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.
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.
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.