5 Flaws Apple Still Hasn’t Fixed in OS X Mountain Lion

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Stephen Lam / Reuters

Apple’s newest OS X cat, Mountain Lion, is finally here, halo-dropped onto the Mac App Store at the last minute by a company that increasingly treats its products as if they were smartphones, teasing form and function but withholding release dates until they’re hours away. Planning for Day One adoption of Apple products can feel like trying to calculate the future passing distance of Near-Earth Objects.

The good news: Mountain Lion is a solid bargain as a $20 update to OS X, bringing to Lion the same sense of roundedness Snow Leopard did Leopard. It’s classic second-pass Cupertino, the company strategically applying another layer of gloss to its traditional computing lineup — in this case adding more iOS highlights — while folding in scads of incremental feature upgrades.

(REVIEW: Apple OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion Review: The Mac’s Lion Adventure Continues)

But longtime Mac users may find a modicum of reasons to grumble about the things Mountain Lion still fails to address here, some of those introduced with Lion, some longstanding nuisances from earlier versions of OS X. Here’s a rundown of five that make the least sense to me.

There’s no way to hide Launchpad clutter. Launchpad is Apple’s second attempt at an iOS-style app repository (the first, not so much iOS-related, was to slap an ‘Applications folder’ shortcut near the trashcan in the Dock). In the Lion version of Launchpad, Apple divided Apple apps from third-party ones, placing stuff like iWork or Logic Pro in a screen at far left and everything else in screens further to the right (think iOS with a buffer zone). In Mountain Lion, the company’s just jammed everything together, first come, first serve, and added a search bar at top to “help” you sort the mess.

Whatever you think of that, Launchpad still picks up all sort of odd, decidedly un-iOS-like detritus: uninstall shortcuts, odd aggregation folders (see Office 11 and certain Adobe products), and subsidiary apps you don’t need to see here. And unlike iOS, where — one app, one shortcut — you can remove anything save the core Apple apps, with Launchpad it’s all or nothing. The only apps you can remove through Launchpad are those installed through the Mac App Store. And by “removal,” I really mean uninstall — Apple seems to view Launchpad as a weird hybrid shortcut and install/uninstall space.

There is a third-party utility that lets you grapple with Launchpad’s chaos called Launchpad-Control. For some reason it stopped working in my over-the-top Mountain Lion upgrade, but after a clean install, it’s functioning properly again.

Why didn’t Apple add a “show/don’t show” checkbox panel in Mountain Lion? Who knows. I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to come up with the reality distortion field marketing angle on Launchpad, as-is, and all I’ve got is that it’s an attempt to foist iOS’s interface on OS X users (only without iOS’s redeeming one-icon-per-app restriction).

You have to eject external drives before pulling cables. Pro or con? I go back and forth on this one. Macs have long required that you first eject an externally connected storage device before yanking out the cable. Withdraw that cable without first ejecting your device and you get an ugly error message warning that you might have damaged your data. That’s because OS X could be writing or caching data to the drive, and with Spotlight ticking away in the background, you can’t always tell when that is or isn’t happening.

Given those activities, eject-first is probably a good idea, protecting our not-entirely-plug-and-play devices from overanxious fingers. So why don’t we have to do this in Windows? There is a way to, using a little utility that lives in the system tray. Some would argue that’s actually the safest route, but I’m betting most people don’t even know it exists. I’m aware of it, still don’t use it, and yet I’ve yet to lose or corrupt any data or louse up the file system of a storage device.

In any case, shouldn’t we have file copying and caching routines in place by now that can dynamically release a drive without (potentially) damaging it? That can finish up any critical business OS X was doing when the drive was disconnected, after it’s been reconnected?

Safari bookmarks can’t be sorted alphabetically. Other browsers have this feature, so why not Safari? I’m talking about the option to enable alphabetization across the board or right-click in “Show all bookmarks” view to get a “Sort alphabetically” option. For a long time I used Bookdog (for OS X post-10.4, it’s now called BookMacster) but now settle for organizing my bookmarks manually. This is one of those fiddly things we’ll probably never see, but that still feels like an oversight, given how simple its inclusion would be.

Applications remain open after the last window’s closed. In Mountain Lion, the murky glow that used to sit beneath your Dock’s open applications has been replaced with a solid white dash, making it easier to see what’s open and what’s not — two thumbs up for that, Apple. But I’m still waiting for a window-based kill switch that shuts an application down when the final window closes — something that doesn’t require the extra step of hitting command-q on the keyboard, or right-clicking the app in the Dock and selecting “quit.”

I know, Apple’s erring on the side of caution here, but with all the emphasis in Lion and Mountain Lion on gestures and navigating without hotkeys, you’d think Apple might have found a way by now — perhaps even a gestural one — to streamline quitting an app.

Uninstalling OS X apps is a confusing mess. Blame Apple, blame the developers, it doesn’t really matter: Properly removing apps in OS X feels more like a scavenger hunt. Take Apple’s own Logic Pro, which deposits its many apps, music loops, receipts, instrument settings and so forth in multifarious locations. How to remove everything? Good luck! Search engines often turn up user-proposed solutions, but that’s always a gamble, and in any event, is this the best Apple can do? Asking that we manually delete apps from the Applications folder, then play Sherlock to find and zap trace remnants elsewhere? Forcing us to root through search engines and message boards for answers to what ought to, by now, be a managed process, with or without the Mac App Store?

And that’s all I’ve got. What about you? What’s on your OS X “annoyances” list?

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