The perils of focus-stealing

Today I was working on a couple of remote systems from my Mac. First, I was working on an Xserve, to which I had connected via Screen Sharing (Apple’s built-in VNC client in Mac OS X). Secondly, I was working on a Linux virtual machine via the vSphere client running on a Windows 2003 server. I had connected to this Windows box via MS Remote Desktop. I had to reboot the Xserve to install updates, and while I was waiting for the VNC connection to be reestablished, I switched over to the RDC session and started working on the Linux VM.

I opened a terminal window and started working—downloading code, compiling it, etc. I was halfway through typing a command when all of a sudden it seemed as though the space bar had become stuck. I don’t write this because the space bar was physically stuck; it just seemed that way because in the Linux console, the command line was filling with spaces. I quickly typed Control-C, but nothing happened. The spaces continued to appear, many tens per second, until the first half of the command I had typed had scrolled off the top of the terminal window. What was going on?

It was then that I realized that the VNC session had been re-established to the rebooted Xserve, and that Screen Sharing had stolen focus, forcing itself to the foreground, albeit on another display. Screen Sharing must have stolen focus between the time when I pressed the space bar down and the time when I released it. The remote box I’d been working on just assumed I was still holding down the space bar. This time, no damage was caused by this bug; however, it’s easy to imagine scenarios where this sort of problem could wreak real havoc.

Focus stealing is evil. Fix it, Apple!


It’s not just about technology

On Daring Fireball yesterday, John Gruber observed that the way Apple demos the iPad—sitting in a comfy chair, rather than standing at a podium—illustrates how Apple’s competitors overlook the non-technical aspects that go into making a product like the iPad great:

But there are other things any competitor could copy, easily, but seemingly don’t even understand that they should, because such things aren’t technical. Take that chair. The on-stage demos of the iPad aren’t conducted at a table or a lectern. They’re conducted sitting in an armchair. That conveys something about the feel of the iPad before its screen is even turned on. Comfortable, emotional, simple, elegant. How it feels is the entirety of the iPad’s appeal.

The Smart Cover is another good example. This clever invention combines a screen protector and a stand in one handy device that’s actually fun to use. It didn’t require huge amounts of technological investment, economies of scale, or multi-billion dollar purchasing power. It required only thinking about the problem in a novel way. Apple’s competitors could have come up with something like this, but they didn’t. If Samsung, HP, Motorola, and RIM cannot even compete with Apple on something like this, how can they hope to entice customers away from the iPad?