Close or quit?

Something that has always intrigued† me about the MacOS user interface is the standard window closing behaviour. I assume it arises from a more rigid distinction between ‘application’ and ‘document’ than exists in Microsoft Windows, but to demonstrate it, try this:
  1. Open Safari.
  2. Close Safari's window using the red close button.
  3. Observe that Safari the application is still running—it just happens not to have any windows open at the moment.
Then, compare it with this (if you can):
  1. Open Microsoft Internet Explorer under some flavour of Windows.
  2. Close Internet Explorer's window using the close button.
  3. Observe that Internet Explorer has terminated.
Initially, I found the difference confronting, but probably only because I wasn't used to it. (I also think it's probably a little counterintuitive. Try explaining to a novice that Pages is still running even though they've saved and closed all their documents.) Of course, sometimes the MacOS behaviour is exactly the behaviour you want, and, after all, if you mean quit, hit Command-Q. Anyway, all of this is by way of introduction to something I just observed. I found an application that doesn't work the MacOS way, in that it quits when you close its window. Which application? Why, Microsoft Windows Media Player, of course.

† And, to be honest, by "intrigued" I mean "irritated".


  1. ah, yes but so does the OS 10.4 dictionary, calculator, DigitalColor Meter, Directory Access, Network Utility, VoiceOver Utility, etc. Sure these are utilities not used like applications and don't harbour multiple document windows... but still it is annoying and inconsistent. What about Installer or the System Profiler, how is the line drawn?

    I'd really like the dictionary to behave differently, I might attack the .plist when I find the time.

  2. Alright, you got me—I was just trying to take a cheap shot at Microsoft Windows while observing a behaviour of MacOS. I hadn't noticed the inconsistency among Apple's own applications and utilities. Interesting.

  3. Don't worry, I know it wasn't an attack. I really was just trying to take a cheap shot at Windows! Thanks for the further research on the issue.

  4. [Edit]

    I've been in both directions a few times. The first 'real' desktop environment I got used to was a friend's amiga and I was shocked to find that you could close some windows in Sim City but when you closed all of them you lost your game. Somewhat later I taught myself to use a mac classic in the library at school. It took me a while to work out the idea of application focus rather than window focus. Then the best part of a year later I ran into Windows 3 and adjusted to that..

    I've been back and forwards a few times. Amiga, Windows, OS/2, KDE and Gnome use the window-based approach. Mac Classic and Mac OS X operate on the application-approach.

    The mainstream window-based approach is the more sensible. It's more intuitive, it allows for greater consistency (as indicated by other posters the mac chooses to operate this way for single-window apps anyway). It also lends itself towards a window-based paging system instead of the application-based paging system that frustrates me in os x. I don't know what user testing led them to conclude that people would want to jump from (for example) all browser windows to all terminal windows but it was a bad decision.


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