How Could OS X Be Improved?

by James R. Stoup Oct 10, 2005

How many of us like OS X?

Ok, now, how many of us think it could be better?

Alright, got any ideas?

See, those first two questions were real easy, but that last one makes people pause a little. And so, after a little bit of thinking I compiled a list of what I think Apple could do to improve OS X.

The Finder
A lot of my complaints here are purely cosmetic. For example, I want to be able to change the opacity of the Finder windows. If you open the Terminal you can change the background color, text color and the opacity, which is wonderful. It allows you to customize your Terminal to suit your style. So, I see no reason why Finder windows shouldn’t have the same options.

OS X gives you the great feature of changing the background of a Finder window, you can set it to be a color or a picture. However, it is an all or nothing process. Which is nice, sort of, unless you want to have multiple colors or pictures in multiple windows. It would be a better if you could select a folder and set the background for it and all of its subfolders. That would be a much more effective feature. That way all of the windows that can be opened from your “Games” folder can have a picture of the Mario Brothers and your “Barbie Doll Pictures” folder can have a pink background.

The Dock
Once again that opacity thing rears its ugly head. Here is another time when it would be just swell to have control of the transparency of the dock. And while we’re at why not let us change the color of the dock too. And how about changing the shape of the dock? Instead of a semi-transparent rectangle how about one with rounded corners? Or maybe a thin bar through the middle of the icons, giving them a floating appearance. Once again it would be nice to several different choices in how the dock looks.

I love Spotlight but it definitely needs improvement. More search options would be the first improvement I can think of. I think they should keep the simple search bar that comes up when you hit [apple - space] but the more detailed search window needs to have a few more field. Such as a NOT operator. That way I can search for all files having the words “family vacation” but without the word “Florida”. Or how about an easy way to look for Quicktime files created last year with the word “racing” in it. Those are just a few examples of some improvements that could be made.

Extra Applications
I think that Apple could include a few more applications with OS X. The first one has to be a solitaire game. What can I say, I like the chess application but sometimes I want mindless entertainment, and let’s face it, that isn’t chess. So throwing in a couple of card games would be great. Maybe Apple could include a game like Snood too. And a decent FTP application would be useful as well, though I think more people will use the card game.

First, I want a true multiple desktop setup, not an add on application such as Desktop Manager. Don’t get me wrong, DTM is a great application, I just want Apple to build that functionality into the OS. As such I want to have multiple desktops, each with their own background. And how about a picture in a picture while were at it? That way you could see what is happening on your second desktop while you are working in your first. I realize that wouldn’t improve productivity much, but it would look cool.

When are we going to get animated desktop backgrounds? Even if it is only something simple I still want it. Wouldn’t it be great to see the earth spinning, a flower growing or maybe the equalizer from the song currently playing in iTunes?

So, those are my ideas for some improvements to OS X. Maybe with a little luck we will see them in 10.5 someday. What would you like to see in Leopard?


  • Oh!  I thought of another one:

    The icons in Finder.  The icons that are a preview of an image should be differently scaled than that of folders and other things. 

    To illustrate: I have a folder with a bunch of pictures, but the thumbnail view is so teeeeny I can’t really tell what they are.  So, I increase the icon size - cool.  But for the love of God, EVERY icon is now huge, meaning my folders, my Pages files, everything is ginormous now.  I just want to quickly scan through a huge set of images!

    BergenDog had this to say on Oct 10, 2005 Posts: 18
  • I use a Windows box at work, and I appreciate being able to select multiple items from a list individually and not only items adjecent to eachother as holding down ‘shift’ does.

    I know it’s going ‘backwards’ to take a feature from Windows, but there are a few which work well…

    diggs had this to say on Oct 10, 2005 Posts: 6
  • diggs - try using the command key to select.

    gregga had this to say on Oct 10, 2005 Posts: 1
  • BergenDog try selecting ‘this window only” under veiw options. That way your pics get big but in all other windows the icons stay the same size

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Oct 10, 2005 Posts: 354
  • I want to be able to ‘tab’ to different items in dialog boxes.  I know you can turn on this feature in System Prefs, but it doesn’t work in all apps… it doesn’t even really work in the Finder.

    robox2000 had this to say on Oct 10, 2005 Posts: 3
  • I use automator and/or applescript to delete and restore files for daily student use.  When used folders and files are deleted and replaced with duplicates from my “original” location the aliases in the sidebar disappear.  I need automator or applescript to allow the restoration of sidebar items.  Favorites used to be able to be restored with applescript.

    Automator should have a scheduler.  I have learned how to schedule using alarms in iCal, but Automator should be able to schedule workflows.

    The green maximize button toggles between the last two window sizes used.  I’d like the green maximize button to toggle between the current size and full screen.

    whoppingsteps had this to say on Oct 10, 2005 Posts: 3
  • BergenDog try selecting ‘this window only” under veiw options. That way your pics get big but in all other windows the icons stay the same size

    Thanks Chris.  But, actually what I need is similiar to what James said in the article, of being able to modify the view for This and All of This’ subfolders.  This particular image directory is in fact a deep directory structure.  I guess I can do this manually.

    And as long as I’m posting again:  how about the ability to make some pictures not show up in the Library of iPhoto.  This weekend I had parents visiting and in showing them the latest vacation pictures I almost showed them some p0rn wink

    BergenDog had this to say on Oct 10, 2005 Posts: 18
  • To Bob Appleby- you can use the dashboard devmode to get widgets onto the desktop detailed here ( otherwise I thought I read somewhere that the newest Konfabulator can display the dashboard widgets just like any of there widgets but don’t quote me on that. 
    To Oliver- The folders in the dock are spring-loaded, just right click on it or if you only have a one button mouse than hold ctrl when clicking on the folder. (This is assuming that our definitions of spring-loaded are the same)
    To BergonDog- Just to reiterate what insha said just hold down the option key when you move the file and it will cut and paste for you.
    To the columnist James R. Stoup- Altho it would be nice to have those things in OS X most of the cosmetic things can be done from third party apps. First folders can be made transparent using Windowshade X form Unsanity. ( Once again you can use Clear Dock, also from Unsanity, to make your dock clear or to custamize the dock to the max use Skin a Dock from Infinity-to-the-Power-of-Infinity (, to make the dock look like almost anything. However Skin a dock is a beta and has many known bugs and the development seems to have ceased so user beware. Finally you can use backlight from illumineX ( to put screensavers on your desktop so if you are versed in the ins and outs of screensavers programing than you can put just about whatever you want animated on your desktop especially with the Quarts rendering in Tiger.
    PS. if you are looking for anything about custamizing your mac OS than go to

    Trep had this to say on Oct 10, 2005 Posts: 1
  • I’d like to see iSync become a *real* application that just simple kick butt! First, FIX IT, so it doesn’t duplicate things. And if it does, give a window with a list (like a spreadsheet) of all the dups and let me select which one I want. (It kinda does that now… but not well. ) And second, build in support for more things. More cell phones, PDA’s, and more information like notes/memos, voice memos, etc. Just make is a more robust application.

    A-Bomb had this to say on Oct 10, 2005 Posts: 1
  • I’d say that a return to Interface CONSISTENCY is the key to improving Leopard.

    I love OS X, but it has really strayed from the old Classic Mac OS’ almost fanatical adherence to Apple’s own Human Interface Guidelines (or whatever it’s called). It was always great to have 2 or 3 or 4 ways to do something, but when those methods constantly vary, it makes navigating much more of a chore than it needs to be.

    There are lots of little functional/cosmetic tweaks and adjustments to different navigation items that don’t STAY the way I’ve set them, which constantly need to be re-adjusted. Icons should stay where I’ve put them. Columns need to stay whatever widths or order I’ve set, etc., etc..

    I’d like to see Open/Save dialogues automatically adjust column widths for the longest file name, or at least be able to assign a specific width, so I can see entire file names without having to resort to resizing columns EVERY time a dialogue appears.

    Why do some applications quit when you close the last window and others not? Make ALL applications function ONE way!

    I could go on and on, nitpicking away, but let’s see a return to Interface Consistency!

    jeffharris had this to say on Oct 10, 2005 Posts: 11
  • I use a Windows box at work, and I appreciate being able to select multiple items from a list individually and not only items adjecent to eachother as holding down ‘shift’ does.

    You can, you just have to use the command key rather than the shift key.

    robertwb had this to say on Oct 10, 2005 Posts: 1
  • Finder favorite folders should hold a label color. Simple, and would sure help organization.

    eyehop had this to say on Oct 10, 2005 Posts: 19
  • 1) I think it’s important to try to support websites/services that
    young people use, the myspace/tribes/flickr/chatroom/videochat crowd.
    Currently Safari does not support some of these.  This is probably
    a problem with sites using Microsoft-specific code in some cases,
    but even when the sites use Java (yahoo chat) they don’t work
    properly on the Mac.  This is basic and popular stuff…
      In the cases where the site uses microsoft specific stuff,
    Apple should work with Microsoft or pay the site to re-engineer it—
    if it’s a sufficiently popular site that is.

    2) Use some of their cash to pay a game developer to make sure
    that cool game X is available on OSX.  Recently Macs have been
    threatened with being shut out of online gameplay due to some
    issue with gamespy.  Apple may have enough power to resolve this,
    and they should try.

    3) Make the key shortcuts work as well as in windows.
    Make them configurable, and have one-button click to make them
    emulate the windows equivalents.

    4) Improve the “feel” of speed.  I think OSX actually is fast,
    but it “feels” slow.  One person pointed out that the mouse
    moves more slowly by default.  The windows also wait until they’re
    ready before doing anything, whereas in Win/Linux they start flickering
    immediately.  Flickering is bad, but maybe there is some other way
    to give immediate feedback.

    5) Tabs in the finder:  open sub-folder in new tab.

    bozoface had this to say on Oct 10, 2005 Posts: 2
  • Beeblebrox, if emptying trash hangs, force-quit the Finder. No need to reboot.

    Faintdreams, you can switch to a REAL English dictionary by making British English the top list item in the Language tab of the International system pref pane.

    I strongly second gervaiso who suggested Apple buy Quicksilver. Without a doubt the most useful interface enhancement I’ve found. If you haven’t already, download it now. You won’t regret it!

    bigsadhu had this to say on Oct 10, 2005 Posts: 1
  • 1. I want location specific System Preferences. For example, if I connect to my network at work, I want OS X to automatically mount various shared volumes, change my screensaver, automatically set the default printer. If I close my Powerbook and open it again at home, these settings should change once it connects to my home network.

    2. Improved icon previews would be nice. Sometimes I would prefer to see a Word file, for example, as an icon preview.

    3. Increased use of album art (i.e. on album folders as windows does or on the desktop as itunes is playing) might be nice. Hardly imperative, though.

    bondsteel had this to say on Oct 11, 2005 Posts: 1
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