Window Behavior: You’re Doing it Wrong, OSX. (The Saga of The Three Buttons)

I’ve been using both OSX and Windows for about a year now, and there is one thing that Microsoft absolutely got right and Apple totally missed the boat on.  Those three little buttons that control window behavior.  In Windows, the three buttons are useful and intuitive.  One minimizes the window, one toggles between full-screen and windowed mode, and one quits the application.  In OSX, there are also three little buttons – a red “X”, a yellow “-” (minus sign),  and a green “+” (plus sign).  The symbols actually show up on mouse-over.


The Three Buttons

We’ll start in the middle.  The yellow “-” is what you click when you want to minimize an application, during multi-tasking sessions.  This works perfectly, and uses the coolest minimizing animation I’ve ever seen.  It actually “sucks” your window into the application dock.  Very nice.

On the right, the red “X” button is most obviously the quit button.  Red means stop, and so does “X”, right  (X marks the spot et al..)?  When you click on the red button, your window does actually go away.  That’s good, right?  Only problem is, it doesn’t really quit the app.  It minimizes it again, just without the cool animation.  What?  Look closely at the dock.  There is a blue dot by the app icon, indicating that it’s still running.  Also, if you open the “force quit” dialog box, it very clearly lists your app as still running.

The Blue Dot

Personally, I found the behavior of this button not only annoying, but downright misleading.  A user who thinks his app has been completely closed out may not be aware that it’s still consuming memory, CPU cycles, and battery life.  How do you quit an application running in an OSX window?  It’s a multi-step process that involves clicking the application name from the menu bar, and selecting “Quit application x”.

Lastly, we have the green “+” button.  Let’s see, what could “+” do?  In this context it would make sense to jump to the conclusion that “+” maximizes the window, considering that the “-” minimizes it.  Maximize is to minimize as “+” is to “-” (I did pretty good on that section of the SAT’s).  What does it really do?  Well, here’s a pair of screen shots to demonstrate.

Here’s what my desktop looks like before pressing the green “+”:

And here it is after:

Um, well, it is bigger, I guess – technically.

So the bottom line is that of the three buttons, two behave exactly the same and one is completely useless.  If Apple really wanted to simplify things for the user, they should just get rid of the red and green buttons completely.  We all know how Steve Jobs hates buttons, right?  The iPhone has one button, maybe the OSX window should follow suit.

Hey, I’m a reasonable guy.  I live this technology thing every day.  Stuff doesn’t always work like we think it should, and we find ways to work around it.  I get it.  What’s slightly confusing to me, though, is how a company that purportedly spends so much time tweaking it’s UI to deliver the best possible user experience could have let this slip by – for the last twelve years.


2 thoughts on “Window Behavior: You’re Doing it Wrong, OSX. (The Saga of The Three Buttons)

  1. Anonymous says:

    I would just like to point out the difference in the function of the green button. For some reason, in Safari (the browser you happen to be using), the application is only expanded vertically. However, I use FireFox and when I click the same green button, my whole screen gets filled with my browser, much like you would get with on Windows. Now on iTunes, the function is completely different. It switches over to a mini player and actually shrinks the player, but that is actually more convenient as I do not need a bigger iTunes window. Also, after further testing, the green button always expands a screen in some aspect, iTunes aside, but the difference is each program is expanded differently. Chess becomes a bigger square, Word becomes taller, but also it isn’t as wide (maybe because of how wide I usually have Word), PowerPoint gets a little bigger (it already takes up most of the screen), iCal and Dictionary both take up my whole screen.

    As for the red “X” button, it is actually kind of handy depending on whether you need or appreciate the function. It semi-closes a program. It leaves it running in the background so that it can easily and quickly be brought back up when needed. Sure that might not be a good thing when you are running your Macbook on the battery, but when you are not relying on the battery for power, it doesn’t matter. Most applications that I use this for don’t take too long (a second, maybe two on a slow day) to open from being completely closed so I don’t save too much time leaving the application open (half a second at best, but probably more on a program that requires more than a browser or Word do), but it can still be handy. Also, it can come in handy if you close the last window in your browser and decide you need a new one. You haven’t quit the program yet so you can just hit “Command” +”N” and instantly a new window pops right up. Also, with a little more investigating, the red “X” does close some programs (namely iCal and Dictionary). So, it does what the Windows equivalent does on occasion.
    So, that is my opinion of the red “X” button as well as the green “+” button.

    • Ben Griggs says:

      First off, anonymous, thank you for verifying that my blog is actually posted on the Internet, and not just locked away in some WordPress vault somewhere that only I can see.

      You are my first comment! If you were a paying customer, I’d frame your Paypal dollar and hang it on my Facebook wall.

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