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When I moved from Windows to OS X the first thing that I noticed was that the titlebar buttons are on the left instead of right side. It took me some time to get used to it.

Is there a reason why they put them on the left side?

screenshot

  • does anyone know if you can move them back to the right? – user136516 May 20 '20 at 18:30
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    Is there a reason they are on the right side in Windows? In my opinion it was at one point an arbitrary decision and the creators likely thought it “felt right” – tbolt May 20 '20 at 20:51
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In the original MacOS versions (pre-10), there was a close button in the top left and maximize (if available) in the top right, as shown here:

macos UI

Putting them together seems like a reasonable choice to tidy up the interface. So, perhaps the real question is why was the close button in the top left corner originally?

My best guess: Mac users use Command-Q (or Apple-Q) to close a program and since the Q key is on the top-left of the keyboard, putting the close button on the top-left of window reinforced its purpose and made for a slightly more consistent experience overall.

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    as shown here where? I see the image but can't tell what you're referring to. – Jacob Raihle Sep 18 '15 at 10:58
  • @JacobRaihle updated image to show what I was referring to. – SeanG Sep 18 '15 at 11:05
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    Oh, I was expecting to see the maximize button somewhere, it threw me off. – Jacob Raihle Sep 18 '15 at 11:12
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Steve Jobs was fairly inspired by Xerox's Xerox Star, which was the first to introduce a User Interface in their system.

Demo video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYvxgNhUwBk

Xerox's Xerox Star was poorly marketed, and hence wasn't well known.

With the inspiration of the Xerox Star, Apple launched Mac OS 1.0 and placed the Window Commands/Actions to the Left, since Xerox too had most of their primary controls on the left.

However, there hasn't been a pure reason as to why where they placed on the left since no one really cared about UX back then, and it was placed in that place for their convenience.

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    Your last sentence is completely wrong. The only reason they made a GUI was because they cared about user experience. – Confused Sep 18 '15 at 10:57
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    I was referring to the placing of the Window Actions. – Swapnil Borkar Sep 18 '15 at 11:12
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    That makes your claim no less wrong. There was consideration of the placement, look, size, spacing, structure, nature, action and goal of everything. They deliberately designed a new paradigm of input and operation. To say they weren't thinking about the user experience of ANY part of what they created is the height of ignorance. These were the founders of thoughts, design and implementation of experiences within graphical, virtual position based, metaphorical reference, interaction and user experience. They were the revolutionaries of computer operation. Their's was the biggest battle. – Confused Sep 18 '15 at 15:51
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    I understand what you're referring to. However, the User Experience part was true to the GUI, not the placement of the elements. Placements of the buttons were made to the likings of the designers and became a norm. If they did research on why the buttons should be placed where they did, there would be a significant research paper on the same. User Interfaces did exist, however User Experience in terms of the UI, did not. As a whole, it did, yes. – Swapnil Borkar Sep 18 '15 at 15:57
  • You do realise corporate research sits mostly unpublished, for competitive advantage, right? – Confused Sep 18 '15 at 16:19
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Is there a reason they're on the left?

Yes. It's that the ultimate button in this little micro "dialog" box (Window title bar) is the destructive action of closing the window, and Apple determined the ideal order of actions to be from left to right:

| Destructive || Neutral || Constructive |

Since the button on the far left closes the window, and is therefore the most destructive possible button in a window based GUI OS, it should be on the far left of the Window status bar that is its container when using these rules of lateral action distribution. This fundamental design choice informed the decision to put the close window button on the far left, the other two actions (minimise and maximise) are placed beside it because that's now the area that is the "dialog box action area" of the Window Title Bar.

For a brief while we had the ideal of a super-maximise-to-a-new-screen-space on the top right, double tapping the middle section of the Window Title Bar to minimise and far left being the destructive close button with the minimise and maximise buttons next to it.

But then a (wrong headed) desire to put the download button and iOS sharing button in the top right of Safari seemed to override this ideal across all of Mac OS X, and we lost the normal and rightful maximise button in this little trio. It's been replaced with the fullscreen, new space button. I'm pretty sure this little mess wouldn't have happened under Steve Jobs' watch.

In answer to your original question, yes everything about OS GUI design is intentional, and has reasoning behind both the intentions and the decided design. It's just not always transparent, and sometimes not good intentions, like the desire to transplant the ideas of iOS sharing button placement to Mac OS X.

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    Your answer doesn't give any references to support the claim you're making. The Far left Close button could be also because it's the most used rather than being the destructive one. Ease of access to the Close button could be another reason for this. – Swapnil Borkar Sep 18 '15 at 16:04
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    First and most macrospic mistake in your answer is that for 75% you talk about buttons order (Destructive, Neutral, Constructive). Unfortunately question is about buttons location (left or right of window caption). You may keep this text for another question (especially because both ordering are good and from UX point of view I'd keep them well separate). – Adriano Repetti Sep 18 '15 at 22:19
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    Second serious mistake is a sort of prochronism. You're trying to apply 2015 UX concepts to a 1983 product. Simply these concepts didn't exist at that time. Apple Lisa has been first (commercial) product with a GUI, studies came after (and because) of this. If I can cite you then "... If you knew anything about the history of computing...". – Adriano Repetti Sep 18 '15 at 22:20
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    In 1983 they had more problems with hardware capabilities than with modern UX concepts. GUI itself is revolutionary, micro-design (micro if compared to GUI revolution) was not even seriously considered. BTW your position is opinable, even if you can write pages of text saying almost nothing. Close buttons can be on the left or on the right and now it sticks where it is because of legacy. – Adriano Repetti Sep 18 '15 at 22:20
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    Did they put it on the left because it was there on Xerox prototype? Because of Steve's aesthetic personal taste? Because it's natural flow (left to right) in the west? To save few CPU cycles because an addition instead of a subtraction? We don't know and unfortunately it's what OP is asking for. BTW almost every OS I can think about has (now) that button on the right but (in my opinion) it doesn't really matter. – Adriano Repetti Sep 18 '15 at 22:20
0

What's the reason the buttons are on the left of the window?

it's because most people are right handed and clicking on the left side feels "wrong'. It's counter-intuitive for something as important as closing an interaction window to be on the "wrong" side. So a user is less likely to close a window by accident.

Where I'm coming from: I used to accidentally close windows on Windows all the time when I was trying to maximize the window because I would move too fast. Clicking "close' on the left side on Mac has forced me to slow down and only close windows if I really want to :)

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