The focus I’m talking about now is in terms of your current window manager. I remember light-hearted but heated discussions about window managers – did people prefer ‘focus-follows-mouse’ or ‘focus-follows-click’.
Focus follows mouse (FFM) means that the keyboard input and live widgets on screen are a result of the placement of the mouse pointer as opposed to having to click on anything.
Focus follows click (FFC) means that your focus is based on the last window you clicked on.
On the various Unixen and Linuxen I’ve worked on, this was very configurabele. My preference was FFM and I also didn’t demand that focus ‘raised’ a window to the foreground – you had to click for that. This meant you could manipulate windows in the background. Very useful if you had limited screen space and needed to view data in a backgrounded window. For the most part, focus remains where you send it, it’s responsive that way – focus does not leave when alerts come up because the system itself seems to own the windows.
On Mac OS X, without the use of third party hacks, focus follows click though, with strategic use of the ALT (option) key, you can manipulate backgrounded windows (scrolling, buttons) without bringing it to the front. This is a reasonable compromise. In addition, alerts are restricted to applications and while an alert may cause an application to become unhidden, it never steals focus. Foregrounded windows also have very deep drop shadows so it’s very easy to pick up when a window is no longer backgrounded.
On Windows, Focus always follows click. This wouldn’t be so bad if the default window colour wasn’t so similar between active and inactive windows. In addition, there are no other cues to tell you whether a window is foregrounded or backgrounded. Worse, any alert that comes up has a potential to steal focus. An alert window from Outlook steals focus from whatever application you are using (as has happened half a dozen times while writing this blog post). This means that instead of the comforting click of the keyboard and the adding of content, you get the Windows default error ‘bloop’ for every key you hit.
The user-hostile behaviour of Windows is yet another reason I loathe this operating system. There seems to be no default way to change this behaviour and I can’t install third party hacks on this system.