Monday, November 24, 2014

Apple: More Frustrating OS Behaviors

Dear Apple: We've been together a long time. I've used Apple devices since before there was an Internet. One of the things that I've always counted on is that you employ people who understand the bigger requirements; that when you make decisions or choose directions, you keep professional users like me in mind even as you make it easier for novice users to work with the tools.

To that end, me and most of my Mac using friends have tolerated some of these experiments in making things easier. I remember the original introduction of the "Launcher", introduced -- I suppose -- because double-clicking on an application icon was too difficult for some people to understand. I also remember my friend's comment about getting rid of it, "the first thing you needed to do was to launch the Launcher."

But now, the current design direction seems to have shifted from utility to fashion -- and the almighty idea of harmonizing the appearance of the phone and the Mac. It's taking the Mac in such stupid ways. Internally inconsistent ways.

So the other day we were sitting around, streaming a video to our Apple TV using mirroring and VLC. But recently -- for whatever reason -- the mirrored video stream has become super-choppy. Tons of dropped frames and video lag. I found several suggestions online, including turning off Bluetooth, and switching the view to "extended desktop". When I did that though, VLC started to act strangely. I could launch a video and you could hear the sound, but there was no video visible. After clicking around and restarting VLC, the video would appear when I launched VLC.

I didn't think much about that problem until the other day when I was doing something that I often do, production-wise. I was entering data into a field into Salesforce in one window, while trying to have Excel in the background as reference behind it. To make it easier, I moved the Excel sheet over to my second monitor (and the extended desktop), then clicked back to my Salesforce window. The problem? Excel would "disappear" from the other window. Vanish. Gone. No more extended desktop.

After doing a bit of research, I discovered a checkbox in the Mission Control section of the system preferences. The setting "Displays have separate Spaces" is apparently checked by default. It appears that this behavior was made default even back in Mavericks. Deselecting it requires a log-out, so you can't do this in the middle of a project without a significant interruption. But once I made the change, I had true extended desktop functionality again.

So first, I'm at a loss to explain why you would make this kind of change in the first place. But beyond that, here's my bigger question -- what's the point of having transparency baked in as an effect throughout the system when you don't allow things to be transparent across application spaces? Is it because it's cool? It sure as hell doesn't provide me any utility.

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