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An annoying Address Book glitch

Tiger boxGiven my background with it, and its role in leading to an unexpected but welcomed career change, I’m clearly a fan of OS X. But sometimes, I really question the quality assurance (QA) testing that goes into the OS and its associated applications. Consider the following glitch I ran into yesterday with Address Book.

Address Book screenshotNow granted, I don’t run Address Book directly all that often–I usually just use it via Mail and the other programs to which its connected. But yesterday, I was trying to do something with my nearly my full contact list when I ran into a problem (not fatal to the task, but highly annoying). Here’s the problem: Address Book fails to save the scroll thumb location when unselecting entries from the Names list–but only when you’re unselecting entries from anywhere other than the first or last screenful of the list.

That actually sounds quite confusing, so I thought I’d demonstrate with a short movie. Click the image at left for a small version (182×174, 188KB) of the problem demonstration, or you can view the full-size version (364×548, 976KB) if you prefer. The clip first shows how unselects should work, by positioning the thumb at the top and the bottom of the list of names. It then shows what happens when the thumb is elsewhere.

To recreate the problem on your Mac, just follow these simple steps:

  1. Launch Address Book, click on any entry in the Names column, then hit Command-A to select all the names.
  2. Move the scroll thumb somewhere towards the middle of the list.
  3. Hold down Command and click any one name. Watch the scroll thumb leap back to the top of the list.
  4. Repeat ad infinitum.

As I noted, this isn’t a fatal bug–it just makes it much tougher to deselect a number of names after selecting all. The bug also doesn’t occur if you’re simply selecting names from the middle of the list; it’s only when you’re deselecting (though it doesn’t have to be from a Select All).

The bigger question is why do we see these types of glitches in many OS X programs? I probably launch Address Book about once a month, and yet it took only one relatively simple task to reveal a fairly obvious problem–how come a QA team didn’t spot it long before the program ever left the development lab?

4 Comments

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  1. You are right, this is an annoying bug, and I was able to replicate it on my machine.

    I’m guessing that the QA team would fail to catch this simply because there is no test to find it, which probably means there is no requirement, etc. etc. I’m sure if you submit the bug, a new test will be made.

    A lot can be said for the good old “click and click and click and figure out if you can mess up the program” sort of testing. I’ve seen it needed in many applications, but it is not repeatable so is not a typical test. It is really up to the developers and/or beta testers to notice this type of bug, IMO.

  2. I guess I would have assumed that all manner of select/unselects were part of a normal test suite, but perhaps not.

    One other thought/question … if Address Book is just using standard Cocoa routines, we should see this bug in other apps, shouldn’t we? I tried to replicate it in iTunes, but had no luck. So is Address Book using some custom scrolling code?

    -rob.

  3. At first glance, I thought this could be a cocoa framework issue, which would explain that bug’s absence in iTunes, which is still a carbon application, AFAIK. But then, I wasn’t able to reproduce a similar scrollbar jump in any other cocoa application either.

    So here’s my alternative, if highly speculative, interpretation: Address Book appears to contain a mechanism that’s intended to make a maximum number of selected items visible in the list’s enclosing scrolling area whenever the selection changes. And that mechanism uses the first selected item, which — after having pressed command-a — happens to be the first item in the list, as an anchor in settings such as the one you describe.

    (BTW, here’s a related issue: Go to the bottom of your list and select an item, then press command-a. See? By default, lists don’t jump in similar situations.)

    In fact, this whole thing reminds me of sensory (e.g., optical) illusions: Accidentally, you seem to have found a way to demask a mechanism that is both useful and more or less imperceptible in “real” life.

  4. Hi Rob,

    First of all, I would like to say: Thanks for all your work starting up and building the Macosxhints site. I find hints quite usefull and learn a great deal from the articles. Your comments bring up some thoughts that I associate with the user interface, it’s quirky nature, and annoyances.

    I love my Mac as well. My opinion is that the Mac represents the sweet spot of computing today. However, I continue to be dissapointed with it’s reliance on the mouse and doing things by hand. Your observation and frustration with the way group selections are done in the address book bring this to my mind.

    Personally, I also don’t like the fact that all of the keyboard combinations need to be memorized. I’m not a big fan of combinations like shift-Command-N to do who knows what. One of the things that MS Windows really got right from the start was the whole philosophy of being able to do everything from the keyboard and underlining the control key in the menus and dialogue boxes. Plus, the keyboard combinations (in windows) are done in a serial manner, not all at the same time. For example, in Windows, Press Alt, then press F, then press X, and you will exit any and all applications. I know about sticky keys feature of OS X, but you still have to memorize all those arcane combinations. (If you, or anyone else, happens to know about a utility that sets this up on a Mac, that would be a great tool.) Since the windows combinations come from the menu/label text, it’s not too difficult to pick up because each level leads you to the next one.

    The other thing I’ve noticed lately that I think is a bug, is that Mail.app treats each new label as a seperate entry in my address book. That is if I enter jane.doe@mac.com as Jane Doe, and then you copy me on the message to Jane, but you labeled her as “Jane Doe (home)” Mail/Address book seems to treat it as a seperate entry in my address book. Of course cojmputers aren’t as good at pattern recognition as people, and I can see some of the logic in that, bit there’s got to be a better way to handle it than acting like it’s a completely new email address. (Wouldn’t it be cool of the address book were build on a relational database model?)

    I guess these are more of my personal frustrations, but your original post reminds me that for as high as the Mac community holds the Mac, it’s default interface is too much tied to the single button mouse in my opinion.

    -jon

    p.s. Since I see that you’ve labeled this section as “OS X Rants and OS X Applications” maybe my post isn’t too off the mark.

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