Dear Windows: keeping a window in the background

Hi, Windows.
If I click a link and you start up your steam engine and get those gears turning so you can start the 45-second cycle necessary to launch Firefox, and I switch to another application because I don’t want to watch nothing happen for 45 seconds*, don’t interrupt whatever I’m looking at by putting an interim and BLANK Firefox window on top of what I’m looking at. I know I launched Firefox but I’m doing something else while waiting for that. And don’t interrupt it again whenever a not-significant-to-the-user chunk of data loads and causes a “refresh” of that BLANK Firefox window. And don’t interrupt it a third time when you’re finally done launching Firefox. If I put it in the background again twice, don’t bring it to the foreground a third time. FYI on my Mac if I launch something, I’ll sit in the background until I get around to it.

(No, this isn’t just Firefox, Windows does this for all my programs.)

And if I open a bunch of files at once, and each of them requires some sort of confirmation (like a Photoshop file created on another computer and the color profile doesn’t match), don’t interrupt my foreground work for every single one. I don’t care if you have to hang in the background with 20 confirmation dialogue boxes waiting for the queue, don’t interrupt my foreground activity! You know what my Mac does when a background app wants attention? It bounces its icon on the Dock. It doesn’t shove itself into the foreground over and over again.

And Windows people think their UI is friendly? No, they’re just used to the abuse and don’t know any better.

*Note: I also like it how Windows might go 10-30 seconds without letting you know it’s doing anything. Did I misclick? Is it launching? I’d better click it again. Still nothing? I’ll click … oh, crap, there’s the hourglass, I guess it worked the first time … which means it worked the second time, which means now it’s opening up TWO copies of that appliciation.** Whereas on my Mac, it starts bouncing the app’s icon on the Dock right away so I know it received my command.

**Which, mind you, doesn’t make ANY sense. If I have Word open and I click another Word document, it should open that document in the currently-open Word application, not start up another copy of Word just for that file! In fact, if I click a Word file and it has to launch Word and then I click another Word file, it should stick that in the queue and wait for Word to finish loading and just put the second doc into that ONE Word app running.


28 thoughts on “Dear Windows: keeping a window in the background

  1. Consider me BizarroSean, I guess. I have a PC at home, but am forced to use a Mac at work. The bouncing icon thing drives me absolutely nuts. It’s right there in my peripheral vision, vibrating. So everything time I get a frigging e-mail I have to open up Entourage just to get the thing to stop f-ing moving.
    And the tripe about Macs being more stable — my work Mac locks up or crashes at least once a week, and I’m constantly having to restart. My PC? Been running smooth and steady for the past year.
    -Sdlonyer Knaes

    • I think you can disable the icon-bouncing on the Dock if you wanted to. I know of now way to disable the in-your-face window habits of Windows.

      Sounds like YOU need more memory on your Mac, or upgrade your OS or something. Not counting weird issues with the latest WOW patch (which crashed both my home Mac and work PC several times last week), my Mac has crashed perhaps 3 times in the 2 years I’ve had it and it gets hard use (browser/mail/WOW/Photoshop/itunes open at the same time, etc.). My work machine is pretty stable, but not quite as stable as that.

      And I’m sure I could use more memory in this work machine, but it was purchased new a year ago and I suspect IT doesn’t think I need more memory because I’m not someone who’s expected to use memory-hogs like Photoshop every day. ;)

      • stability

        My work PC has only truly crashed from power outages. My home PC has crashed twice in the past few years, and I think those were from bad RAM.

        I use a PC at home, PC at work, and have two PC laptops, but I help my girlfriend with her Mac pretty regularly. I don’t honestly believe that most people face many practical differences between the two at this point. A lot of things come down to preference and familiarity.

      • Re: stability

        The stability argument is nearly rubbish. For every “my X crashes all the time while my Y doesn’t” there’s a vice versa. I hear one as often as I hear the other.

        I have a Mac at home that, I have to say, I spend as many hours on as I do my PC at work.

        Now, does the fact that my PC running XP crashes and the programs flip out “all the time” mean that XP is an inherently less stable platform than OSX?

        No—not by itself.

        At home I’m running safe non-kludged full-blown store-bought applications. At work I’m using those things plus a plethora of in-house tools and hacks and patches that amalgamate into an entirely different strain on the OS, and rightly so.

        And even then things don’t sync. My World of Warcraft on my Mac has, well, I can’t honestly say “never” because that’s practically impossible to be literally true, but, I can never remember it happening but reports a different experience with the same OS and same application.

        On top of all of that, everyone has different habits, good and bad, that influence the results of their computing. Do you put your laptop to sleep when it’s in the middle of something? Do you press the power button without properly shutting down first on your desktop? What if they’re using different OSs? Both are extreme examples but they illustrate the point that behavior factors into the equation more than I think people give it credit.

        And, especially, work vs. home examples are usually invalid because of the different network characteristics of each environment. I’m surprised by how much network stability affects one’s computing experience—especially with Windows’ products. And it was only recently (in computing years) that Apple finally fixed the missing volume mount problem with OSX. Time was if you mounted a remote volume then left the network, OSX would take ForFuckingEver to understand that the volume was no longer present. It would almost amount to a silent failure and stall other network operations. It was one of my pet peeves of OSX. Fixed now.

        So that’s why I favor concentrating on things independent of environment or individual behavior.

        Like Windows grabbing focus far too often.

        Or not offering a “No to all” at the same time as a “Yes to all” when replacing a bunch of files in a folder.

        Or it not alphabatizing the contents of folders.

        Or a laundry list of other bad, bad things.

      • Re: stability

        I like Windows grabbing focus. I don’t desire No to All behavior. I also don’t like things auto-sorting. There are exceptions to all of these cases, but in general Windows behaves in a manner I like.

      • Re: stability

        I don’t desire No to All behaviorIs yes to all equally undesired?

        What’s the difference? Meaning, if you would desire a yes to all why would a no to all be undesired?

      • Re: stability

        Specifically, I don’t desire a GUI option for No to All when replacing files in a folder because Cancel usually performs the action that I actually want: stopping the bulk transfer so I can evaluate everything in the batch.

        Shift-clicking No functions as No to All, but it would be pretty hard to accidentally hit. It’s not that Windows can’t do No to All on file transfers, but that it doesn’t come up in the GUI.

        I understand that people like things to work a certain way. There are things that I do not like/am unfamiliar with in Mac OSes, but clearly lots of people enjoy working on Apple hardware with Apple OSes.

      • Re: stability

        Shift-clicking No functions as No to AllAh, really, I didn’t know that.
        It’s not that Windows can’t do No to All on file transfers, but that it doesn’t come up in the GUI.You’re not kidding. When I press and hold Shift, the button doesn’t change to “no to all,” it just sits there.


        Since it’s hidden so well it might as well not exist. How is anyone expected to know or find out?

      • Re: stability

        I’m not sure what Microsoft intended, but I guess my overall point is this: I have spent more time discussing this issue with you than I have spent dealing with the various issues described in the conversation. That isn’t to say that my preferences are the preferences of all people, or that MS gets design right all the time — I just don’t think most people feel any practical impact from these differences.

        I can’t maximize windows in the Mac OSes I’ve worked with. But I can still use Photoshop. I can still do all of the crap that I need to do if I need to do it on a Mac. You might be slowed down a second here or there by some goofy app-specific setting that Windows as an OS allows, but how much does it really affect your productivity or what you want to do overall?

        I’ve worked with various Apple computers, PCs, and SGIs running various OSes ranging from old mega-crappy Windows to OS/2 to Mandrake Linux to BeOS. Pretty much all of them were total crap compared to Windows XP and OS X. They’re good OSes. They have lots of apps and you can do a lot of stuff with them. Most of the detail stuff is interesting to talk about from an academic perspective but…

      • Re: stability

        I’ve spent many many minutes compensating for the lack of No to all. Golly.

        Besides that though, there’s more to it than raw minutes of strict productivity, there’s the overall user experience, something that XP overlooks. The result is an experience that’s more like a chore than fun.

        Leaving a convenience aside because it’s only worth X seconds and not emphasizing user happiness and aesthetics has led to what XP is today: a frowny-faced, dour poke in the eye that bites and scratches and wears a sharp cornered beige box with all the fetching elegance, inviting demeanor, and happiness that implies.

      • Re: stability

        I’m sorry, but I think that sort of hyperbolic statement is just absurd. Millions of people around the world use both Windows and Mac OSes to get an enormous amount of work (and fun) done every day. Both have aspects that could be better and are frustrating to work around, but those deficiencies are ultimately pretty small potatoes compared to their strengths. And a lot of perceived deficiencies are often preferences that individuals develop over time.

        I absolutely cannot stand not being able to maximize app windows, or dealing with apps from a one-button mouse input. Both drive me nuts. People who use Macs all the time obviously don’t have that problem. Great. I’m not going to trash OS X as an operating system because of that or other things I don’t like about it, because they’re ultimately very minor, mostly personal, issues in the grand scheme of things.

  2. strange

    Adobe Acrobat does background pop-ups and it annoys me greatly. The only time I dislike having an app take focus is when I am in a full-screen app like a game. I think this is more of a preference thing.

    I don’t know how old/slow your PC is, but my 2 year-old Dell at work (running XP) opens Firefox in (no exaggeration) two seconds. Word 2007 opens with a document in five seconds. If I open multiple documents, I’ll get multiple tabs on the application bar, but going to Task Manager shows only one WINWORD.EXE that’s using memory and processor cycles.

    • Re: strange

      I thought I’d test this out.

      I’m running XP and Task Manager, under the Processes and Applications tabs, report I have two separate proccess/instances/what have you each of 3ds Max, RoboScreenCapture, and Paint.

      Those are all programs made by different companies with varying memory and processing requirements and all of them have two copies of the same program open. Seems a pretty fair test case.

      The problem, UI-wise, is that I cannot close all the open documents of a single program at once, like I can on my Mac. I can’t say “close 3ds Max” and then close out all open Max documents. I have to close each document individually, one by one.

      As well, UI-wise, I’m confused as to how preferences affect the application. If I assign a preference to one open copy, what happens the next time I launch the app.? Is it retconned into the already-open app?

      Bad design. Windows = fail.

      • Re: strange

        I’m not sure if this is universal to all applications in Windows, but you should only have to close documents individually if each document has unsaved changes. And in those cases, you can accept all saves, or you can reject changes individually (this is how it works for Excel, anyway). I like this behavior. I often have many word or Excel documents open and forget that I made a change to one that I opened days earlier.

      • Re: strange

        Okay, then the problem isn’t necessarily with Microsoft but with the individual vendors — unless you view the problem as Microsoft allowing individual vendors to set their own protocols for closing and saving data when an application is closed. If it’s the equivalent of an Apple TRC/TCR to do things the way you enjoy, that’s a great bonus for you. I can’t say it’s really been a big issue for me in any case outside of this conversation.

      • Re: strange

        Is the issue that the different apps behave inconsistently or that specific apps do not perform the behavior you want? MS/Windows does not require that apps force files to be closed individually, because Word allows batch saving. A lot of MS software (e.g. Paint) has long, long roots, so I am not surprised that behavior is different from app to app. Excel in particular is pretty terrible.

      • Re: strange

        Is the issue that the different apps behave inconsistently or that specific apps do not perform the behavior you want?Um, neither? None of the applications I’ve looked at or have experience with do it, so they seem to all behave consistently.

        And it’s not specific to an application. What I want is for all applications to behave thusly: One application open, multiple documents open. Not one application copy = one document.

        Why? So I can close all those documents at once without having to close them individually and to curtail silliness of preferences. If there are multiple copies of one application open, how am I supposed to know what’s going to happen when I adjust a preference?

        It’s bad design…

      • Re: strange

        Word uses one WINWORD.EXE app with individual copies of documents. If you exit Word, it will ask you if you want to save the current doc, with the options being Yes, Yes to All, No, and Cancel. It’s a Multiple Top-Level Windows Interface app. That is, as of 2000. If you’re using a mega-old version of Word, well then you’re probably in trouble.

        So the “bad design” in this case is something that is app specific, unless you view MS allowing vendors to set their own preferences as bad design.

  3. Steel Cage Match, XP vs. OS X

    I use both operating systems regularly. I think XP has become much better over the years, but, as was said above, I like different things about each one.

    Hate Hate Hate what SKR describes above. Hate it.

    Hate Hate Hate the one button mouse. Geez, Apple, whats the problem? Can’t adapt to the times, maybe switch to two button mice? Really? I know some people will say that once you get used to it, it’s not a problem. I disagree. I am used to it, and I still hate it.

    Hate Hate Hate when my XP box crashes due to some strange silliness. My Mac generally handles crashes much better. Much much better.

    I think both OSes have their advantages, but I also think most criticisms leveled at each have a basis in truth.

    • Re: Steel Cage Match, XP vs. OS X

      I won’t argue that Mac OS handles crashes better — it should, since it has so much practice ;) My original post was somewhat in jest — my work Mac is loaded up with a typically weird gulash of ancient and jury-rigged programs, whereas my home PC is a lean, home-built gaming machine. Just wanted Sean to know that those of us on the other side of the divide get cranky, too. I still want to know how PCs got stuck with the fat dude in all the commercials. I mean, come on, how cool can Macs be — they didn’t get Planescape: Torment. Fat guy should be replaced with the Nameless One. Then see how snarky Mr. Hipster Guy is.

  4. Threadjack — Intro

    Briefly: hello. I found my way to your LJ, which I found interesting enough to “friend,” if that’s all right with you.

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