Focussed OS Rage

Simple frustrations add up over time to become great outrages. The tiniest problem, happening again and again and again and again, will drive even the calmest person to anger. A mountain of different small problems has the same effect.

A friend who is a ‘usability experience’ expert, recently wrote an article about this exact idea, and it got me thinking about my own experiences. His basic premise was that everyone goes into an experience with a set amount of goodwill banked up, and every negative thing deducts goodwill from that bank. It’s worth a read (

Like I said though, it got me thinking about my usability experience on what I sit in front of every single day, and many nights at home; the computer. And more specifically, about a single issue that, every time is comes up, I’m driven into varying stages of user rage. An issue that, were it removed from the computer experience, my relaxation and productivity would improve dramatically at work, and my relaxation and unwinding would improve dramatically at home. And that is, Focus Stealing.

Focus stealing is, to put it simply, the computer deciding that whatever it wants you to know about, you need to know about RIGHT NOW, and will move the focus of your computer from whatever window you were working in, shift focus to a different window automatically. (

I cannot even begin to describe how infuriated this makes me when it happens.

For example, I’m copying a bunch of files from one drive to another, copying over outdated versions of those files. I drag the files to the new window, and because off-site servers are slow, it takes the computer a solid 30 seconds to recognize that I’m copying over old files. So instead of waiting around for the computer to figure out what’s going on, I Alt-Tab (one of my favorite keyboard shortcuts) over to another window, let’s say an email I need to write, and start working over there. Well, I’m type type typing away, and the computer finally figures out I need to copy over old files, so instead of just flashing a warning bar at the bottom of my screen, it switches me away from the email I was writing WITHOUT ASKING and demands I TAKE CARE OF THIS QUESTION OF COPYING IMMEDIATELY.

Now, the problem is, I was writing an email, and when the computer switched me over to the other window and asked me if I really wanted to copy over these files, I was typing and one of the words I was typing had the letter “N” in it. This, of course, tells the computer, “No, I don’t want to copy over these files, thanks for asking, move along.” And now I have to go and tell the computer, again, that I want to copy these files over.

Here’s the thing. My computer is not smarter than me. My computer should never, NEVER, make unilateral decisions about what I should be looking at. While I’m working, if I’m in a window, that’s where I want to be. I don’t want to be switched away to deal with something else that, yes, I’m perfectly aware of and will deal with at a time of my choosing. Every time this happens my rage-o-meter dramatically spikes, and if it happens more than a few times in a row I have to step away from the computer for a few minutes to recollect myself.

What I don’t understand is… well, the two things I don’t understand are, first, why people ever decided this was a good idea to program into the system. And second, why there is no easy, single button click option to disable this. Who decided this? And not only who decided it, but why is it the norm across both Windows OS and Apple OS? Why copy a terrible idea from one OS to another? And why haven’t they over the past 25-plus years programmed in a disable function?

Are there ways to disable it? Yes. Are they easy? No. Are they always effective? No. Does this single issue make we want to punch every single OS programmer in the face every time I see them, regardless of the fact that they had nothing to do with this?

Yes. Yes it does.

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