Saturday, April 25, 2015 [Tweets] [Favorites]

That Finder Thing

John Gruber in 2002 (via Talus Baddley):

Once the NeXT regime stepped in and assumed top positions in Apple’s software division, they started putting their stamp on Apple’s UI design, despite the fact their input on such matters was neither wanted nor needed. The hallmarks of NeXT’s UI design are extravagant attention to cosmetic appeal, and nearly no attention whatsoever to actual usability. This is enough to fool many people, especially converts switching from other platforms, where the interfaces are both ugly and dysfunctional. If it looks better, it must be better, right?

[…]

Look no further than Mac OS X’s System Preferences. The icons looks nice, and the window smoothly slides around and redraws itself as you change from one panel to another. But because the list of preference panels occupies the same space as the panels themselves, you can’t switch directly from one panel to another, except for the handful of panels you put in the favorites list atop the window.

The favorites list is now gone. There’s now a Customize… command to hide certain icons, but this is not a replacement for favorites, more a way to hide panes that you never use. The Show All Preferences feature does not, actually, show all of the preferences; it just takes you back to the icon view that has some icons hidden. Switching panes still takes two clicks. Lists are still needlessly constrained in size because the main window isn’t resizable.

And so Apple was inundated with feedback complaining about the Desktop file manager. The complaints could be summed up as “Bring back the Finder.” But instead of bringing back the Finder, they simply brought back the name, along with a few superficial features.

[…]

The most common question I’ve heard about the new OS X Finder is “Why doesn’t it remember the size and location of open windows?”

13 years and a Cocoa rewrite later, the Finder still doesn’t remember how many windows I had open, or their sizes or locations. It doesn’t remember that I always like to have the status bar shown. (I wrote a script to put the windows back where I want, and even then the Finder doesn’t always obey the command to show the status bar.) It sometimes forgets my preferred sidebar and column widths.

Icon view doesn’t use the same pixel-perfect icons as the other views, and it is still so unreliable that it’s not worth using except to quickly view a bunch of image thumbnails. And I’m not even talking about remembering manually positioned icons, which I’ve long since given up on; the Arrange By feature doesn’t work reliably, either.

The classic Finder is like using your own hands. The OS X Finder is like using a joystick to control a set of robot hands — clumsy and inherently less intuitive.

[…]

Keep the new column view, but not as an alternative to icon and list views for normal (spatial) Finder windows. Instead, create a distinct new “Column Browser” window class, which acts like the column view in the current OS X Finder. When you double-click a folder in a Column Browser, however, it should open in a regular (spatial) Finder window.

Gruber said he wasn’t holding his breath, and that was wise. I’m not surprised that Apple never brought back the spatial Finder. What does surprise me is the state of the browsing Finder. It’s gained some browsing features such as the path bar, tags, and tabs. But the basic browsing functionality is still no match for Apple’s Web browser, Safari, which has better window state retention, bookmarks/favorites, tabs, history, and search.

12 Comments

It may sound crazy but I use Transmit instead Finder for a lot of local operations.

While I agree with all of this, I will note that I've been able to essentially re-create the spacial Finder by slowly learning to drastically constrain my Finder usage to fit within certain very specific patterns. Simply put, windows open where and how I left them, with exceptions being rare enough to really surprise me.

Obviously, this is not optimal, to say the least. Few folks are going to train themselves in this manner, and it took me a loooong time to train myself to follow all the unwritten rules you need to get there, though by now it's all second-nature and I don't have to think about it at all. So it can be done, even if it's not the UX 99+% of users will get, which sucks on many levels.

@James Not crazy, because I’ve heard a bunch of other people say that. I do the same with EagleFiler. It may not be obvious to people that Transmit can actually show two local browsers instead of one local and one remote. It has history, tabs, a filtering single-level search, and a better path bar and permissions interface than the Finder.

@Chucky That is what I have been trying to achieve, and the reason why I switched to always using two windows in the same positions. However, I must not have figured out all the unwritten rules, because it’s not fully reliable.

"That is what I have been trying to achieve, and the reason why I switched to always using two windows in the same positions. However, I must not have figured out all the unwritten rules, because it’s not fully reliable."

Yeah. Like I said, it took me a loooong time, but it is possible. (Although, since I'm not using an up-to-date OS version, it's possible they've since broken it to the point that my tricks would no longer suffice.)

One useful suggestion is to never use the Toolbar. (Well, I use it for the "Computer" and "Network" windows, but that's literally it.) But there are obviously multiple other traps to avoid. And as I say, my usage patterns are so second-nature by now that I couldn't describe the precise steps I took to get here if I tried...

@Chucky Are you still using Snow Leopard? I think that may have been the peak in terms of OS X Finder state retention. It definitely got messed up when Lion introduced restoration. Even though most buttons have menu/keyboard equivalents, I need the toolbar so that I can search…

"Are you still using Snow Leopard? I think that may have been the peak in terms of OS X Finder state retention."

Of course. I'm not a dev, and neither am I crazy.

(And even with Snowy, I did have to learn tricks. But nonetheless, I did manage to FTFF. Someone had to do it. All the spacial yumminess of Classic OS, with none of the bugs / performance hangups.)

"It definitely got messed up when Lion introduced restoration. Even though most buttons have menu/keyboard equivalents, I need the toolbar so that I can search…"

Ugh. Sorry for your loss, and mine too when all the spare parts / modern browser support runs out...

Some things (window zooming particularly) have improved, then become worse, etc. from 10.6 to 10.10. Minimum window sizes are still crazy huge.

One thing I find useful when the Finder gets confused about a window's layout is quitting the Finder. For example, about 3-4 times a day my home folder resets to a browser layout in the middle of the screen instead of my preferred window in the upper left. If I quit the Finder (after enabling the Quit command via defaults), then reopen it and press ⌘N, the state gets restored properly.

I have almost forgotten how much I missed the spatial Finder… the way I always use Finder these days is two wide windows, one above the other, and both have multiple tabs open. Both with column view. While not anywhere near perfect it works most of the time.

And, of course, Moom is a life saver when it comes to shuffle windows around when switching between one and to monitors. (But even Moom cant put the exact Finder windows in correct position, they usually end up in switched position. I have not determined if it is me who set up Moom incorrectly or if Moom just can't do that right.)

@Adrian Moom is great. I found that it worked fine with the Finder if I had the windows open and set to the correct folders. However, the Finder doesn’t remember that the windows should be open and sometimes forgets their view options, so Moom is not enough.

Ah yes, there was a time where Jon Gruber would critique Apple without kid gloves. Now I I rely on your blog for links to thoughtful criticism of Apple.

"Ah yes, there was a time where Jon Gruber would critique Apple without kid gloves."

He still does that, when the outcry about something gets loud enough from respected sources. For this particular example, you couldn't just completely ignore Siracusa. It's the classic Pravda formula: 98% propaganda and 2% honest criticism (when absolutely necessary), in order to make the voice have the semblance of credibility.

The percentages may have slightly shifted over the years, but it's always been his basic formula. That's why he makes the big bucks.

"which I’ve long since given up on; the Arrange By feature doesn’t work reliably, either."

Another issue with this is that some geniuses decided to have "Arrange by", "Sort by" and "Clean Up by" actions. It's not that easy to remember which one will keep the items arranged when you resize the window and which one will give you the nightmarish presentation mode of "All My Files".

Let's not forget that the ability to sort items via the Finder contextual menu only returned with Mac OS X 10.5. It was AWOL since Mac OS 9.

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