Mac OS X Tiger/The Mac Interface

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Now that you know how to use the Dock and Menu Bar (because you did read Chapter 1, right?), it's time to learn how to use the rest of your Mac's interface. In this chapter, you'll learn how to deal with windows, sheets, sliders, scrollbars, and all of the other elements of the Mac interface. From the next chapter onwards, you'll learn to apply what you've learned to real-world uses of your Mac.

A lot of this chapter should be a review for you, since in many ways the Mac interface is similar to the interfaces of competing operating systems such as Microsoft Windows. However, there will definitely be things in this chapter that you do not already know, so pay close attention.


File:Tiger Interface Shot.png
Fig. 1 - Three windows. Notice how they are stacked on top of one another.

Mac OS X, like most modern operating systems, uses a "windowed" interface. That means it displays information in a stack of overlapping rectangular boxes called "windows". The window at the front of the stack is the only one you can interact with, and is called the "active window". You can bring any inactive window to the front of the stack by clicking anywhere inside it.

Title Bars[edit]

Fig. 2 - A title bar. Note the tri-colored buttons in the left side.

Every window has a "title bar" at the top. This strip contains the window's name, or title, along with three little round buttons on the left side. These three buttons are colored red, yellow, and green from left to right. Rolling over these buttons causes them to display (respectively) an ×, −, and +.

  • Close - Clicking the red button (×) closes the window, but does not necessarily quit the application (program) the window belongs to. This is a common point of confusion in Mac OS X, because in Windows XP, if a program is left without any windows, it closes automatically. This is not so in the Mac OS; most applications will not quit unless explicitly told to do so through the appropriate command in the Menu Bar. If a dot appears in the red button, there is unsaved information in the window. If you close the window, you will be asked to acknowledge this and either save the information or lose it forever.
  • Minimize - Click the yellow button (−), and the window "minimizes" (shrinks to the size of a postage stamp and flys into the right side of the Dock). These minimized windows can be "Maximized" (returned to their normal state) by simply clicking on their images in the Dock.
  • Zoom - Click the green button (+), and the window attempts to resize itself so its contents fit exactly. Click the green button again, and the window will resize to its previous dimensions.


File:Tiger Mail Toolbar.png
Fig. 3 - This toolbar is for the Mail application. Notice that it is directly below the title bar.

Toolbars are strips of controls that activate certain commands (for more on these controls, see below). Toolbars usually appear along the top of a window (directly below the title bar), but sometimes appear along the bottom or side.

Toolbars are usually customizable; that is, you can add or remove controls, change their order, and group them according to how you use them. To customize a toolbar, right-click it and choose "Customize Toolbar...". A sheet (see below) appears, showing every control the application has to offer. You can drag controls from the sheet into the toolbar to add them, out of the toolbar to remove them, or horizontally to reorder them. You can drag in "Space", "Flexible Space", and "Divider" to organize controls into groups.


File:Tiger Mail Panes.png
Fig. 4 - This window is divided into three panes, outlined in red for illustrative purposes.

In architecture, there are many styles of windows. Perhaps the style most commonly used today is the "divided-light" window. These windows consist of multiple panes of glass, held together by strips of wood called mullions.

As in architecture, it often makes sense to divide a computer "window" into multiple "panes". Get the joke? The "mullions" that hold these virtual panes together are referred to simply as dividers. Quite often, dividers are adjustable. Dragging on the small dot in the middle of a divider lets you adjust the proportions of the panes on either side. For example, in Fig. 4, a divider with a dot separates the top and bottom panes. Dragging the dot upwards will make the bottom pane larger and the top pane smaller. Dragging the dot down will do the opposite: the top pane will become bigger and the bottom smaller.

Sometimes, applications forgo a divider and simply draw a thin line between panes. These are also adjustable, but you'll have to look around a bit to find the "handle" you can drag to resize the panes on either side. These handles are usually marked by three vertical lines. A line like this separates the left sidebar in Fig. 4 from the top and bottom panes to its right. To adjust the size of this particular sidebar pane, you must drag the three vertical lines in the lower-left of the window.


You'll often find yourself working with a document larger than the window or pane that contains it. When this happens, Mac OS X busts out "scrollbars". Named after the scrolls of medieval times, these strips appear along the edges of a pane. A scrollbar appears along the right side of the pane if the information within is taller than the pane itself. If the information is wider, a scrollbar appears along the bottom.

Each scrollbar is divided into three parts:

  • Scroll Track - This like a "groove" with a blue strip in it. The blue strip is the "scroller", explained below. that the scroller sits in.
  • Scroller - This blue pill-shaped strip represents the portion of the document which is visible. The larger the scroller is in relation to the scroll track, the more of the document is visible. The position' of the scroller in relation to the scroll track tells you which part of the document you are viewing. Dragging the scroller lets you view different parts of the document.
  • Scroll Buttons - These little arrow buttons at the end of the scrollbar let you scroll one "unit" of space in a certain direction. The length of a unit depends on the application you are working in.

Status Bars[edit]

Status Bars are strips that appear along the bottom of some (but not all) windows. They usually contain text pertaining to the window's status, but can also contain controls like a toolbar would.

Resize Handles[edit]

The bottom-right corner of most windows can be dragged with your cursor to give the window whatever dimensions you wish. These corners have three little tactile-looking ridges, providing a visual cue to their special sizing power.

Palettes and HUDs[edit]

File:Tiger Pages Palette and HUD.png
Fig. 5 - A HUD and a Palette. Notice that you can see the desktop through the HUD, since it's translucent.

Palettes, also refered to as "Utility Windows", are miniature windows that contain information and controls designed to complement a larger window. They have skinny little title bars, and do not appear in the Window menu or in Exposé (see below).

There is a second flavor of palette called a HUD. No, you don't pronounce that "hudd" (a common mistake). H-U-D stands for "heads-up-display". These are palettes that are black and translucent, just like a heads-up-display on say, a fighter jet. Other than their looks, there is no difference between a HUD and a palette.


File:Tiger Pages 2 Print Sheet.png
Fig. 6 - A sheet attached to a window. You can't interact with anything else in this window until you dismiss the sheet, but you can interact with other windows.

If you're familiar with computers, you're familiar with the concept of a dialog box. This computing mainstay has been offering warnings, options, and advice for years. But dialog boxes are often overkill; they take center stage and prevent you from doing anything until you acknowledge them. While there is certainly a place for this (for instance, warnings and alerts that you absolutely must see), quite often dialog boxes apply to only a single window. For this purpose, Apple has phased out dialog boxes in favor of a new invention of their own: the "sheet".

A sheet looks like a sheet of paper that rolls out from the title bar of a window. Unlike the dialog boxes of old, which blocked access to everything on your computer until you closed them, sheets only prevent access to the single window that they are attached to until you close them. This lets individual applications get your attention without blocking access to others.


A drawer works a lot like a drawer in a desk. It's a pane that slides in and out of the side of a window. It seems like they are being phased out by Apple, which is replacing them with sidebar panes, but there are still a few here and there in Mac OS X. You'll hear more about drawers when you read about the applications that use them.


File:Tiger Exposé Before.png
Fig. 7 - Before Exposé...
File:Tiger Exposé All Windows.png
Fig. 8 - ... and after Exposé!

Exposé is a neat little feature with big implications. It cuts through the clutter that results from having a large number of windows open at the same time. More specifically, it lets you visualize your open windows in two different ways, and can also temporarily hide all of them. Each function of Exposé is activated by a different key on your keyboard.

  1. All Windows (the F9 key by default) - Pressing this key darkens your desktop and shrinks all of your windows into thumbnails. Exposé makes these thumbnails just small enough so that they don't overlap at all. Roll over a window with your cursor, and it will display its title. Clicking any window will return your Desktop to how it was before, but now with the window you clicked on in front of all others.
  2. Application Windows (the F10 key by default) - The second way to Exposé is a variation on "All Windows". It tiles only the windows of the current, front-most application. If you have a bunch of websites in Safari and documents in Microsoft Word open, and you know you're looking for a Word document, then simply bring Word to the front and press F10.
  3. Desktop (the F11 key by default) - This key temporarily pushes all windows out of the way, giving you an unobstructed view of your desktop. To show your windows again, press the key again.


Apple uses a plethora of buttons, sliders, and other little gadgets throughout OS X and other applications. Use this list as a reference:

  • Buttons - The most common control in the Mac OS, buttons are pill-shaped and made of glass. Their labels provide a clue as to what happens when you click on them.
  • Button Menus - These oddball buttons sprout menus when you click on them. They are marked with a little triangle on their right side.
  • Toolbar Buttons - Buttons in a window's toolbar (see above) can take on a variety of appearances. Sometimes they appear simply as icons. At other times, they will look more like standard buttons made of glass, plastic, or any other material the developer sees fit. As you use various applications, you will learn how toolbar buttons look in each one.
  • Conjoined Buttons - Conjoined buttons are just that: two or more buttons joined together. Sometimes buttons are conjoined to show that they are related; at other times they are conjoined to show that only one button in the group can be activated at a time.
  • Tabs - Tabs look like conjoined buttons at the top of a grey box. Clicking on different tabs will cause different things to appear in the grey box. The tab that you are currently viewing is highlighted in blue.
  • Toolbar Tabs - Tabs inside a window's toolbar look just like toolbar buttons but act just like normal tabs. The tab you are currently viewing is highlighted in grey.
  • Checkboxes - These look like the checkboxes you might find in a tax form. You can check and uncheck them with one click. When a checkbox is checked, it lights up blue.
  • Radio Buttons - These special, round checkboxes always come in groups of two or more. Exactly one radio button in a group is always selected; you can't select more than one, and you can't select none at all.
  • Sliders - These look like a slider you might find on a piece of machinery. They can be horizontal or vertical. You can drag them with your cursor to adjust a setting.
  • Dials - A dial, also known as a knob, looks like a knob you might use to adjust the volume on your stereo. Drag one in a circular motion to adjust a setting.
  • Pop-Up Menus - These are menus full of choices embedded inside a window as a control. Click on the blue triangle at the right side of a pop-up menu to view the options inside.
  • Color Wells - These are used to select a color for something; perhaps part of a page layout you're working on or the title of your next hit movie. They look like clear, rectangular buttons with a colored square inside. Clicking them opens the application's color picker, letting you pick the color of your choice.
  • Image Wells - Image wells are "slots" where you can insert an image. They resemble a well in a slide that one would look at under a microscope. Drag and drop an image into the well to use it.
  • Progress Bars - When a task is being performed by your Mac, it often displays some sort of progress bar. These are glossy strips that gradually fill up with a blue color from left to right. When the blue reaches the right side of the bar, the task is complete. Sometimes your Mac can't tell how long a task is going to take. In this case, the progress bar displays bands of blue (like a barber pole) that move from left to right.
  • Progress Spinners - When space is tight or the task being performed takes only a few seconds, Mac OS X will use a progress spinner to show that work is being done. The progress spinner is a tiny sunburst of grey lines which brighten and darken to give a spinning effect. It gives no indication as to how far along your Mac is with its task.
  • Capacity Bar - This thick status bar displays the level of something - perhaps the battery life remaining in your wireless mouse. Sometimes it is split into sections, other times it's one long continous strip. The color can change according to how much the bar is filled.
  • Rating Indicator - The rating indicator displays the rating of an item in "stars". How these work vary from application to application, so please see each application's section of this wikibook for more information.
  • Relevancy Bar - When searching for an item, sometimes relevancy bars appear next to their names, indicating how closely they match the terms for your search.
  • Text Fields - Text fields are squarish white boxes that you can type text into.
  • Steppers - Some text fields are designed to contain numbers. If you want to adjust the number in one of these fields, you can either manually type it in, or you can use the two vertical arrows you might find next door - steppers. These little arrow buttons let you "step" the number in the field up or down.
  • Token Fields - Token fields look like a text field, but are designed to hold multiple items, separated by commas. As you type the items, they turn into blue rounded "tokens". These can be dragged and dropped as an object. Some tokens also include built-in pop-up menus.
  • Search Fields - Search fields are pill-shaped text fields that have a little magnifying glass symbol in the left side. You can search for items in a window or around your computer simply by typing your query into one of these guys. Sometimes you will have to press enter after typing to begin searching, but at other times searching happens automatically.
  • Combo Boxes - Combo boxes combine a pop-up menu and a text field. You can choose an option either by selecting it as you would with a pop-up menu, or typing it in as you would with a text field.
  • Disclosure Triangles - Also known as "flippy triangles", these controls always appear next to a heading. If the triangle is pointing to the right, then the information under the heading is hidden. Click on the triangle and it flips down, showing the information. Click on the triangle again and it flips back up, hiding the information.
  • Disclosure Buttons - These are disclosure triangles inside buttons. Clicking one causes the dialog box or sheet the button is in to show or hide some extra options and controls.
  • Locks - Some windows contain settings that can only be modified by the administrator (owner) of your computer. These windows show little padlocks at the bottom. When the padlock is in the "locked" position, clicking the padlock asks you for your administrator password, which if entered correctly, will grant access to the administrator-only controls in the window. Clicking an unlocked padlock locks the controls again, so the next person who walks up to your Mac can't adjust any of the controls while you aren't looking.