Friday, December 20, 2002

Welch on the Finder

John C. Welch has been trying to rebut (part 1, part 2) John Gruber’s comments on the Finder (article, followup, Your Mac Life interview, Reflux). I disagree with most of Welch’s position.

The OS 9 Finder is a good piece of work. But, after 17-18 years of optimization, you’d expect it to be. If you view Jaguar as version 2.0 of OS X, then you need to compare it to Mac OS 2.0, and I expect that in 15 years or so, the Finder in OS X will be a much nicer piece of work.

The OS X Finder had the opportunity to learn from those years of refinement. If it is to replace the OS 9 Finder, it should be better—now. Sadly, it is not.

The OS 9 Finder was static; it was as done as it was ever going to be, and it wasn't going to grow in any new directions.

That’s simply false. MDJ has already explained why.

I’d also say that this idea that Mac OS 9 is so easy to use—as if you were born with the ability to use the OS 9 Finder like a baby does a pacifier—is tripe.

Welch is right here, and I think Gruber overstated his case about the intuitiveness of the OS 9 Finder. However, what matters more than ease of learning is ease of use. Here is where the spatial Finder is a big win, because it takes advantage of what the human brain can do subconsciously. John Siracusa and Bruce Tognazzini have already explained this at length (and there are probably better links to their writings, but I don’t have time to find them now).

I also find it curious that Gruber talks about how he wants the OS X Finder to be simpler, but then wants Apple to implement different types of windowing methods, depending on how you view a folder. That increases complexity and decreases consistency. And this would be an improvement?

If I understand Gruber correctly, he wants the Finder to support separate spatial and browser (Columns view) windows. That is, the two types of windows would be visually distinct and it would not be possible to change a given window from one type to the other. Unlike Welch, I think this would be a big improvement and would reduce complexity. If two things are fundamentally different, they should look different. Making them look the same in the name of consistency would only be deception and would cause the user to make false assumptions.

Along these same lines, I think it was a mistake to call the Finder’s commands for copying and pasting files Copy and Paste. They do not adhere to the clipboard’s standard behavior. If you copy a file and then modify it, pasting it will paste the modified version. Further, if you copy a file and delete it (or unmount its volume) you can no longer paste. In trying to be consistent (using the standard Copy and Paste nomenclature), the Finder has deceived the user and created lots of opportunities for confusion.

Gruber also advocates creating what would become a second Finder, namely the “Column view Finder,” which would behave in an inconsistent fashion, depending on whether you single-click or double-click on an icon.

In the current OS X Finder’s Columns view, single-clicking lets you browse down a level and double-clicking opens a new window. That’s not inconsistent, is it? On my reading, Gruber’s proposal is that double-clicking in either a spatial or browser window would always create a new spatial window. That seems very consistent to me.

I find it far easier, under OS X, to show that a window is just the way you look at folders, applications, hard drives, etc. This is a level of abstraction that is more natural.

This is a matter of opinion/measurement, of course, but I think the point with the classic Finder is that the one-to-one mapping makes the abstraction unnecessary. The user thinks that the window is the folder, so there is no need to learn how the abstraction works.

Welch goes on to mention some of the things that are nice about the OS X Finder: the affordance for the path popup, Go to Folder…, and the possibility of using Columns view. He then says “If you feel more comfortable with the OS 9 paradigm, use that as well.”

A lot people who like the OS X Finder approach criticism of it like so:

Here’s where I (and I think many of Welch’s “MacMacs”) stand:

Although there are differing opinions about the value of various old and new Finder features, there is little actual conflict. I think it’s possible for the Finder engineers to satisfy both groups.

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I think one of the most obvious regressions in the OS X finder is that windows can once again only be moved by dragging from the top at the title-bar. When Apple made windows draggable from sides and bottom, it was one of those moments of head-slapping relief. Why hadn't this been a feature from the beginning? Now, OS X regresses back to System 7 days in this regard. I'm nearly tempted to simply wait until they implement this feature in OS X before switching on principle.

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