Mac OS X shows an useless button in System Preferences


Just like the post about iPhone or iPad, I should mention that it’s not really an easy job to find usability problems with Apple products but this one is so goofy that I can’t imagine any intention in this design failure.

For those of you who don’t use Mac OS X (Apple’s operating system for its Desktop and Laptop computers), all the important settings are in “System Preferences” which looks like this:

Mac OS X Mountain Lion System Preferences

This post is about that dominant “Show All” button at the top left corner of the window. It doesn’t do anything. But why is it there? Let’s click on one of the settings, for example “General”:

General Settings in Mac OS X Mountain Lion

Because if you click on any of the settings, then you can use that button go to back to the System Preferences. Sort of like a “Home” button. But when the user first sees the “System Preferences” dialogue, the function of this button is not easy to understand and its dominant position in the screen (a big button at the top left part of the form) suggests that it is too important to overlook. The button is only useful in the sub-pages.


The easiest and most intuitive solution is to remove or hide the button when the user is seeing “System Preferences”. This is not a website and it doesn’t need a “Home” button that doesn’t even show a meaningful icon.

Moreover “Show All” in the sub-pages isn’t very intuitive either. The meaning of “All” changes based on the page the user is viewing. Show all what?

  • Show all languages? User may ask when viewing the language settings page.
  • Show all devices? User may think it does when viewing the “Print & Scan” sub-page.
  • Show all Bluetooth devices nearby? User may interpret it on the Bluetooth subpage.

I think “Show All” button is not neccesary because the user can click on “System Preferences” from the dock:

System Preferences in the dock of Mac OS X Mountain Lion

If Apple persists on having this “Show All” button despite the fact that it is just one click away, maybe an icon and a descriptive text may help. Something like this would be ideal:

Replacing “Show All” button with “System Preferences” and an icon



One thought on “Mac OS X shows an useless button in System Preferences

  1. The button isn’t completely useless. If you hold it down for 1 second a dropdown appears showing all system preferences available. It should be noted that the user is able to customize the System Preferences pane by hiding infrequently used items (View -> Customize), so the Show All button allows for quick access to all items, even the ones that have been hidden by the user. However, this list of items is also available under the View menu, so I agree that the button is stupid.

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