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There's no getting around it—the Aqua interface is beautiful. One of the most obvious places that you'll deal with the interface is through onscreen windows, demonstrated in Figure 3.7. There are a number of changes between the Mac OS X operating system and previous versions. Let's take a look at a Finder window and see what's different.

Figure 3.7 Mac OS X windows are familiar, but the position of common elements has changed and a few new ones have been added.


In the upper-left corner of each window is located the Close (red X), Minimize (yellow -), and Maximize (green +) buttons. Differentiated only by color and position, the corresponding character symbol appears in each bubble button when the mouse cursor nears.

Clicking the Close button will close the open window. The OS X Minimize button takes the place of the windowshade function in early versions of the Mac OS. Instead of reducing the window to its title bar only, this shrinks the window into an icon view that is contained within the Dock. This icon is a full representation of the original contents of the window, and sometimes might even update its appearance as the parent application generates new output. Clicking the icon in the dock will restore the window to its original position and size on the screen.


Double-clicking the title bar of a window has the same effect as clicking the Minimize button.

The Maximize button does not perform in the way to which most Windows users are accustomed. Rather than filling the entire screen (which has always bothered me no end), Maximize opens the window to the size necessary to display the available information. If there are three icons that need to be shown, you don't need to waste your entire screen showing them.


Holding down Option while clicking the Minimize or Close button will result in all the windows in the current application being minimized or closed.

Hide/Show Toolbar

In the upper-right corner of certain windows (such as the Finder and Mail windows) is an elongated button that can be used to quickly show or hide toolbars in applications. Apple has stressed ease of use within Mac OS X, and is advocating customizable toolbars within applications. Although only a few packages have toolbars, that number will only increase as more applications become adapted to the Mac OS X interface.


In some applications (the Finder excluded), you can hold down the Command key and click the toolbar button to cycle through different available toolbar states, such as text-only, icon-only, and text/icon. Strangely enough, this trick seems to work only if there is already a toolbar visible.

There are also shortcuts to customizing the toolbar by holding down a combination of modifier keys while clicking the toolbar button. For example, within the Finder, hold Shift while clicking the button, or use Command+Option within Mail.

Because developers must implement the functionality of the toolbar button, you shouldn't expect all applications that have toolbars to include the toolbar button. If you have a favorite application that could benefit from this user interface feature, be sure to provide feedback directly to the developer.

Window Moving and Resizing

A noticeable new window feature, or lack thereof, is the borderless content area. As seen in Figure 3.8, the display in most OS X application windows goes directly up to the edge of the content window.

Figure 3.8 The content in a window goes right up to the edge.

Although this creates a more attractive and more integrated feeling, you can no longer drag windows using the familiar border in Mac OS 8/9. Luckily, Apple has prevented users from completely dragging the title bar of a window off the screen. Title bars will not extend past the menu bar; several pixels of the edge of the window remain if you attempt to push a window off the edge of the screen.

Resizing windows works as you're accustomed: Click and drag on the resize icon in the lower-right corner of each window. Many applications in Mac OS X take advantage of live resizing; that is, as you resize the window, the contents of the window change. Unless you have a fast machine, live resizing is, sadly, painfully slow. One can only hope that this is addressed in a future release of the operating system.


There are a few new tricks that you can use when working with Mac OS X windows. In previous versions of the OS, the only way to move a window was if it was the frontmost window on the display. In Mac OS X, if you hold down the Command key, you can drag non-active windows that are located behind other windows. If fact, holding down Command enables you to click buttons and move scrollbars in many background applications.

Another fun trick is to hold down the Option key while clicking on an inactive application's window. This will hide the frontmost application and bring the clicked application to the front.

Finally, rather than switching to another window to close, minimize, or maximize it, positioning your cursor over the appropriate window controls will highlight them—allowing you to get rid of obtrusive windows without leaving your current workspace.

Apple's new window design has brought much criticism from those accustomed to the Mac's platinum appearance. With Mac OS X, the window controls have taken on much of the appearance of their Windows counterparts. Creating an environment that is comfortable for all users, regardless of what they've used before, is an important part of Apple's strategy to attract new users.

Window Widgets

There are other portions of the interface that have changed along with the addition of the Aqua interface. Both Mac and Windows users should be accustomed to these elements, even though they have a slightly different OS X appearance. Samples of many of the OS X Aqua interface elements are shown in Figure 3.9.

Aqua interface elements include:

  • Push buttons—Push buttons are rendered as translucent white or aqua-colored ovals with the appropriate label text. These are typically used to activate a choice or to respond to a question posed by the operating system or application. The default choice, activated by pressing the Return key, pulses for easy visual confirmation.

  • Check boxes/Radio buttons—These elements perform identically to their OS 8/9 counterparts aside from an update in coloring. Check boxes are used to choose multiple attributes (AND), whereas radio buttons are used to choose between attributes (OR).

Figure 3.9 These are the Mac OS X window widgets.

  • List views—List views are also very similar to early Mac OS implementations. Clicking a category sorts by that selection. Clicking again reverses the direction of the sort (ascending to descending, or vice versa). Category headings can be resized by clicking the edge of the heading and dragging in the direction you want to shrink or expand the column.

  • Pop-up menus/System menus—Menus remain largely unchanged in Mac OS X. Single-clicking a menu will drop the menu down until a selection is made. Unlike Mac OS 8/9, the menu will stay down indefinitely. Previous versions of the system would halt all processes until a selection was made, so the system would automatically deselect a menu after several seconds. With Mac OS X's multitasking system, other applications can continue to work while the menu is down.

  • Disclosure triangles—Disclosure triangles continue to work as they always have. Click the triangle to reveal addition information about an object.

  • Disclosure push buttons—Like disclosure triangles, these push buttons are used to reveal all possible options (a full, complex view), or reduce a window to a simplified representation. This is used in the new File Save dialog boxes. This is new to Mac OS X.

  • Scrollbars—Scrollbars have lost the option of having arrows on one end, but now visually represent the amount of data within the current document by changing the size of the scrollbar handle in relation to the data to display. The larger the handle, the less data there is to scroll through. The smaller the handle, the more information to display.

Sheet Windows and Window Trays

Two other unique interface elements are introduced in Mac OS X: sheet windows and window trays. The sheet-style windows are used in place of traditional dialog boxes. Normally, when a computer wants to get your attention, it displays a dialog box containing a question, such as "Do you want to save this document?". If you have ten open documents on your system, how do you know which one needs to be saved?

Sheet-style windows appear directly from the title bar of an open window. Rather than being "application-centric" or "system-centric," sheet windows are "document-centric." Figure 3.10 demonstrates a sheet-style window used to confirm saving the contents of a text document.

Figure 3.10 The sheet-style window appears to drop from an open window's title bar.

Sheet windows are used just like any other window, except they are attached to a document. Unlike many dialog boxes, which keep you from interacting with the system until you interact with them, sheet dialog boxes only limit access to the window that it is related to.

Apple has included a few gee-whiz features in the implementation of these new styled dialog boxes. If a window is too close to the edge of the screen or too small to hold the entire dialog sheet that appears, it will spring from the edge of the screen or scale the sheet appropriately so that it fits. This is just a visual effect, but quite amusing in action.

The second interface element introduced in Mac OS X is the window tray. Various interpretations of this element exist in programs on Mac OS 8/9 and Windows—such as Internet Explorer and Netscape 6.0, which use a form of a tray for holding bookmarks. In Mac OS X, the tray is a native interface element and can be used by developers in new and ported applications. The tray is used to store commonly used settings and options that might need to be accessed while a program is running. The OS X Mail application's tray, holding a list of active mailboxes, is shown in Figure 3.11.

Figure 3.11 The tray elements hold options that are often needed during a program's execution.

Applications supporting the use of a tray typically activate it by clicking a button in the toolbar. After a tray is open, the tray's edge can be dragged to change the size of the open tray.


Although only a few applications make use of the OS X tray feature, there are already two standards in how it operates. By default, the tray slides out from the right of the main window after clicking a button to activate it. If the window is too close to the side of the screen, the tray either will be forced out of the other side of the window, or will push the main window over to make room.

If you're using an application in which the tray can appear from either side, you might be able to force the side that the tray will use in the future. For example, in the Mail application, if you position the window near the right side of the screen and then display the mailbox tray, it will appear from the left side of the window. This position change will be remembered for future activations of the tray.

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