did to their drive which makes it work like that…

    I miss #9 (url in comments field) too.

  9. why do you love complications… ?

    please, keep it simple, no more settings, no more “themes”, no more choices

    and if you so want it, take a good optional utilities and tweak at your heart. but please, do not ask apple to complicate os X

    as you can see, os x 10.5 will add some more “choices” and dialogs boxes… it’s a shame, you to ask questions to obvious choice or so technicals choice..

    do you imagine if I put a “cd extra”, yeah it’s technically _2_ partitions, but common users just want to read the contents and eject the discs

    not to be remind of “two sessions”… it’s why you have all the unix powers, terminal and disk utilities : to REMOVE OF the simple UI all the technicities.

    I love unix commands and mount stuff and to have powers to use my computers, I also use linux and solaris and I’m paid for that but it’s also an hobby, but PLEAAAASE keep my UI SIMPLE !

  10. Location Manager. A TRUE location manager, because changing network locations just isn’t enough.

    As a powerbook user, I can’t believe that Apple has missed this for so long. It should allow you to switch not just network configurations, but ALL of your system preferences, including Appearance themes, sound levels, default printer settings, time zone etc., And a Menubar Icon is a mandatory option for easy fast location switching.

    AND it would also be nice to allow one to switch application preferences like Safari bookmarks, iTunes and iPhoto Libraries with location manager.

  11. Daniel Decker

    Uh, for the Put away command? Open the Trash, select the file and apple-z (undo), there you go. For the windows guy, copy/past does work for copying files. Select the file, apple-c, move to the new location, apple-v. You can’t ‘cut/paste’, but I never understood the windows users insistence on cut vs. copy.

    The partition thing irks me to.

    WindowShade? I miss it a little, but the Dock works fine and Expose is a fine paradigm shift for this functionality.

  12. Be careful not to install Shapeshifter or any other haxie depending on unsanity’s APE. I used to have trouble with stability on my system until I removed all the unsanity stuff.

    Night and day.

    I can live with the user interface for OS X (although I’ve used both Devon’s Xmenu and now Butler to provide a useful applications menu and also hide the dock on the top right with TinkerTool) but I do miss the speed of the OS 9 GUI.

    Basing the entire graphics interface on PDF is one of the stupidest things I could ever imagine. Talk about top-heavy. And we the users pay for it. A 256 MB accelerated graphics card just to get acceptable windows drawing.

    I used to have 32MB main memory PowerBooks which outperformed my G5 2.5 GHz with 7 GB of RAM and an Nvidia 6800 for Finder operations.

  13. Great list.

    I miss tabbed windows the most.

    Between those and ‘show icons as buttons,’ I had my OS 8/9-era Macs so customized with tabbed windows, it took me a long time to fully switch to OS X. There are lots of applications to do similar things now — launchers, et cetera, but I haven’t found the right one yet, and I hate to launch an extra app at startup.

    I really wish Apple would hire Tog or one of the other guys on the net who really understand UI design and revamp the Finder completely. Give us a spacial finder with search. Give us full use of Fitts’ law. Give us metadata galore and configurability without confusion. Why is this so hard?

    Apple needs to treat the Finder as a class-A application. It is more important than any of the iLife apps, and is just a shameful hodgepodge at the moment. Maybe they’re waiting for more under-the-hood layers of indirection so they can make skinning the finder a piece of cake… I don’t know, but something needs to be done — especially with so many Windows users on their way to the Mac.

  14. I agree whole-heartedly with #2.

    The empty trash dialog was frequently used as an example of a “correct” dialog. It gave you information that you needed in order to make a decision. There were more than a few times that I was rescued by that dialog (“The trash contains 150MB? Shouldn’t be that big…let me take a quick look…”). Because the information was useful, you didn’t just skip through it.

    Now? “You can’t undo this action.” Useless.

    That said, I think we’re seeing the tail-end of dialogs like this. With Time Machine in Leopard, you’ll be able to get deleted files back.

  15. Henry the Horse

    Absolutely agree with #41-mnb!!!

    Also, been craving the return of “Put away”. It has many purposes, not the least of which is if you move quickly and accidentally send files to the trash that you didn’t mean to.

  16. My #1 choice for a feature of Classic to be brought to OS X is:


    on the same machine, boot it in OS X, use it for 30 min. Then boot in Classic. This requires an older machine. Use Classic for 30 minutes.

    The Classic UI is so much faster and zippier than OS X. Even with the faster processors of today, the sluggishness of the GUI in OS X is readily apparent.

    Come on Apple, you’ve got more than enough horsepower, spend some time optimizing performance, we’ve been waiting 5 years…

  17. What? You don’t want the font/da mover to come back? How about the chooser? Ok, all kidding aside, I would like to see the OS X ‘Go’ menu in the Finder to be customisable, much like how the old Apple menu used to be in OS 9.

  18. Scott Boone

    Another one: a real, true Location Manager like in OS9

    This is one thing I really, really miss. The current OS X “Location Manager” is brain dead. As a consultant, I used my PowerBook in many different network environments, and the ability to quickly switch between settings (Printers, SMTP servers, mounted drives, not just network settings) was a feature that simply jaw-dropped my Windows laptop-toting contemporaries. Every MacBook owner has at least TWO “locations”: home and travelling. A business user likely has three: home, work, and travelling.

    And yes, there is a project already providing a Location Manager service similar to OS9 called Location X, and it works quite well. However, until Apple includes this functionality into the OS as an API, it will not see widespread adoption…which is unfortunate.

  19. squashedOpossum

    I read all through this list of comments, and it seems I’m the only one that misses the system sounds – audible clicks for buttons, scrollbars, that kind of thing. It was really nice to get that audible feedback from the UI.

    But, alas, since I’m the only one that misses it…

  20. Mark from SoCal

    Some comments on TASKMENUBAR.

    You can set the spacing between icons in the menubar. And if I remember correctly, it also highlights the front most app so its real easy to see.


  21. Mark from SoCal

    One of the absolute best shareware apps for classic is TASKMENUBAR.

    This great app put icons of opened apps in the menubar and what was nice about this was that if you clicked once on any of the opened icons in the menubar, you would bring that app to the front. If you double-clicked on any of the opened icons in the menubar, you would bring that app to the front AND hide all other open apps.
    All this by just using one hand and your mouse.


  22. Cody – Re: Selecting Ranges in the Finder

    Apart from selecting each file individually by clicking, you can also _drag_ in a non-text area within a row (in list view) while holding Command to select a range. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s less laborious. It doesn’t work in iTunes, though, because iTunes always assumes you want to drag the file, no matter where you click in the row.

  23. #1 – Windowshade
    It worked fine in Classic, but I think it refers to an outdated model for window manipulation. The ability to move a single window out of the way is something I can assume most users find necessary, since I see them constantly do just that by moving the window off to the side. However, I think a future method would have to be something more graceful, impressive and, if Steve Jobs has anything to say about it, futuristic. Maybe an addition to Expose’s capabilities, similar to what F11 does.

    #6 – Tabbed Folders
    I think this also refers to a model of interface that won’t be returning.

    #7 – Appearance Themes
    I could never stand using a nonstandard theme for longer than a week. One of the main reasons is that there are always interface glitches and inconsistencies between various kinds of applications. The “unified” theme of modern apps is pretty much ideal to me, save for a few quibbles I have with the traffic light window controls and Nyquil scroll thumb. There’s also the consideration that similarly becomes obvious when your client’s secretary discovers she can use HTML in e-mail correspondence: that most people have terrible taste. I’ve done a lot of troubleshooting work in the past, and I would much rather the interface remained consistent.

    I more or less agree with the rest of your comments that there are limitations to Mac OS X (in its default state) that seem like a small leap backwards. Thanks for this article. I’d forgotten how different Classic was to X.

  24. ace_brickman

    #27 – What #24 is talking about is selecting 14-19 while 1-7, 9 and 11 are already selected. I usually encounter this while mixing a CD in iTunes. Holding [shift] after command-clicking 14 would throw 8, 10, 12 & 13 into the mix. It’s not something I’m too worried about, but if a multiple-range selection process could be worked out in development I’d be sold.

  25. heyrussell

    Voice recognition to get access into the computer after booting up.

    I remember Steve Jobs previewing this nifty feature culled from the Copland project on OS9. “My name is my password,” that’s what he said.

  26. I use ALL of the Unsanity hacks and they can slow down the launch time for apps. But they are so usefull, for instance, making a window semi-transparent allows me to see thru the window and read the window behind the foremost window and therefore allows me to gather info to type onto the front window.

    My menu bar is non functional on any monitor with less than 1600 dpi, so I beg for the return of the Control Strip where most of them would reside.

    Most if not all of the above items would be appreciated by the majority of the user base and I don’t think it would be that big of a deal as some of you guys have mentioned.

    I currently use a theme called UNO which unifies the OSX plathora of different looks and it rocks. I use all the PRO apps and there is no issues that I can see.

    We can sit here and guess at why Apple doesn’t implement all this features, but the fact remains it’s only their preference and not a technical issue. If they wanted to, they would and I hope they do.