mac.column.ted: A "Small" Mac OS X Leopard Wish List

mac.column.ted: A "Small" Mac OS X Leopard Wish List

Ted Landau
July 2006

Apple will offer its first peek at Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) at its WordWide Developers Conference (WWDC) next month. This means it's already too late to expect Apple to add new features beyond the ones already slated. Still, going on the assumption of "better late than never," I've put together a list of improvements that I would like to see in the updated OS. The concept is similar to what other writers have done over the years, although this is the first time I am giving it a whirl.

To be clear: I am not talking about major new features here, but small incremental changes that would make my Mac life a bit easier. And yes, I know there is sometimes a third-party program or a hack that covers a given issue (I even mention a couple of examples later in this column). Still, I believe these are matters that would be better and more simply handled by the OS itself. Lastly, I concur that Mac OS X is already fabulous, and clearly superior to the alternatives. But there's always room for improvement. That's the spirit in which this list is presented. So, without further ado, here we go:

Improved support for switching among multiple printers. This has long been one of my most wished-for requests. I am in the fortunate position of having three printers. My workhorse and default printer is my trusty old HP laser printer. In addition, I have a Canon inkjet photo printer and a Dymo label printer.

The problem I have occurs when I want to switch from one printer to another. For starters, it would be great if I could assign a separate default printer for each application. That way, if I typically use the Canon printer with Preview or Safari, but use the laser printer with Word or GoLive, I can set the desired printer as the match for each application.

I know this can be done, because some applications already do it. For example, iPhoto defaults to my inkjet printer, even though the HP is my "official" default. Similarly, the Dymo Label software is smart enough to default to the Dymo LabelWriter printer. But there is no single interface, such as a System Preferences pane, for an overall control of these settings, a way to assign your choice of printer for each application. Of course, you would only need to use this if you wanted to make an exception to the default choice.

The typical situation for most applications is this: Even if you switch printers to print a given document, the printer selection reverts back to the default choice the next time you select to print. The best you can do, to avoid this, is to select the "Last Printer Used" item from the "Selected Printer in Print Dialog" menu in the Print & Fax System Preferences pane. But even this does not resolve the application-printer matching problem.

A further complication is the disconnect between the Print and Page Setup dialogs. That is, after I switch from the HP to the Canon printer in a Print dialog, the Page Setup dialog is now (incorrectly) still set for the HP printer. This means that a shift to the Canon printer requires a trip to both the Page Setup and Print dialogs. And as there is usually no way to access Page Setup from the Print dialog, if I forget to go to Page Setup first, I have to cancel the Print dialog to get to Page Setupâ??eradicating any modifications I may have already made to the various Print options. At a minimum, there should be a way to link Page Setup and Print settings, so you can make all desired changes without having to cancel. Even better, it would be great if a printer switch in the either the Print or Page Setup dialog automatically shifted the settings in the other dialog to match.

Improved Spotlight searching. As a troubleshooter, I find that Spotlight too often comes up short in its search results. Here are the two "upgrades" I would welcome the most:

First, and most obviously in need of fixing, the option to search invisible files should actually work. As it stands now, if you select the Visibility criterion in a Spotlight search, and set it to search for "Invisible Items," it never finds any, regardless of how many invisible files may actually be present.

Second, it would help if Apple made it easier to search all the contents of a drive, including the contents of packages as well as of /System, /Library and Unix folders. The ability to add individual folders via the Others option in the Finder's Find dialog is a help, but not a complete solution. For one thing, even if I add Unix folders here, Spotlight does not appear to search them. Also, it would be impractical to use this method to select to search all the package items on your drive.

I realize that, for many users, searching these locations would rarely be of interest. And there are utilities (typically front ends for the Unix locate command) that serve as a substitute for what I would like Spotlight to do. Still, it would be great to have an "advanced user" setting in Spotlight that allowed you to easily enable these deeper searches.

Improved Undo. It starts out harmlessly enough: I select the Clean Up command with the intent to clean up a folder. Unfortunately, the Desktop is inadvertently the active "window." The result is that the several dozen icons that normally populate my Desktop are suddenly shifted around to new locations. This would not be a problem if I could simply select to Undo this jumble. But, alas, the Undo command is on a break here. So it winds up taking me several minutes to recreate what I had before (and I never completely succeed).

To avoid this, I now use a third-party program (SwitchResX) that can remember Desktop positions. However, it only works if you remember to Save a given Desktop arrangement. If you make changes but forget to save them, you are out of luck.

That's why the best solution would be to have the Undo command work here. Not only does it eliminate the need for a separate utility, but it would not require that you remember to save your most recent arrangement.

There is a similar Undo frustration with Desktop Pictures. If you select to change your current picture from the Desktop System Preferences pane, and then decide you want to revert back to your original choice, there is no Undo command that allows you to do so. This is especially frustrating if the new and the old pictures came from different folders (as accessed via the Choose Folder option). In this case, there is no way to even find out where the old picture was located. Depending on what you do or do not remember about the original picture, you may have to waste a good deal of time trying to find it again!

Improved Login Items management. If you ever checked your Login Items list (in the Account System Preferences pane), you've probably discovered that there is no way to disable just one item. The ability to do so is important for troubleshooting: If you suspect a particular item is the cause of a login crash, for example, you would want to test this by just disabling the alleged culprit. As it stands now, you can't. But the problem runs even deeper. While you can't disable a single item, you can remove it from the list. This might be a tolerable work-around, if all Login Items were stored in the same location (such as a Login Items folder in your Library folder). You could then re-add the item, simply by accessing this folder. But Login Items can be anywhere, including hiding inside application packages. This means that, after removing a Login Item from the list, if you want to re-add it, you may be stymied in your attempts to find it again (unless you remembered to mark its location before you removed it). If it's inside a package, even Spotlight won't show you where it is (see "Improved Spotlight searching" above!).

Allow widgets to reside on the desktop. Many widgets would be more useful if they were always visible on your Desktop, rather than requiring that you go to the Dashboard to see them. Yes, I know this can be done in Tiger. In fact, I explained how to do it in a previously posted MacFixIt tutorial and I use this tip to put my Weather widget in a corner of my Desktop. But it would be preferable if the option were part of the standard interface for Widgets, rather than a hidden trick. This would also allow for Apple to include related convenience options, such as whether or not to have a Desktop widget float over open windows.

Add Windowshade. Mac OS 9 had the great option to roll up a window to its titlebar by double-clicking on the titlebar. This conveniently got the window out of your way while still leaving it open and in its current location. Another double-click and the full window dropped down again. You can get this useful option back in Mac OS X via the shareware utility WindowShade X. Which is exactly what I do. In fact, whenever I get a new Mac, this is the first utility I add. I find it much more convenient than Mac OS X's alternative of minimizing windows to the Dock. I am sure it would be easy for Apple to return this feature to the Mac OS. I am still hoping they do.

Better copy options. Occasionally, when I select to copy a folder, the copy operation fails. Typically, I get a message informing me that the Finder was unable to copy "one or more" items for some obscure (usually permissions-related) reason. The only options at this point are either to skip the unknown problem item(s) or halt the copy entirely. For starters, it would be much more helpful if the message told me the name of the item(s) that did not copy. Without this info, I have to use tiresome trial-and-error to figure it out. It's especially tiresome if I am copying a folder that contains hundreds of items, as is too often the case.

Actually, given that I am an admin user trying to copy files in my Home directory, I don't see why this roadblock should even exist. At a minimum, an Authenticate dialog should pop up, offering to let me enter a password so that the copy can continue unhindered.

More control over sleep and wake. I saved this one for last because it is probably more work for Apple to implement than all the rest. But I would welcome it. Various programs, from calendar programs to email applications to backup utilities to the Unix (cron) maintenance routines, can be scheduled to perform a task at a given time (such as to remind you of an appointment or to do a scheduled backup). The problem is that some of these events will not run if your Mac is asleep at the scheduled time. Conversely, other events may wake up a sleeping Mac even if you would prefer that they not do so.

To remedy this, how about if, perhaps via settings in the Energy Saver System Preferences pane, you could generate a list of all scheduled events and tell Mac OS X: (a) whether or not you want a given event to be run if your Mac is asleep at the time and (b) how long after the event is completed before the Mac goes back to sleep again?

So, for example, if I have a backup scheduled for 3:00 AM, when my Mac is normally asleep, I could instruct the Mac to wake-up for this backup (even if it would not do so on its own) and return to sleep immediately after the activity is completed (rather than after 1 hour of idle activity, as set in Energy Saver). This would allow me to maximize the energy saving benefit of sleep without risking missing scheduled actions that I want run. It is true that some applications include features that accomplish some of these goals, but having full control over all scheduled items would be preferable.

There's yet another benefit to this solution: I have occasionally had my Mac wake from sleep for no apparent reason. That is, by the time I get to the computer to see what is going on, nothing is going on. And I don't recall having scheduled anything for the current time. A list of all scheduled events would allow me to see what caused the unexpected wake-up and deal with it. Yes, checking the Console log could give a clue as to what is going on, but thatâ??s not exactly the type of â??user-friendlyâ?? solution I am looking for here.

Bottom line. The above list is by no means meant to be exhaustive. Nor does it necessarily reflect the most important or critical changes that I believe should be made. It is just a personal list of small but significant changes I would particularly like to see, based on the way I use Mac OS X. You may have a different listâ??based on your use of Mac OS X. That's fine. If so, let's hope they all get done. After all, there's no quota on how many great things Apple can do.

This is the latest in a series of mac.column.ted columns by Ted Landau. To see a list of previous columns, click here. To send comments regarding this column directly to Ted, click here. To get Ted's latest book, Mac OS X Help Line, click here.

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