Windows features OS X should ‘adopt’

Two months ago, I wrote a list of 10 Classic Features to ‘Bring Back’ to OS X. But Classic MacOS isn’t the only operating system OS X could stand to swipe a few features from. Some of us Mac users also use Windows, either occasionally or full-time at work, and there are a handful of features from that operating system I think Apple should implement in Mac OS X. Here are my Top Nine (not ranked in order of importance):

1. Cut & Paste in Finder

One of the biggest differences between Mac and Windows users is that Mac users typically drag-and-drop their files to move them from one place to another while Windows users cut-and-paste them. Although OS X supports copy-and-paste of items within the Finder, it doesn’t support cut-and-paste and switchers typically find that to be a shortcoming.

The best part about adding this functionality to the Finder is that its presence would not affect those who prefer the drag-and-drop method; they could go on about their business as usual, using Spring-loaded folders, Exposé and such. It’s reminiscent of when the Mac menu bar had to be constantly held down with the mouse button while Windows menus would remain open after a single click-and-release. Apple made it work both ways (try it) and now everyone has what they prefer.

2. Applications Uninstaller

Installing applications on OS X is generally as simple as dragging them to the Applications folder. And uninstalling them is supposed to be just as simple: drag them to the Trash. But there are plenty of files associated with applications that reside within the main or user Library directories in folders like Application Support, Preferences, etc. In the case of iDVD and GarageBand, these external support files can range in the multi-gigabytes. And thus the popular AppZapper was born.

Windows has a built-in Add/Remove Programs capability that is recommended for removing both the application and its associated files strewn around the system (though I’m not making any assertions about its particular qualities). Mac OS X could use a built-in Uninstaller that uses the receipt files generated by an application’s installer to remove an unwanted applications various components (contextual menu item, preference pane, login item, etc.) and provide users with a sense of assurance that an application has truly been uninstalled, rather than its head just being cut off while the rest of its body parts sit lifelessly around the system.

Ideally, Apple should purchase AppZapper, apply its pixie dust (see SoundJam -> iTunes) and make it an included part of Mac OS X for all users.

3. Individual Folder Sharing

Pre-OS X, if you wanted to share files on your Mac with others on a local network, you could right-click on an individual folder and choose Sharing… to set up the folder permissions. That capability is now available in Windows XP (with the standard Windows networking complications, of course). Meanwhile, Mac OS X requires you to move items into your Public folder or the Shared directory – limited functionality that hasn’t been much improved since version 10.1.

I understand that the ease-of-use of System 7’s File Sharing probably can’t be regained due to the complex permissions systems of UNIX and the need to be compatible with Windows networking. But if you can share individual folders at will in Windows, you should be able to do so in Mac OS X. The third-party SharePoints steps up to the challenge, proving both that a solution can be found and that there is a desire for such configurability. But performing such a useful task shouldn’t require seeking out and downloading donation-ware.

4. Remote Desktop Connection

Remote Desktop Connection is a feature included with Windows XP Professional that allows you to remotely control another XP machine that has the remote access features enabled. The Microsoft MacBU even has an OS X client of Remote Desktop Connection (available as a free download) so Mac users can use their XP machines across the network (keeping their noisy PCs off their desk).

The current options for OS X are Apple’s quality, but spendy option of Apple Remote Desktop (which is really designed for system administrators) less-expensive third-party offerings like Timbuktu, and the free, but not simple VNC solutions.

The Apple Remote Desktop Client is already built into OS X and it has VNC capability, giving users a simple way to enable their computer for ‘remote’ viewing and control. Now all we need is a viewing/controlling application included in the Utilities folder. It should be more capable and easier to use than Chicken of the VNC but needn’t be much more advanced than the MacBU’s Remote Desktop Connection. Keeping it from doing too much should prevent it from causing competition for third-party products (which still exist for PC, despite the inclusion of RDC in XP Pro) but be better than current freeware/shareware solutions.

5. Refresh keystroke/toolbar button for Finder windows

Nearly every major revision of OS X has touted an “improved Finder” and one of the improvements has been the updating of folder contents. But there are still occasions where a file has been updated and its appearance in a Finder window goes unaltered. Windows toolbars have a refresh button that can be used to update the contents of the window. Since Apple has already copied the concept of making Finder windows look and act like browser windows (forward/backward buttons) they should add a refresh or reload button. They wouldn’t even have to create a new toolbar button icon, since they could just use the one from Safari. They could even use the same keyboard shortcut, since Command-R is currently unused in the Finder. Ideally, a refresh button shouldn’t be needed in the Finder at all, but we’ve seen four major revisions of OS X and it still hasn’t become unnecessary.

6. Expanded Finder View Options

If you open a folder of images in Windows, it can automatically view in Thumbnails mode, giving you a good overview of all the images. There is also the useful Filmstrip mode, allowing for much larger viewing of images without the need of a separate application. OS X requires you to change the view options to Show icon preview. It’s great to have the option, but it’s even better to have the OS do the work for me.

Also in Windows, if you choose to view in Details mode (analogous to the Mac’s List view) it will list relevant data like Date Photographed, Image Dimensions, etc. If the folder is full of movies or audio files, different relevant data like Length is available to sort by. Considering that Spotlight indexes all of that data (check out the More Info area of the Get Info window), the Finder’s List view is woefully outdated, providing sortability only by a limited number of values that have existed since System 7. Also many files nowadays (mp3s, jpegs, psds) have metadata built right into the file that would be useful to see in list view and sort by.

7. Multiple Undos in the Finder

This is the last Finder request of this article, I promise. The Undo command is a useful one in any application. But even more useful is multiple levels of Undo. (Anyone else remember when there was only one level of Undo in Photoshop?)

The Finder gained an Undo command in OS X, which was welcome. But let’s say you rename a file and move it to a new location. But now you’ve changed your mind (or someone else changed theirs). If you hit Undo, it will only move the file back, it will not change its name back. Similarly, say you create a new folder and name it ‘Stuff for tomorrow’ and then you change your mind because you realize there aren’t enough items to warrant creating a new folder. If you hit Command-Z, it will only undo the renaming of the folder and change it back to ‘untitled folder,’ you cannot undo the creation of the folder.

With Macs sporting dual-core processors and gigabytes of RAM, how hard would it be for OS X to remember just two levels of Undo?

8. Resize windows from more than just bottom-right corner

A longstanding feature of Windows is that any side or corner of a window can be used to resize it, contrary to the Mac method of only being able to use the bottom-right corner. The problem with the Mac method is that if you have a window on the right side of your screen and you want to make it larger, you first have to drag the window to the left and then drag the bottom-right corner to enlarge it. Similarly, if the bottom of the window is already at the bottom of the screen, but you want to make the window taller, you first have to drag the window up, then drag the bottom-right corner to enlarge it. A two-step process that should only require one step. Additionally, because you are dragging a corner, you can never simply make a window only wider or only taller (unless you have single-pixel-accurate mousing abilities). Adding more resizing capabilities to windows would provide more choices for Mac users and pacify Windows switchers who find the classic Mac way of doing things to be unnecessarily limiting.

9. System Restore

Have you ever installed a system update and then discovered it was incompatible with a certain piece of software? Because you can’t uninstall system updates, security updates or even some application updates, the only solution is to do an Archive & Install using your OS X disc and then apply all the interim updates just to go back to the version you were using mere hours prior.

Even if Windows didn’t have a System Restore feature that lets you go back in time to an older version of the system, OS X should provide a way to “rewind” the system to a prior moment. Leopard’s upcoming Time Machine functionality looks like a step in that direction, but it seems to be only for recovering individual files and folders from a former time. Prove me wrong, Apple. Prove me wrong.

Add these nine Windows features to the previous 10 Classic features, the 10 currently known Leopard features and the remaining “top secret” feature(s) and Leopard would be a can’t-miss upgrade.