Blog Post

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.

208 Responses to “Windows features OS X should ‘adopt’”

  1. I’ve honestly never had an issue with an update breaking stuff. System restore seems totally useless to me. If you really want it I suppose you could get out your DVD and do an upgrade…

  2. “Cut-and-paste in the finder is a HUGE mistake. ”

    In windows when you “cut” files from a folder, nothing actually happens to the files until they are pasted into their destination.. This can be faster than drag-and-drop as using the keyboard is almost always faster than the mouse for these sorts of operations in my opinion!

  3. Finder cut and paste is supported in OS X. It’s just off by default. You can edit the preference files in the terminal to turn it back on, or just use one of the many programs that modifies hidden preferences.

    Or just move with Quicksilver.

    Or hold the apple key while dragging a file.

  4. A lot of these are right on. As a longtime user of both OS’s, I have a lonve-hate relationship with the inability of each to do what the other has had for years.

    While we’re bashing OS’s, will Windows ever be able to support ligatures in their fonts? Or do a decent screenshot without requiring a second app to save it in? That one is really annoying.

  5. Steve Hobbs

    Dude, bad list. I guess it means OSX got it right… mostly. Other than share any folder these really aren’t critical needs. And don’t go messing with copy and paste.

  6. Nice article.
    As being a recent switcher, I would like to see most of those features implemented.
    What surprised me though was that I never knew you could not cut and paste in finder. I guess I never had to cut and paste yet.

  7. for those worried about data lose in cut paste for file, the file is not moved in windows until you paste. If you never paste it it stays where it is. There’s no forgetting and loosing it.

    I would also like to see full finder functionality in save/open dialog boxes. I’d also like to see right-click dragging of files so i can choose move/copy/shortcut after dropping a file. I know you can do this with the option keys but it more complicated and easily forgotten which key does what.

  8. Dan Ashley

    In comment 20 Hobbs wrote:

    “Cut and Paste/move: Use command+drag”

    If you have deeply buried finder folders and sub folders, cmd-dragging can be pretty scary. You never know where you are going to end up with spring loaded folders popping all over the place with the slightest mis-cue of your mouse or track pad. And if you have a trackpad instead of a mouse, you sometimes bump into the edge of the track pad before you get to your destination.

    What if your hand is jittery because you are on an airplane, or over 50 years old, or hung over from the college dorm party or because you are just clumsy? Dragging and dropping is very scary.

    It would be much less scary to cmd-click (aka right click) on a file or folder in one finder window, and select “cut”, then simply go to the destination finder window in whatever way you choose (mouse, cmd-tab, cmd-tilda, whatever!), and then cmd-click (right click) and select “paste”. Windows has it right on this one. I’m not saying to disable command+drag, but to add the cut and paste method as an alternative for those of us who scare easily.

    – Dan

  9. No! cut and paste please. It’s a wrong way to handle files.

    System restore is not very useful even in windows, it broke the OS in some kind of way. Backing up user home directory is a good solution for *nix OS. Windows don’t have home directory, so it’s one of the window’s flaws.
    We can easily re-install OS X in just less than an hour anyway.

    Agree with Remote Desktop, i love to see a lightweight free Apple Remote desktop.

  10. The big problem of drag & drop copy or moving is you have to either have the destination folder already open or visible; or you have to rely on spring loaded folders. And it’s so annoying when you’ve navigated down a folder branch and accidentally hover over something else or go to far and have to start again.

    Also annoying is there’s no way to navigate UP a folder branch while dragging.

    All these make drag & copy/move very fiddlesome.

    Whereas, with cut & paste, you press command-x, and click thru to the folder you want and press command-v.

    And if it’s a folder higher in the tree, it’s soooo much simpler.

    A surprisingly large number of Mac users are keyboard jockeys, (unlike Windows where the mouse dominates more), So command-x in Finder would be greatly welcomed by those who like using the keyboard.

    I’d also like to NOT see unrelated files when saving or opening files.

  11. Ron Pomeroy

    Actually – cut works pretty nicely on Windows. If you cut a selection and never paste it, there’s no data loss. The next copy or cut operation voids the last copy or cut operation until you paste. At any point you hit escape and that also voids the last copy or cut operation. Pretty reasonable from my perspective.

    I like having both the keyboard and drag-n-drop options available. Spring-loaded folders work great.


  12. maclepper

    Why use cut and paste when a person can simply drag a file? Dragging a file seems more natural to me. I find it far less distracting than clicking the mouse a bunch and then needing to navigate to another winod any way. I prefer to just move the file from one window to a folder or another open window. I can use a keystroke in conjunction with dragging an item to either move it or place a copy of it some where.

  13. Cut’n’Paste’s possibilities of producing data loss are exactly the same an OS X’ move-type drag’n’drop operation has: unless one is moving files to another Volume, the only thing that changes is the position of the files. If moving to another Volume, the original files won’t be deleted until they are confirmed to have been safely deposited in that Volume. If one doesn’t paste them anywhere, the files simply stay where they are.

  14. I totally agree with the first poster: CUT & PASTE is not the way to go. it’s wrong! I can see al kinds of data loss. As i have on occasion done in my work on Windows. I think improvements to the FInder … the Windows explorer is better in this area. Apples Finder needs a major overhaul. It takes too many windows to move files around.

  15. Matthew (#1): that’s not how cut-and-paste works. The source file isn’t touched until it is pasted into its new location. (The file or folder is not actually on the clipboard. Imagine a 10GB folder you wanted to cut-paste into a new location. Then imagine a 10GB object on the clipboard. Not gonna happen)

  16. It shows the only strange weakness OSx has, at least for every day to day use, Finder and file management.

    I would love to see real file manager capabilities under Finder, like multipane, sort of how Windows Commander was. I need to juggle files and going back and forth can be very confusing.

    As far as cut and paste, if you get confused where you are, don’t do it. That’s all. I would like to see it there. I know how to handle it.

    Great post, it shows we are open to ideas and not bigots :)

  17. Multiple undos: Time Machine won’t fix that?

    Resize windows from more than just bottom-right corner: Yuck. There are rare circumstances where it would be nice, but it would necessitate adding frames around the windows again, and they look so much better without them. I’d rather look at good looking, uncluttered windows all the time than be able to resize a window from the left edge once a month.

  18. matthias

    cut & paste is standard in modern desktops.
    Also resizing on windows should be improved. OSX functions still assuming there is nothing beyond XGA.

    Although it may not sound popular, I am a PC user since the mid 80’s, linux since late 90’s and just bought a macbook in the states (there are so cheap there) and started to use OSX. It is ok, but for heavily usage KDE, Windows and others are much more developed.

    Maybe Mr. Jobs is focusing on his roots aka OSX, brings it to a new level and stopps dreaming about 10mio iPhone – which he won’t make anyhow.

  19. the ability for iTunes to “watch” it’s directory folder. so that new media dropped into it doesn’t have to be manually added via iTunes. this would save alot of screwing around

  20. 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.

    as far as I can tell, all AppZapper does anyway is do a Spotlight search, with many a little bit of smart result’s editing. While I bought it myself and use it a lot (it’s great), it actually is a ripoff. Apple doesn’t even need to buy it – it’s practically built into OS X already. This is a 2 day job by an Apple programmer….

  21. Matthew Smith

    Cut-and-paste in the finder is a HUGE mistake. If you are working on something, and use the cut feature on a file, then get distracted, and come back and forget about it, then later cut or copy something else to the clipboard, you’d lose an entire file. That’s just not acceptable behavior for the finder.

    • NewMacUser

      That’s an absolutely ridiculous reason for omitting a “cut” function from Finder. Using your logic, we shouldn’t have a Trash either because we might accidentally empty it, forgetting we had something in there that we wanted to restore. Mac OS X isn’t meant for idiots to use!

      And ontop of that, look at it this way: what if you want to move a folder from a subdirectory to a parent directory. On Windows, you can cut, move back to the parent directory, and paste. In OS X, you actually have to duplicate the file (on the clipboard), paste it in the parent directory (which means that the file is now needlessly duplicated on the storage medium), and then go back and delete the file in the subdirectory. On a 4gig USB-drive, duplicating a file might actually be a problem in terms of storage space! In which case, you’d actually have to copy the item to your hard-disc first, THEN delete the original file, and THEN store it in the parent directory on the USB-drive.

      Sound like a pain in the ass? It absolutely is!