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Is There a Solution for Focus-Hungry Apps?

Cliff posted about 8 years ago | from the well-behaved-windows dept.

131

V.Toulias asks: "Over the past few years, I have seen a rise in the percentage of applications installed in my Windows box that do not ask nicely for my attention but force themselves into view when they think they have something important to tell me. Mail clients that pop-up into view when a new email is sent or received, instant messengers that pop up when a new message arrives, browser pop-ups that... pop-up even though the page is loading in a 'background window', informational OS messages, It-seems-that-you're-writing-a-letter app helpers, security warnings and the list goes on. It doesn't take a science study to realize the adverse effects that this phenomenon is causing on your productivity and concentration. So, apart from the obvious suggestion of switching OS, is there any other solution to this disturbing trend?"

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131 comments

The Options Menu (5, Informative)

toleraen (831634) | about 8 years ago | (#15037306)

Most applications allow you to disable many of the pop-up stuff that you're talking about right in the options menu. Outlook has it for new email. MSN I believe has this feature (I use Trillian, but Windows Messenger has that option). I've never had Firefox pop up trying to steal attention...except for update I believe. Windows security warnings can all be disabled through the control panel. You can disable Clippy. Just look through the options menu. It's there, somewhere. If there isn't an option anywhere to disable it...google that specific app. There's probably a registry key you can mess with.

Re:The Options Menu (2, Insightful)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | about 8 years ago | (#15037518)

The update one for firefox is SO bad.

Last time I had an update it popped up with the default action set to Update.
It grabbed the focus whilst I was typing a comment like this and upgraded without my explicit consent.

I was VERY annoyed with that action.

The browser should be able to check for updates on startup only (I want the updates and to be told about them, just not in the middle of a session)

Re:The Options Menu (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15037860)

I started up the so-so "paint .net" program last night. Before I even had a chance to paste my clipboard into a window, it had determined that not only was there an update available, everything I wanted to do was secondary and it MUST be downloaded! Oh, then it decided the old paint .net had to be uninstalled! Then the new one installed! It did all this automatically! 15 minutes later, I was finally looking at paint .net 2.6.00001 or whatever, and was finally able to paste my clipboard. Fucking idiots.

Re:The Options Menu (1)

Yaztromo (655250) | about 8 years ago | (#15039232)

The browser should be able to check for updates on startup only (I want the updates and to be told about them, just not in the middle of a session)

I'm not sure if that, on its own, would be a good solution. What about those of us who rarely restart Firefox? Yes -- we exist :). I restart Firefox once a week at most (it doesn't seem to leak memory as badly on Mac OS X as I hear it does on other platforms, and I have gobs of RAM installed :) ), and there are probably times where two weeks or more have passed between my Firefox restarts.

As software becomes more reliable, the need to restart becomes more infrequent, so timing important functions (like updates) to start-up time becomes less and less useful, so other mechanisms need to be put in place. That said, it doesn't mean that they couldn't change the alert mechanism to something that doesn't pop-up in another window or steal focus, or that they couldn't make this sort of thing into a preference. to remove the annoyance factor of yet another pop-up dialog at unexpected times.

Yaz.

Re:The Options Menu (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | about 8 years ago | (#15039266)

I understand exactly what you mean, and thats why I want the option to do it.
Think about this though, how many times do you click a URL from outside, or from an email or other application firing up an instance of a browser.
Those times you are expected to not be typing and could be considered as startup, however just popping whilst I am sitting on a page is the wrong thing to do.

Re:The Options Menu (1)

Yaztromo (655250) | about 8 years ago | (#15039356)

Think about this though, how many times do you click a URL from outside, or from an email or other application firing up an instance of a browser.

I can honestly say: never. The web browser tends to be the first thing I load when I log into my system (and as I'm the only user of the system, I virtually never log out, unless it is either to reboot the machine, or to force FileVault to recover free space in my home directory, both of which are extremely rare. Otherwise I put my system to sleep when I'm not using it, which password locks it for security). Firefox is always running here, so other applications never have to start it -- it's already there and knows how to act as a URL handler.

All that said -- I agree it should be an option for those (like yourself) who need it. Just so long as it isn't the default :).

Yaz.

Power toys (5, Informative)

Nightspirit (846159) | about 8 years ago | (#15037318)

Go to the microsoft website and download the power toys, I believe the program is called Tweak UI. Here you can adjust focus settings and get rid of that stupid yellow balloon that keeps popping up.

Re:Power toys (1)

croddy (659025) | about 8 years ago | (#15037356)

Yes. The Tweak UI tool will allow you to click a setting that offers to prevent applications from stealing focus, but I'm not sure what they think that's doing.

The problem, really, is that Windows doesn't really have a window manager, which is why virtual desktop tools and focus settings pretty much end up being ugly hacks.

Re:Power toys (1)

slavemowgli (585321) | about 8 years ago | (#15037865)

What, you believe that changing focus settings in TweakUI actually does anything useful? How I wish I still was that naive. >_>

Re:Power toys (1)

Planesdragon (210349) | about 8 years ago | (#15038043)

psst... if you're too ignorant to realise either how to use TweakUI or what the meaning of "useful" is, then you shouldn't be posting on /.

Re:Power toys (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15038317)

Um nice try troll. The XP Tweak UI focus feature plainly doesn't work. MSN Messenger will happily grab focus from IE during when you start Messenger, even though IE is open 1st & focused the entire time. Once started Messenger plays nice, but until then it doesn't. Ditto Outlook & IE they both happily steal focus as they are starting up.

You my trolling friend have never used a computer just after its started up or you are one of those morons who lets messenger startup with windows.

Re:Power toys (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15038399)

pssst... if you need TweakUI to make your OS usable, you should start looking for a different OS. As a matter of fact, if you're on Windows, you should be looking for a replacement OS.

Linux if your computer is still in good shape,
a new Mac if it's time to buy a new computer.

BTW, anyone putting someone else down for not figuring out how to use a microsoft technology should be shot.

That's about the dumbest thing I've heard, someone trying to act superior because they are familiar with a Windows technology. A Windows technology!

Ha, sorry, but you're the loser here. If you keep using Windows, there's really no point in you posting to slashdot, as you obviously do nothing to further creative discussion and only to taint it with crap.

You sure love that MS koolaid. You probably support Bush as well.

clap! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15039362)

clap!
clap!
clap!
clap!

Re:Power toys (1)

NeMon'ess (160583) | about 8 years ago | (#15040526)

You mean like how I need extensions to make Firefox usable? Should I start looking for a new browser?

BTW, what flavor is your anti-MS koolaid? Because you're on a fucking sugar rush from it.

Re:Power toys (1)

Copy, Paste, Repeat (965073) | about 8 years ago | (#15042750)

Yes, and you should start by looking at Safari. I'm dead serious. Firefox is a criminally bloated, aesthetically wretched turd compared to Safari.

Re:Power toys (1)

NeMon'ess (160583) | about 8 years ago | (#15043003)

Can Safari:
  • block adds
  • run .gifs only once or not at all
  • keep pages from opening a blank tab when I click on a media file that opens in a separate player
  • block Flash animations from running until I click on them
  • integrate iTunes into the browser interface
  • let me right-click on a picture and adjust the zoom
  • let me open batches of pictures in new tabs or all in one tab instead of having to manually open them
  • do mouse gestures
  • reskin /. like I can with Slashdotter to avoid seeing the evil pink today
  • give me total control of how tabs and new windows open like how I can with Tabbrowser Extensions

?


BTW from personal experience, the only thing more bloated or as bloated as Firefox is iTunes.

Re:Power toys (1)

Copy, Paste, Repeat (965073) | about 8 years ago | (#15043037)

Yes, though some of those will require plugins. Can a stock installation of Firefox do all those things?

Re:Power toys (1)

NeMon'ess (160583) | about 8 years ago | (#15043215)

Everything on the list? Then I'm impressed.

Of course a stock installation of Firefox can't do those. But my original point was that Tweak UI makes Windows more usable, just as extensions make FF more usable.

Re:Power toys (1)

Copy, Paste, Repeat (965073) | about 8 years ago | (#15043253)

Making Windows more usable with Tweak UI: Polishing a turd.
Making Firefox more usable with extensions: Garnishing a rotten egg.

Re:Power toys (1)

NeMon'ess (160583) | about 8 years ago | (#15043339)

Safari, still needs extensions for usability.

iTunes: crippled by Apple's arrogance that power users should be limited to a newbie interface so nobody get's confused.

gotta run, but I can detail plenty of flaws in iTunes when I get back.

Re:Power toys (1)

Verteiron (224042) | about 8 years ago | (#15038492)

Funny, I think that changing the focus settings in TweakUI does something useful because.. uhm.. it DOES. Since I set it up months ago, I have not had an inactive app wrest the focus away from the active one. Not even once. Instead, the app that wants attention just blinks in the taskbar.

If it is not working for you, then you have either not configured it right, or there is something more seriously wrong with your OS.

Re:Power toys (1)

cunkel (111089) | about 8 years ago | (#15038050)

Speaking of the TweakUI powertool, here's my problem: I use TweakUI to set focus-follows-mouse behaviour in Windows. That way I can have a VNC session cast from a Linux open full-screen on one monitor. With click-to-focus, I'd have to click twice to get focus on a window inside the VNC session: once to get VNC the focus, and once to get the window on my X desktop the focus. With focus-follows-mouse, Windows focus follows the mouse into VNC, and X focus follows the mouse into xterm.

The problem is this: lots of Windows applications seem to behave really badly with focus follows mouse. They automatically raise and lower themselves (VNC, documents inside Photoshop). They randomly lose focus (Adobe Bridge). Operations can't be completed because the pop-up context menu extends over some other window, so the app loses focus immediately after selecting an option, and then decides to abort the op because it lost the focus.

There's probably no real solution to this, because almost nobody is testing their apps with this TweakUI option set. I have a feeling that most of the apps that behave badly are actually responding to events in an improper, if usually harmless, way.

Re:Power toys (1)

reanjr (588767) | about 8 years ago | (#15043187)

Same experience here. My main annoyance is VS.NET, which brings itself forward when it gains focus. I have acquired a habit of moving the mouse to where an app window is going to pop up when I do compile-run so that VS doesn't get focus.

As for the context menu problem, it's an annoyance, but I've always been able to get them to work properly by never moving the mouse out of the context menu. With Combo dropdowns (depending on the app), after clicking the arrow, I have to move directly down to the drop down menu and cannot cross the main combo text area or it closes the dropdown.

I have sent in a bug report to MS for VS, hopefully it's something other people complain about and they'll fix it.

Apps are certainly handling messages in a non-standard manner, though it's up for grabs whether this could be called improper behavior or just design problems.

Switching your OS (0, Troll)

Ponga (934481) | about 8 years ago | (#15037323)

Obviously!

Re:Switching your OS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15037357)

Or feeding them! tehehe!

Re: Switching your OS (1)

Ponga (934481) | about 8 years ago | (#15037371)

Seriously though, thats really a function of the app in question. If you don't like the app, then switch! An obvious complaint from the M$ crowd is, "but I need Office!" Thats why there is Open Office [openoffice.org]
And similarly, there exists alternatives to mostly every other app out there. You don't like it, then switch!

Terminal-Based Applications (2, Funny)

hahafaha (844574) | about 8 years ago | (#15037324)

If you have a Linux box either with X or without to connect to, then do it (install X on the Windows box first, if necessary). X programs tend to work much nicer.

Or, just don't use X at all. Install a program like screen to manage terminal applications, and then use them instead.

You can also install Cygwin and use it. There are replacements for nearly everything.

mutt/pine for email
lynx/w3m for web
emacs/vim for editing
etc.

Much nicer and faster, in my opinion.

Thanks for playing; join us next time in reality (1)

Money for Nothin' (754763) | about 8 years ago | (#15040481)

...sure, we'll do that at work, just as soon as we can find a Lotus Notes implementation in Emacs (oh wait, the Emacs OS does groupware, doesn't it?).

Seriously, if you think for a minute any even semi-normal person is going to browse the web with Lynx, you're crazy. Nobody works out of a mainframe session anymore; nobody has login access solely on beefy Unix boxes. 95% of the world uses Windows; some 80% or so use IE. The reality is that except for a very few exceptions, the world moved beyond the life led at a command-prompt and a no-mouse text UI for day-to-day purposes. Backwards-compatibility with old mainframes, sure -- but most office workers, to say nothing of consumers, do not operate out of mainframe terminals.

Join us next time in reality when you've been tossed a nickel and bought yourself a better computer. ("Better", meaning, better than a P90 recovered from the dumpster at a student's dormitory 7 years ago, now running Linux.)

SetFocus(), oh how I hate thee. (3, Insightful)

hal2814 (725639) | about 8 years ago | (#15037382)

The single most annoying thing to me as far as GUIs on any system is when I'm trying to type or click something and some self-important GUI app steals my focus and pops up on top of what I'm working on. I'd be happy with a GUI system that would let me replace SetFocus (or whatever they call the equivalent) with a big fat no-op.

The second thing I'd like to do is disable those stupid XP security warnings the poster talks about.

So far, I haven't been able to find a way to do either.

Re:SetFocus(), oh how I hate thee. (1)

milgr (726027) | about 8 years ago | (#15037507)

I'd be happy with a GUI system that would let me replace SetFocus (or whatever they call the equivalent) with a big fat no-op.
X will let you do that. If there isn't a property to do it, you can always modify the source, build it, and install your version.

The joys of OSS.

Re:SetFocus(), oh how I hate thee. (1)

rsborg (111459) | about 8 years ago | (#15037532)

I'd be happy with a GUI system that would let me replace SetFocus (or whatever they call the equivalent) with a big fat no-op.

This sounds great, but would probably have major impact to the usability of everything in windows. From my understanding of Win32API, this would break about 90% of what's written out there. Perhaps you could get away with ignoring SetFocus where the windowHandle referenced wasn't in some way related to what you were working on... but that seems costly.

Re:SetFocus(), oh how I hate thee. (1)

(H)elix1 (231155) | about 8 years ago | (#15037646)

The second thing I'd like to do is disable those stupid XP security warnings the poster talks about.

Download the PowerToy "TweakUI" from Microsoft, uncheck "Enable balloon tips" on the "Taskbar" option.

Re:SetFocus(), oh how I hate thee. (1)

jawtheshark (198669) | about 8 years ago | (#15043130)

Anything TweakUI does is change some registry settings. Tell me what registry settings I need to change, and I do not need TweakUI....

Re:SetFocus(), oh how I hate thee. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15038022)

To disable the XP security warnings double click the red shield that is warning you. On the left there is a panel and one of the links is "Change the way that security center alerts me" or something like that. Uncheck the checkboxes in there and it won't bother you anymore.

Re:SetFocus(), oh how I hate thee. (1)

Fweeky (41046) | about 8 years ago | (#15038294)

"The second thing I'd like to do is disable those stupid XP security warnings the poster talks about."

Control Panel -> Admin Tools -> Services, set Security Center to Disabled.

For those annoying focus stealing reboot reminders, stop the Automatic Updates service from the same place when rebooting isn't desirable.

Re:SetFocus(), oh how I hate thee. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15041390)

Win98 actually tried to do just that. SetForegroundWindow was given a fairly complicated set of rules for when it can be used to steal your input focus. The taskbar now flashes when an application is denied permission to SetForeground. Apparently the effort wasn't completely successful, but things are definately better than in the Win95/NT4 days.

Use the force! (1)

mattpointblank (936343) | about 8 years ago | (#15037390)

What really got me lately was playing older apps, in this case Lucasart's Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, that can't recover from a minimise to desktop (eg, you can't click back onto them and resume gameplay). I'd be midway through assaulting the Imperal Construction Yards when Windows Update would popup, stealing focus to tell me to restart. 20 minutes later, same story. Man, if Microsoft existed during the Rebellion, we'd all be under the thumb of the Empire.

Re:Use the force! (1)

Kennego (963972) | about 8 years ago | (#15038039)

If that Windows Update crap bothers you again in the future, run the following command (Start->Run):
sc stop wuauserv
Unlike trying to close the process with task manager, this kills the service that's generating that process, and it doesn't come back until you use "sc start wuauserv" or restart your computer.

two monitors (4, Insightful)

russellh (547685) | about 8 years ago | (#15037397)

Use two monitors, and do your real work on the secondary screen.

I assume you're talking about Windows. This happens on the Mac to some extent, usually when launching apps - eg when I launch Mail then switch back to the app I was using, of course, new windows in Mail throw themselves on the top. This was not a problem in classic Mac OS which enforced application level window layers, which - to be perfectly honest - I prefer for this very reason.

But I've found two monitors do the trick.

Re:two monitors (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15037564)

iTunes periodically does this as well, if it gets errors download podcasts or some random amount of time 5-30 seconds after docking an iPod. Bad Apple, no bisquit. I hope they stop doing this before it becomes accepted behavior by other Mac developers as well.

Re:two monitors (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | about 8 years ago | (#15037574)

To a large extent, I agree with you. If you actually understand your computer and know what's going on, having each app and it's windows "compartmentalized" like this can be a very useful thing. Of course, I also like being able to have two windows from different apps open next to each other with a slew of other windows belonging to different apps behind them. It'd be nice if this were an advanced-user feature that could be toggled on or off.

Re:two monitors (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15037672)

> This happens on the Mac to some extent, usually when launching apps - eg when I launch Mail then switch back to the app I was using, of course, new windows in Mail throw themselves on the top

And this is a pity because it was not happening on NeXTstep. An application that finished launching was automatically put into focus UNLESS the user set the focus to any other app during the launch time (because I think Dock.app was getting the focus during hte launch).

App stealing focus is one of the most irritating thing ever. Web pages too (Load page, start typing in a field, then oooops, it moves to another, or just select the whole field)

Even better (1)

Theatetus (521747) | about 8 years ago | (#15037699)

Use one monitor, and use a window managing system that allows virtual desktops (I like Windowmaker, personally). Then tell your window manager to keep new windows in the same desktop as their parent, and notify you of their existence via the appropriate mechanism (system tray, zenity-like translucent no-focus popup, scrolling OSD, etc.)

Focus stealing is one of the reasons I find the Windows GUI essentially unusable.

Re:Even better (1)

russellh (547685) | about 8 years ago | (#15038172)

I liked the virtual desktop setup that I had back in about 1995 I think. was it fvwm? Nothing since then has worked for me, including (especially) the various ones for OS 9 and X. I'm too much of a visual guy to hide stuff too much though, and as much as I'd hate to admit it, I think virtual desktops would work better for me with animated switching between them that gave a sense of space.

Re:Even better (1)

Theatetus (521747) | about 8 years ago | (#15039627)

I'm too much of a visual guy to hide stuff too much though, and as much as I'd hate to admit it, I think virtual desktops would work better for me with animated switching between them that gave a sense of space.

I don't see any shame in admitting that. Try Enlightenment; they have very "tactile" switching.

Re:two monitors (1)

Brandybuck (704397) | about 8 years ago | (#15038064)

I never have this problem in OSX Mail. I just close the window when I'm done reading my current mail. The app is still running in the background, but there is no window to pop up. I get a audible ding when new mail arrives. Opening up a new window is instant.

This isn't like Outlook, where you have to keep it running minimized because it takes so damned long to start, and there's no other way to alert you to new mail.

Re:two monitors (1)

russellh (547685) | about 8 years ago | (#15038134)

I happen to be just terrible at managing my email. hundreds of emails in my inbox, and frequently quit Mail with email message windows open. So I could solve this specific problem with better user habits, it's true. Though the general point of windows of background apps barging in on my quality time in another application still happens. But not nearly to the extent the OP describes.

Re:two monitors (1)

scdeimos (632778) | about 8 years ago | (#15040351)

Use two monitors, and do your real work on the secondary screen. ... But I've found two monitors do the trick.

I think you speaketh s**t, my friend. I have two monitors on my XP workstation at work (complete with Tweak UI). Logging in when I arrive I'll be in the midst of typing my Outlook password on one screen while RDP windows pop-up on the other (so far, so good: focus stays where it should), but the first RDP window to get a login prompt from a remote server steals focus from the Outlook login prompt. Works every time, 100% guaranteed. And very annoying.

So don't install crap (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15037401)

Dear slashdot,

I installed 250 taskbar programs into my startup folder and now my computer takes forever to start. Does anybody know a way to make my Windows pee-cee start faster or should I just drive a spike through my head?

Learn how to use the OS you're running now... (-1, Troll)

Beatbyte (163694) | about 8 years ago | (#15037439)

TweakUI from MS is free and can keep apps from doing that. Configuring software correctly can keep them from doing that.

No wonder digg is now more popular than /.

This is garbage. Give me a break.

Re:Learn how to use the OS you're running now... (1)

hal2814 (725639) | about 8 years ago | (#15037539)

This isn't a matter of "correct" or "incorrect." It's a matter of personal preference. That it requires you to download a tool that doesn't come with the OS to configure the OS's built-in GUI behavior is sheer lunacy. Microsoft doesn't even do a lot to mention TweakUI so most people don't even know it exists. For all the crap that Microsoft does bundle into the OS ditro, you'd think they'd actually put something useful like TweakUI into the mix for you.

Re:Learn how to use the OS you're running now... (1)

LunaticTippy (872397) | about 8 years ago | (#15037978)

There's something to be said for uniform behaviour for non-expert users. The kind of user who uses TweakUI would only use support as a last resort, and knows how to navigate around. The kind of user who has trouble finding the start button won't be able to change the UI. Which makes troubleshooting over the phone possible.

If my mother were able to dink around with settings easily I'd have to change my number instead of firing up my "straight windows" box and telling her exactly what to do.

Can the bleeping thing! (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about 8 years ago | (#15037455)

part from the obvious suggestion of switching OS, is there any other solution to this disturbing trend?

Just think how much nicer life would be without a computer.

1. No pesky RIAA lawsuits.
2. No broadband bill.
3. No losing your life savings to pesky phishers.
4. No worrying about hackers stealing you megahertz.

and yes,

No annoying pop-ups.

Re:Can the bleeping thing! (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 8 years ago | (#15038016)

Just think how much nicer life would be without a computer.

1. No pesky RIAA lawsuits.
2. No broadband bill.
3. No losing your life savings to pesky phishers.
4. No worrying about hackers stealing you megahertz.

and yes,

No annoying pop-ups.

No e-mail
No pr0n (well, less pr0n)
No web
No google to resolve all factual queries and read news
No real-time stock quotes
No internet banking
No way to make my MP3s
No way to learn about Snakes On a Plane [google.ca]
No internet dating

As much of a pest computers can occasionally be, the sheer number of every-day uses I have for computers and the web has become absolutely huge.

Most of us can never cut the cord at this point.

Cheers

Re:Can the bleeping thing! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15040641)

No slashdot

AOL IM is the worst (1)

ToxikFetus (925966) | about 8 years ago | (#15037462)

For years I refused to switch from ICQ to IM just because of this abhorrent behavior (that, and how it inserted shortcuts in 10 or 15 different places). Eventually, all my friends migrated to IM and I didn't have much of a choice. To this day, the forced popup windows bug the hell out of me, but I can get around it with 3rd party clients.

Re:AOL IM is the worst (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15037683)

Did you know that ICQ and AIM users can now directly talk to each other?

Re:AOL IM is the worst (1)

Lesson No. 25 (825485) | about 8 years ago | (#15037712)

For years I refused to switch from ICQ to IM just because of this abhorrent behavior (that, and how it inserted shortcuts in 10 or 15 different places). Eventually, all my friends migrated to IM and I didn't have much of a choice. To this day, the forced popup windows bug the hell out of me, but I can get around it with 3rd party clients.
Try Gaim [sourceforge.net]. It's an open source client that works on the aim network.

OSS? (1)

thegrassyknowl (762218) | about 8 years ago | (#15037492)

Use OSS software and take out all the popup features.

That said, I don't have that problem except for the occasional webpage that forces a new browser window in a way that adblock, noscript and Firefox can't stop (don't ask, I don't know). Everything on my Linux box stays nicely hidden except when I need it!

Why not switch your OS? (0, Offtopic)

BigZaphod (12942) | about 8 years ago | (#15037543)

I understand that you wanted solutions that don't involve switching your OS, but why not entertain some of those, as well? It must not be quite annoying enough to you yet if you won't consider the one move that could probably fix the problem. On Mac OS X it is just about impossible to have this problem. I can't recall a single app off the top of my head that has ever stolen the focus from me since I switched platforms a couple years ago. (that doesn't mean it hasn't happened - but at the least it is so rare that I can't think of an incident right now)

Re:Why not switch your OS? (1)

Julian Morrison (5575) | about 8 years ago | (#15037848)

Not to mention, KDE's window manager has active focus-stealing prevention. Linux apps can misbehave, but the WM will slap them down and refuse to comply.

It really does matter if you "own" the OS or merely "rent" it.

Re:Why not switch your OS? (1)

Greyfox (87712) | about 8 years ago | (#15037914)

OSX apps are somewhat better about this than Windows ones, it's true, but OSX isn't as good as X11 in this area. With focus follows mouse enabled in a good window manager, this simply does not happen in X. Nor have I ever run across a modal or system modal dialog in X -- something that is still shows up enough to be annoying in OSX.

A lot of the worst of it can be resolved through settings in various programs -- if you use something like GAIM for instant messaging and beat outlook into submission your desktop should be mostly free of apps that pull this crap. I also set some registry entry or other for focus follows mouse. That still doesn't allow you to avoid modal and system modal dialogs, but it does make the interface at least somewhat less painful to use.

very simple solution (0, Offtopic)

Danny Rathjens (8471) | about 8 years ago | (#15037603)

Upgrade to linux and/or open source software which rarely behaves so rudely and often has features to prevent others from doing so.

This isn't just a cop-out answer; I'm quite serious. You are essentially complaining about lack of control over what your software does. Well, take control of it!

Re:very simple solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15038138)

wow what a great idea. what's next? you'll tell me if i don't like bush i should just move to australia?

Re:very simple solution (1)

Danny Rathjens (8471) | about 8 years ago | (#15039110)

No. I'd tell you to get involved in politics. With the added bonus that politics are already partly open source. :)

Incidentally, an offtopic moderation for suggesting open source software?! /. sure has changed in the last few years. :) I think that is the first negative moderation I've received since the moderation system was introduced.

Re:very simple solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15039236)

I'd try votingin a better president next time.

the one that gets me (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | about 8 years ago | (#15037604)

The one that bugs me the most is when an application errors during launch and the error window is tucked away behind the stalled splashscreen window-that-isn't-really-a-window. Depending on the app and depending on what type of error it is, you can sometimes alt-tab to the error message (cos it sometimes doesn't get an icon in the taskbar) or you usually just have to kill it in the task manager. Ugh!

Re:the one that gets me (1)

corsec67 (627446) | about 8 years ago | (#15038727)

Acrobat does that quite often. You open a PDF in a tab, and go on to other tabs, and then Acrobat's "Hello! I am acrobat" dialog box gets put under all of your other windows, sometimes freezing the browser, but definitly freezing acrobat.

That is really annoying, especially when the dialog box contains absolutly no useful information.

Re:the one that gets me (1)

Jesus_666 (702802) | about 8 years ago | (#15039482)

One of the reasons why I consider splash screens a GUI design flaw. If the window caption and GUI is not enough to tell people which program they just started the problem probably doesn't lie within the program.

Re:the one that gets me (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | about 8 years ago | (#15040653)

try foxit reader, it's much better than acrobat i have been using it for months with no problems at all and much faster loading of PDFs

it also doesn't try to register as a browser plugin leaving you with two sets of toolbars and a notecard's worth of space to read your PDF.

Use FVWM (0, Offtopic)

linuxkrn (635044) | about 8 years ago | (#15037611)

In FVWM you can apply "GrabFocusOff" style to those nasty apps. Then you don't have to worry. I did this with gaim so if it wanted to popup a disconnect or new im window it wouldn't steal my focus.

use better apps (1)

davez0r (717539) | about 8 years ago | (#15037737)

firefox 1.5 shows those "cannot find server" messages in the tab that's trying to load the page (a huge improvement)

gaim opens new IM conversations in a new tab

clippy is not a feature of open office (although the little lightbulb clipart popup thing is both ugly and a little annoying)

outlook just puts a little letter icon next to my clock when i get an email

WinXP Security Warnings (1)

frink_exp (647091) | about 8 years ago | (#15037830)

You can disable the security warnings in Windows XP without using TweakUI/PowerToys.

This applies to Service Pack 2, I believe:
In Control Panel -> Security Center, in the left-hand panel labeled "Resources", click the option labeled "Change the way Security Center alerts me". In the dialog box that opens, uncheck all the options.

It's more than just an annoyance (4, Insightful)

aminorex (141494) | about 8 years ago | (#15037850)

It's not just an annoyance, it's a bug. For example, when I'm executing a complex keyboard operation, and a dialog pops up and steals my focus, a bunch of work may have been destroyed. It's a security issue as well. When I'm filling in a password (or having one filled in for me by automation), and an instant messenger suddenly pops up, taking those keystrokes, its a sordid tale of woe. No alert should ever take focus unless it's of the "core meltdown, imminent mass casualties" variety.

One could write an app which monitors keystrokes and tracks focus, which calculates focus independently of the window manager, and detects any discrepancies, and corrects them as soon as possible, but it will still leak events sometimes, inevitably, unless it acts as a translation filter and checks at every event for correct focus.

Re:It's more than just an annoyance (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15040188)

>

My attitude is:
Unless the universe and time itself will cease to exist unless I personally take action in the next five minutes, do not take my focus.

NEVER move the mouse pointer.

Re:It's more than just an annoyance (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | about 8 years ago | (#15040663)

for just that reason i have gaim text replacement to auto-star out my credit card number and various passwords, if someone has user level access with full credentials in order to read my NTFS encrypted %user%\.gaim\ directory i am pretty much pwned anyways, and i have almost entered sensative info into a chat, which is what caused me to implement this in the first place

( what was that ) O o . (1)

VGfort (963346) | about 8 years ago | (#15037883)

I hate it when they have something important to say (quite rare) and then they dissappear. Then I have to go into the event log and see what it said.

Re:( what was that ) O o . (2, Interesting)

Procyon101 (61366) | about 8 years ago | (#15038254)

Best is in mid-password... Here I am clacking away, and hit enter, just in time to notice that no password has been entered, and some window just dissapeared on my enter stroke... what was that, a benevolent warning message or did I just IM some random guy from egypt my password? I'll never know.

Symptom of a larger problem (5, Insightful)

cunkel (111089) | about 8 years ago | (#15038196)

The popups and focus stealing are a symptom of a larger problem: application authors assume you bought a computer just to run their application.

  • You bought a computer just so that you could run AIM, so of course it should notify you loudly whenever something "interesting" happens.

  • You bought a computer just so that you could run MS Office, so of course it should hang around in memory all the time so that it will start faster.

  • You bought a computer just so that you could run Java applets, so of course there should be a program running all the time that checks for updates to the Java runtime. Also there should be a little coffee cup in the tray, right?

  • You bought a computer just so you could read PDFs, so Adobe Reader ought to install icons on your desktop, and in the root of the start menu. Never mind that you always open a PDF by double clicking on it, or automatically inside a web browser, and so you will never actually open Adobe Reader directly.

  • You bought a computer just so that you have something to scan for viruses, so of course McAfee virus scanner better tell you when it updates its virus definitions.

...didn't you?

This is why I like Linux & also other OSS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15041479)

This is why I like Linux & also other OSS. None of that shit. Not to mention that nothing forces you to upgrade to a newer version. Nothing has disabled features only available in the Pro version, and of course the application notifies you of this at every turn. Etc.

OS X and Textwrangler (1)

aftk2 (556992) | about 8 years ago | (#15038268)

This seems to be the perfect place to ask this question: OS X is generally pretty good about this, but there are some notable exceptions. For example, I use Barebones's Textwrangler in conjunction with the FTP client Transmit. Frequently, I'll be browsing a remote FTP listing through Transmit, wish to edit some text files, and double-click them. Then, I want to continue browsing the server, all while double-clicking more text files, while Textwrangler opens them silently in the background.

This, unfortunately, is not as easy to do as it should be. Textwrangler steals focus every time a new document opens. Is there any way to fix it? I'm willing to entertain anything short of a Haxie/Kernel Extension to fix this problem. It's also entirely possible that there's some preference in Textwrangler's horribly designed preferences dialog that will fix this problem of which I'm just unaware (although I'd be surprised at that, since I've wanted to fix this for a very long time.)

AttachThreadInput (1)

Jimekai (938123) | about 8 years ago | (#15038480)

TweakUI's focus option is useful for preventing apps from stealing focus while you are in the middle of typing but there are times when TweakUI becomes a pain because it means you have to click to bring say a needed volume slider into focus. I recently discovered the AttachThreadInput function and now I use this to make certain controls steal the focus regardless of what TweakUI's settings are. This is the best of both worlds for a developer.

Pain in the bottom (4, Interesting)

xtieburn (906792) | about 8 years ago | (#15038537)

Focus stealing is a royal pain in the arse. Not only in the O/S but on web pages such as dictionary.com which likes to select the whole word youve half typed in to the box so that as you continue to type you wipe out the first half.

Anyhow a couple of points.

1. TweakUI does _not_ stop focus stealing. It tries to help but there are many apps and messages that slip through.
2. Swapping application is _not_ always viable. Either the alternative will cost a lot of cash or there is no open source equivalent that doesnt have the problem just as bad.

and a couple of opinions.

1. Focus stealing has _no_ purpose accept possibly to stress how utterly arrogant the developer was in thinking that his program is more important than what I am doing.
2. It _is_ an O/S issue. Im not so sure how bad it is with Linux and Mac's but Windows is a pain for it and it can cause serious problems. If your firewall or virus scanner gets an incorrect selection made because it pops up while your typing, thats a serious issue. It is no different to malicious emails and popups which MS try to stamp out. It wouldnt be hard for them to stop focus stealing altogether or even better have an option like in TweakUI only one that actually works fully.

Despite a lot of people being a little on the self superior side about this, as if your an idiot for having the problem. I dont believe there is currently any satisfactory way to stop it. Even if the suggestions ive read did work changing apps, changing O/S, using TweakUI etc etc. Non of it should be necessary. A little tick box should suffice.

(Maybe I have selective memory but I am fairly sure this problem is getting increasingly prevelant. I dont remeber much about Win9x doing it, I remember 2k doing it very infrequently. People really shouldnt have to put up with it at all.)

Re:Pain in the bottom (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | about 8 years ago | (#15040670)

hmm... since a virus scanner really does sometimes have to interrupt the user, perhapse something combining the firefox focus timer to prevent ninja-clicks (window pops with button under your mouse as you click) and some sort of system to prevent accidental unwanted keyboard input, perhaps something that must be traced out with the mouse similar to the Castlevania DS seals, except made hard to screw up but impossible to accidentally complete while doing something else and not paying attention to the screen

YES - Tweak UI from Microsoft (1)

yow2000 (763256) | about 8 years ago | (#15039079)

"Prevent applications from stealing focus" check box
(taskbar icon will flash instead)

Download TweakUI (from MSN somewhere - google for it)
Under "General", select "Focus" in the menu-tree, top of screen is the above checkbox.

You can also get X-windows style focus and heaps of other cutomizations.

allways on top (0, Flamebait)

BinLadenMyHero (688544) | about 8 years ago | (#15039315)

What about set the window you are working to be 'allways on top'?

There are some free keyboard shortcut utilities for windows around that let you assign a hotkey to toggle ontopness of the current window.

I solved that problem at work by... (1)

rnturn (11092) | about 8 years ago | (#15039653)

... using Windows a little as possible. I found the incessant interruptions from windows popping up at odd times totally unacceptable for doing anything that required any degree of concentration (coding, sysadmin tasks, etc.). Even if I could disable the pop-ups for, say, "a new email has arrived" -- which always had me grumbling "BFD! Email isn't a paging service!" -- there were the third-party applications that insist on popping up some darned window imploring me to upgrade or something or other. Even worse than the applications, though, is the IM software that everyone seems to want to have running all the time. Like phone calls, walk-ups, and your neighbor's phone calls are distractions enough.

I found a 2-port KVM and a Linux box on my desk to be the best solution to unwanted software interruptions. I can switch to The Beast a few times a day to do the things that absolutely must be done using that atrocity and spend the remainder of the time getting some real work done. Worth a try if you can swing it.

Fortunately for me, my work is 90+% UNIX-related and much of it cannot be easily done without odd software packages that the desktop support people wouldn't be able to support. (For those folks, Reflection X is considered an oddball app.) They're actually glad not to have me bugging them about those tools and I'm glad to not have to worry about the darned things getting clobbered by service packs, AV software, or the periodic reimaging that always seems to be necessary on a typical corporate PC.

Ratpoison (1)

(1+-sqrt(5))*(2**-1) (868173) | about 8 years ago | (#15039920)

Ratpoison [nongnu.org] is by autists, for autists; to quote from whose founder:
The reason you want to avoid the rodent is that when your coding while chemically modified you will want to minimize any possible distraction or break in concentration. The slightest wavering in your attention will easily explode into a ten minute setback. If you can keep yourself on-track then I find that productivity is greatly increased, and with the properly trained mindset bug density on first pass is usually drastically decreased.

Easy solution: Switch (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15040460)

In Mac OS X, well-behaved apps show that they need your attention by bouncing the Dock icon a few times (even if the dock is hidden, the icon pops up a few dozen pixels from the bottom of the screen) and, depending on the app, might make an error sound. Poorly behaved apps steal focus and annoy you, but those are easy enough to delete (just drag them to the trash can) and replace with something better. It's one of the small features of Mac OS X that makes me hate using Windows, because everything keeps trying to interrupt me while I work. OS X does make you a spoiled brat.
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