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In Mac OS X, the red/yellow/green buttons in window title bars are much smaller and closely-spaced compared to other UI elements like toolbar buttons.

Making UI elements small makes them harder to click, especially at higher resolutions on smaller screens, when using non-mouse (trackpad) interfaces, or for elderly/young/disabled users.

But are there any benefits that might outweigh the obvious downsides? I'm mostly wondering if I'm overlooking something obvious here.

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For comparison, here's pre-OS X Mac OS, where the button was square (larger!) and not close to anything else.

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And also for comparison here's Windows 10, where the corresponding buttons take up the full height of the title bar, are about as tall as toolbar buttons, and are much wider than they are tall. Although I like many things about OS X, I personally find this part of Windows much more usable.

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    This type of "why did company X did Y" doesn't make a good question on Stack Exchange. Short of having somebody who've worked on the OS answer this question, any answers we provide will just be speculations. – nightning Feb 12 '16 at 19:41
  • While possibly not a great question for Stack Exchange, I concur the buttons are oddly small for their purpose. I can't recall when the windows are maximized if they adjust their Hotspot to meet Fitts' Law? – scunliffe Feb 12 '16 at 23:22
  • Good points. I edited the question to get closer to what I was looking for, which was to try to understand whether there's any usability benefit that may outweigh the obvious problems with this UI. I'm wondering if I'm overlooking something obvious. Let me know if you think these edits make it a more appropriate question for SE. – Justin Grant Feb 13 '16 at 3:25
  • If the question were to be about small buttons rather than small buttons on mac OS X, it would be on topic, but as it's about a specific product, I have to close it. If you edit the question to be more general, it can be re-opened . – JohnGB Feb 14 '16 at 10:26
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They are very small, which is very frustrating, and so the likelihood of accidentally clicking on one of them is also relatively low. This is both a negative, and a positive. Hence the question you ask (what benefits outweigh the negatives).

Minimizing and maximizing are not the most common functions. Usually you open or close tabs, change between tabs, or open new windows. Over time, the keyboard shortcuts for many of these functions have become ubiquitous. When someone does want to minimize, or maximize (can you tell me the shortcut for either of those) you have the option. The majority of individuals who own macs are in what we can refer to as "first world" who understand the significance of red, yellow, green (traffic lights).

This means it is a very clean way for them to represent 3 actions, which each have proportionate effects to the colors the are represented by (red: close, green: expand) .

It is more important to interact with tabs (open, close, move, etc). So they have taken buttons that still have functions that are sometimes used, and given them both a clear function (red, yellow, green; in other words, red is bad, green is good), and an aesthetic that allows anyone to recognize that they are looking at a Mac.

So, it allows basic functionality, but most importantly, it creates a clear differentiation between what is a "Mac" and what is windows, without having to add a logo anywhere.

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The window management buttons are not the primary way of managing windows. They are a convenience shortcut that you can choose to use or not if you find them convenient or not. They are small to keep them out of the way because they are secondary and because window management is not the primary task the user is performing in any given window.

The primary methods of window management are in the 100% accessible menubar and are the following:

  • if you want to close a window, you choose File ▶ Close Window from the menubar
  • if you want to minimize a window, you choose Window ▶ Minimize from the menubar
  • if you want to zoom a window, you choose Window ▶ Zoom from the menubar.

… and you can also find commands in the menubar for moving between windows and tabs, or switching to a particular window or tab.

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