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Mountain Lion is (Still) a Quitter

Almost exactly a year ago, I pointed out that Mac OS X 10.7 Lion had the habit of causing some applications to quit while you were using them (“Lion Is a Quitter,” 5 August 2011) — a habit which, as I explained at the time, goes by the name of Automatic Termination. It was with bated breath that I waited to learn whether Lion’s recently released successor, 10.8 Mountain Lion, would prove to have kicked this vile habit. It hasn’t.

I’ve posted a screencast that demonstrates the persistence in Mountain Lion of Lion’s quit-prone behavior. It’s a simple-minded screencast, but it shows plainly that Mountain Lion is still a quitter. You’ll see me first flip through the Command-Tab switcher to reveal what applications are running — just LaunchBar, ScreenFlow, and the Finder. Then, using LaunchBar, I launch TextEdit; and I open a new document. I then close TextEdit’s document, and switch to the Finder by clicking on the desktop. Note that I have not told TextEdit to quit! All I’ve done is to bring the Finder to the front. Instantly, however, TextEdit quits. If you look sharp, you can see it vanish from the right end of the Dock; a subsequent search for it in the Command-Tab switcher also proves fruitless. (Actually, if you look really sharp, you’ll see that ScreenFlow has also vanished much earlier from the Dock, and is later missing from the Command-Tab switcher as well. Fortunately, the ScreenFlow subprocess that records the screen does not quit!)

Optimistic attempts by various Apple apologists to justify this astonishing behavior have not, in my view, met with any success. The best that can be said for it is that, given the existence of additional Lion and Mountain Lion features such as Auto Save and Resume (which, together, allow an application’s state to be restored the next time it is launched), the distinction between whether an application is running or not is of diminished importance. That might be the case, if an automatically terminated application’s icon remained in the Dock and the Command-Tab switcher, so that you could conveniently relaunch it; and some have suggested that the icon’s failure in this regard was just a minor bug which Apple would fix in due course. But the fact is that throughout all versions of Lion, and now in Mountain Lion, Apple has not altered this aspect of Automatic Termination’s behavior; an automatically terminated application’s icon is still removed from the Dock and the Command-Tab switcher, just as it would be if the user had quit the application deliberately or the application had crashed. And so the user, who did not quit the application deliberately, is puzzled and annoyed, and in order to continue using this application must now search for it and relaunch it all over again.

(The behavior of Automatic Termination can actually be even worse than I describe here. In Lion, I have seen Xcode terminate itself automatically immediately after being launched — between the time when you double-click its icon in the Finder and the time when you have a chance to tell it what project to open. This can happen even though Xcode, during the brief time it was running, was always frontmost. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to capture a screencast of that phenomenon; but I assure you that it can happen.)

Fortunately, the intrepid discoverers of command-line incantations have not been idle. It turns out that there’s a way to turn off automatic termination! I don’t know what wizard first unearthed it or when, though I have not found many Internet references to it older than April 2012. It goes like this:

defaults write -g NSDisableAutomaticTermination -bool yes

(You’ll probably have to restart the computer to make the incantation take effect.) For those who tremble to approach a Terminal window, there’s even more good news. You’ll remember that I discussed TinkerTool a while back as one of many ways of throwing hidden system switches through a user interface (“Lion Frustrations? Don’t Forget TinkerTool,” 29 October 2011). Well, the recently released TinkerTool 4.9 incorporates a checkbox that accesses this same setting. It’s on the Applications pane, near the bottom, and reads: “Application control: Don’t allow OS X to automatically quit inactive applications.”

While you’re enjoying TinkerTool (or whatever utility you like to use for getting at these hidden settings), be sure to check out other options that may make Mountain Lion more pleasant. Another new TinkerTool checkbox that I’m particularly fond of is in the General pane: “Disable rubber band effect.” The rubber band effect is the way a scrollable interface in Lion or Mountain Lion will “bounce” rather than just stopping when you reach the limit of its scrollability. Also in the General pane, I like to uncheck “Animate opening windows”; in general, Mountain Lion’s many built-in animations distract me and force me to wait for their completion, so whatever speeds them up or removes them altogether is a good thing. I’m not saying everyone needs to feel the same way I do about these matters; I’m just pointing out that you have such options if you want to try them out.

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