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Windows features OS X should ‘adopt’

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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. These suggestion are all “right on”. I own a Mac consulting company and have been using Macs for 15 years. I also use Windows alot in my business. Most of the comments here that are negative, are by Mac users who know very little about Windows and are a little two over protective of Macs!

  2. How about putting in proper FTP client in the Finder as well, unlike the crippled one currently in place. Windows does this much better.

    Also a “hide all but the desktop” is handy as well. Even something in the dock to make it more obvious than the option-command-clickondesktop keystroke.

    Finally, the ability to rename/duplicate/trash files from the Open/Save dialogue boxes is a great feature of Windows.

  3. OS X is a joke compared to windows in a lot of areas – sorry to say. I’m posting from macbook btw, and have over 5 years professional development experience on each platform.

    1) Cut and paste – apple thinks we’re too stupid to grok the concept of cut and paste file is different than cut and paste text. And fanboys (some of them in this very thread) agree – they are too stupid. Sigh.

    2) Finder is a joke. No default list view. No address bar (man… that sucks). No UP nav button. Its a disgrace.

    3) Search sucks. Spotlight sucks. Its results suck. The indexing of attached drives sucks. Even after they botched it in XP, windows file search is light years ahead of OS X. Guess what apple – people still search for files by filename using wildcards – all the time. I don’t need to search the contents of the metaverse for my string, thanks. I actually boot parallels or boot camp into XP if I need to do some heavy searching on the OS X partition – or use easyfind.

    4) The dock is a joke. Seriously. You need to keep a mental map of minimized applications to know whether its going to show in the dock – and the dock acts like an app launcher in addition to open window browser. Sucks at both jobs. The windows Task Bar is vastly superior.

    5) Why – OH WHY – does finder still beachball of death when it loses a samba share? This bug is literally a DECADE old now. Will you ever fix it you $&#$%$#$$#%s?

    All is not lost however, and with the correct third party apps you can make OS X quite kickass:

    Witch – app switcher
    Dragthing – app launcher, and windows task bar replacer
    Default Folder – nice file dialogue replacer
    Path Finder – this is the big daddy, replaces Finder with something leagues ahead of ANYTHING on ANY OS.
    Easyfind – decent little search utility, with default folder its almost as good as right click – > search from XP.

    Hide the dock and you are good to go. I wish Apple would buy ALL of these companies and roll this stuff into OS X – but they’re more interested in spending tens of millions on toys like garageband while ignoring the serious flaws in the OS.

  4. I like alot of these suggestions, being a longtime Windows user, but I don’t need to see them adopted in OSX. Mac users like OSX because of personal preference. I like that Vista took some good ideas from OSX that make it a nicer OS than previous Windows releases, but I don’t like the idea of a homogenous market for GUI’s. Mac should keep Mac functionality, Windows should stick to Windows, everyone’s happy. :)

  5. I think having a “Refresh” button would be a mistake. We have to stop thinking like Windows and start to think different ;)

    More seriously, something changed… the finder should update itself, period. We shouldn’t want another extra useless button in the human interface. The bugs should just be fixed.

    As for the multiple Undos and System Restore, hopefully these features will be called Time machine.

  6. Well, then a lighter shade of icon doesn’t mean “cut” to me, it means, well, that the file is “in limbo” or something… ;-)

    “Cut”, in my eyes, means that it’s surely “cut”, or removed, from that location, just like while editing in any other application. That’s another example of the physical metaphor that I also mentioned just above.

  7. Windows has a much better trash folder (which is ironic considering that Apple invented it). It’s got a Restore button to undelete. It tells you the date that a file was deleted, and it let’s you permanently delete only part of the trash. I miss all those things in Mac OS X.

  8. actiondan

    Cut & paste in the finder/explorer is intuitive, super-useful and nothing to be afraid of. Hard to live without once you’ve experienced it. Drag & drop is conceptually attractive but fraught with practical problems (such as mis-dropping, running out of screen estate etc).

    I love OS X’s minimal window borders but frankly both it and Windows should take a leaf out of Linux’s book. Having a drag motion to allow move/resize from anywhere within the window (eg Alt-left/middle drag in Gnome) is simple to learn and stupidly efficient. Why the hell to I have to search for a 1 pixel border/corner every time I want to rearrange my desktop?

  9. To Guy, regarding merging of folders —

    I’m sure that you’ve noticed by now that the better way is to drag the contents of the “newer” folder to its destination. OS X will ask if you really want to replace the same-named files with the ones you’re moving.

    This is a holdover from the “physical metaphor” that used to rule the Finder interface more substantially. That is, using the Finder was meant to feel like moving folders & files around a physical workspace. For example, if you have a filing cabinet and want to put in a new folder, but there’s already an older one with the same name, you’ll have to decide whether to keep the old one or to rename either folder. But, if you want to mix their documents together, you’ll still have to open up the older folder, take the documents out of the newer one, and put them inside.

    If you think of files & folders in OS X’s Finder as physical objects, then the interface begins to make more sense.

  10. Wow. In windows when a file is cut, it isn’t deleted or anything, the file icon gets lighter, letting you know it’s been cut. It doesn’t move until you hit “paste” (on the right click menu, I might add :) ) It is then transfered to the new location.

  11. If a file isn’t “cut”, then why say that it’s “cut” in the first place? I think that the terminology is half of anyone’s concern; it shouldn’t need this much explanation in the first place.

    I’ve never heard of using the Apple/cmd key while dragging, either. Option-drag to duplicate, sure, and the space bar to spring open a folder and Exposé to make everything visible and cmd-tab while dragging to another application (great for us laptop users), but not command-drag. What’s it supposed to do?

    Oh, speaking of cmd-tab — it would be nice to have the use of window-switching keyboard shortcuts while dragging a file. But, hmm… it would be redundant since Exposé is so easy, though.

  12. Well I think that finder should merge folders instead of replacing the old one with the new one. I recently bought a macbook and in the first couple of weeks, I lost two entire days work because I didn’t know that OSX didn’t merge. Even a notification that this is going to happen would be better than nothing.

  13. DacJames

    Come on, guys, cut-and-paste wouldn’t be a big deal to include and those of you that are complaining would just never use it and everyone that wants it would. Personally I’d like a shelf like the original NeXT (I’ve played with it) had–drag the file to shelf, drag it to the destination. This keeps with the OSX “dragging is better” mentality but allows you to move files around easily with only one finder window.

    Individual file sharing should be a given.

  14. DaveZilla says, “While we’re bashing OS’s…”

    Nobody is bashing, just making suggestions for enhancements that might be “borrowed” from another OS. Why do you people feel the need to start an OS war at every turn?

  15. The Hostile Monkey reckons that when you install PathFinder, AppZapper, MondoMouse and Quicksilver, you’ll be pretty much sorted. Cough up for Desktop Transporter and you’re done, or just wait for the iChat stuff in Leopard.

    Of course, Apple COULD build all this functionality in, but then the peanut gallery would start bitching about how Apple stomps all over third party developers, while neglecting to mention that all of these apps have cadged ideas and solutions from other vendors in some form or another.

    Bah. Install apps, be happy.

  16. Refresh isn’t needed. I’ve only a few times had a file that was never refreshed, by looking at it, but as soon as i clicked on the file, all the info (thumbnail, size, date) was corrected.

    As for moving windows, i agree with it sorta, i HATE the extra window borders that are all around a window. In OS X the content goes right up to the edge and that’s the end. what they need that would be a good unobtrusive solution, is to have any of the corners support it, but only if you are holding down a modifier while in that corner.

    Also i’d like the ability to lock the items that are currently in the dock. On the touch pad i constantly find myself dragging non-open apps out of the dock.

  17. smallduck

    Files contain content, the clipboard is a temporary store for content. Copy/cut+paste of files breaks this metaphor, the distinction between container and content. Isn’t anyone else bothered by this?

    If people really like moving files with the keyboard, Apple should invent a similar but distict mechanism, especially because of the different behavior people seem to want for file cutting vs content cutting.

  18. LukeSkope

    It’s true that you can turn cut on, but it is implemented in the way that most are concerned about. Cutting a file removes it from a folder and paste doesn’t even seem to work on my G5 10.4.8.

    I put this in the “please fix Finder/make it better” category.

  19. For all the Mac users complaining about the Cut n’ Paste:
    And, if you screw up and paste it in the wrong place, you can just undo and it will be back in it’s original place. I agree that it is a HUGE pain to have to open two different windows just to drag and drop it into it’s new location, especially on a laptop where sometimes you have to lift your finger and keep scrolling, all the while holding down the mouse button.

  20. LukeSkope

    All you people saying no cut and paste, will it affect you adversely in any way? No. If it is implemented like Windoze so you can’t loose data if you don’t paste, is there any danger of adding it? No. Will it help some people who care to have that functionality? Yes. So WTF is your problem?

    I love OSX, been using it for 5+ years now, I can’t stand using a Windoze computer, but some people have to use both and adding very simple features like this make the transition back and forth a little easier.

  21. Moving a deeply nested item with a single Finder window (without springs etc):
    1) Locate source item.
    2) Drag it to the Desktop.
    3) Locate the target item.
    4) Drag the source item from the Desktop to the target item.

    It has been like this since Finder pre-1.0 in 1984.
    It’s not that hard, isn’t it?

  22. Ann Coulter

    A refresh button or menu item is the wrong way to go. It’s one of the “features” that I’ve disliked about Windows. Why tell the computer to refresh when it already knows that it’s outdated (some bit somewhere in memory or on disk knows that it’s changed). A better option is to always show the current list of items in the window, like the Classic MacOS.

  23. I agree very much w/ cut and paste. I agree even more with Remote Desktop. VNC doesn’t cut it. I want to be able to log in remotely, and LOCK OUT my system from anyone watching or using it.

  24. Refresh in Finder from 10.4 onwards is useless, the only place it would be of any use is over a network. Finder hooks into the filesystem to be told when changes are, it doesn’t need to constantly refresh like 10.3 downwards and windows.

  25. I agree with almost all of your suggestions above. I do not know what everyone is whining about with cut and paste. I think Windows does it right, it grays out what you cut, pastes it to the new location, but has a temp file written before the paste is finalized. It is ridiculous to copy, paste, go back and delete. Don’t hold you breath on a lot of these. Apple thinks Aqua is perfect as is. Which it aint. This coming from a cross-plat user for 15 years.

  26. Wow, the amount of ignorance in these comments is amazing. People are actually *afraid* of cut and paste without knowing how it actually works?

    Anyway, I actually agree with most of your points. Remote Desktop is the main feature I would like to see in OSX. I use it all the time at work because I actually work in two different departments and could see more offices adapting OSX if features like remote desktop are added on.