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Snow Leopard's old and new annoyances

Almost a year ago, I shared my list of ten things I found annoying about Leopard. With the release of Snow Leopard, I thought I'd take a look at the new OS to see whether or not it fixes them. At the same time, I kept an eye out for new glitches.

Overall, I have to say that many of the problems things that annoyed me in OS X 10.5 are still there in 10.6. (Go back to last year's story for more elaborate descriptions of them.) And I found a couple of new ones.

10. Custom colors in Finder labels: You still can't customize the Finder's label colors in Snow Leopard.

9. The invasion of the blue-gray folder icons: Still there, still blue-gray, and still boring and hard to tell apart.

8. Bluetooth support in Address Book: OS X 10.4 supported Bluetooth SMS sending and phone dialing (for non-iPhones) in Address Book; this support vanished in 10.5, and it's still missing in 10.6.

7. Aliases in Docked folders: In OS X 10.4, if I put a folder alias inside a folder on the Dock, I could drill down into the folder that alias pointed to from inside that docked folder. This feature broke in 10.5, and it's still broken in 10.6.

6. Mail's odd feature creep: Mail hasn't gained any major features in 10.6, thankfully. However, there's still no way to disable features I don't want to use, such as Notes and To Dos.

5. The all-covering floating Help Viewer: In Leopard, Apple made the Help window float above all your other open windows. While that's fine on a 30-inch LCD, it's not so fine on a 13-inch MacBook screen. Sadly, the Help window is still floating on top of everything in Snow Leopard.

4. Time Machine's limited user interface: Snow Leopard adds just one more piece of information to the Time Machine interface: a percentage completion figure that charts the progress of the backup process. While this is a nice touch, and will make me less likely to think Time Machine has just frozen solid, it'd be nice to have more information and more control.

3. The Finder's sidebar: In Leopard, if you hid the Sidebar you also hid the Toolbar. In Snow Leopard, that's been fixed—sort of. In Snow Leopard, there's a dedicated View -> Hide Sidebar (Command-Option-S) command, which hides the Sidebar while leaving the Toolbar visible. That's the good news. The bad news is that if you use View -> Hide Toolbar (Command-Option-T), you also lose the Sidebar! So there's no way to have a window with a visible Sidebar and non-visible Toolbar (but you can have the opposite). I don't understand why the two are linked; it makes no sense.

Other than this one fix, though, the Sidebar is still basically broken. You can't set the font size, you can't rearrange the groups, you can't scroll through its entries with the keyboard, and you can't select it (as you can the main menu, the Dock, the Toolbar, or any window) via the keyboard.

2. Editing events in iCal: Thankfully, Apple addressed this problem relatively well. Editing events in Snow Leopard's version of iCal is no longer painful. Apparently this problem was so annoying that there are not just one but two new ways of editing events (in addition to the methods that worked in 10.5). First, you can visit iCal's Preferences, click the Advanced tab, and check the Open Events in Separate Windows checkbox. Then, when you double-click an event, it will come up in a new window, ready for editing.

The second new method, though, is my favorite. Select Edit -> Show Inspector, and a floating window appears, much like the Inspector window in the Finder. When you then select (one click) any event, you'll see its information in the floating Inspector window; click any piece of data for the event to edit it. Unfortunately, you can't activate a field on the Inspector window without clicking it, so once again, I'm forced to reach for the mouse before I can edit—doesn't anyone at Apple prefer using the keyboard? (Once you've clicked one piece of data, you can then use the keyboard to navigate the Inspector window.)

The Inspector window also makes it easy to view upcoming event info without obscuring the calendar with the old version's pop-up windows. In Snow Leopard, I leave the Inspector window open all the time, and it solves most of my issues with Leopard's iCal.

1. Spotlight results in the Finder cannot show additional columns: I was thrilled to think this was going to be fixed in Snow Leopard. After all, Apple's own Snow Leopard refinements page says the new OS includes, "customizable Spotlight search options." I thought for sure this meant the return of 10.4's ability to specify the columns, including Size, that would appear in the Finder's Spotlight search results.

Unfortunately, I am disappointed with the reality. Yes, there are customizable columns in Spotlight's search results—but only Date Modified and Date Created (press Command-J after running a search to see the options). Size, Version, Comments, and Label are grayed out and not selectable!

As such, I'll still rely on HoudahSpot for my Spotlight searches, because it works with Size (and tons of other fields the Finder doesn't support). I really don't understand how something so basic, which worked fine in OS X 10.4, can remain broken nearly three years into the Leopard/Snow Leopard era.

So of my 10 original gripes, it appears that six haven't been addressed at all, three (#1, #3, #4) have had minor fixes, and one (#2) has been almost fully fixed by Snow Leopard. That's not great, but at least there has been some progress.

The new glitches

While there are undoubtedly many new glitches in Snow Leopard (see our glitches and gripes wiki page for a constantly updated list), there are two in particular that I already find quite grating.

The first is an oddity pointed out to me by Dan Moren. If you use a four-finger swipe—either up or down—on a Multi-Touch trackpad and then reverse the swipe without first lifting your hand from the trackpad, the action will repeat itself when you lift your fingers from the trackpad.

For example, let's say you use a four-finger 'up' swipe to reveal the desktop, then swipe down again without lifting your hand. When you swipe up, open windows will slide off the screen, revealing the desktop, just as you want. When you swipe down (again, without lifting your fingers), those windows will slide back to their starting positions. But if you then remove your hand from the trackpad, the windows again slide off the screen, just as they did after your first swipe!

What's the fix? You need to repeat the original swipe (up, in this example), and then remove your hand from the trackpad. That will leave the windows where they belong. This is very annoying, especially because it's not obvious what you may have done to cause it. It only happens with four-finger swipes, though, not with all multi-touch gestures.

The second bug has to do with Snow Leopard revamp of services. According to Apple, services should be available from contextual menus, as well as from the traditional Services menu. However, as discussed in my story about services in Snow Leopard, that's not always the case. Sometimes they appear on contextual menus, sometimes they don't, and it's really hard to figure out why they come and go. Because of that, I recommend that, until Apple decides whether or not services should be on contextual menus, you just use the Services menu—and assign keyboard shortcuts to the services you use most.

I'm sure there are plenty of other new glitches out there. As you spend time with Snow Leopard, feel free to add any you discover (along with workarounds) to our wiki page.

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