Monday, October 5, 2020

Big Sur’s Hidden Document Proxy Icon

Marco Arment:

The Big Sur auto-hidden document-proxy icon is so frustrating — it hides functionality behind an invisible mode, and introduces a delay for anyone trying to use it.

How does this help usability?

What problem does this solve?

It looks cleaner in a static screenshot, and it saves a little space for another toolbar button now that the window title and toolbar are squeezed into the same row. But I miss seeing the proxy icon, too. I drag these every day (though rarely from Finder).

John Gruber:

I would definitely argue that this change makes the whole thing harder to discover in the first place. One of the neat things about document/folder proxy icons is that they’re discoverable. All it takes is a moment of inspiration, “Hey, I wonder if I can drag that icon...?”

Jason Snell:

I’m going to co-sign this. I use proxy icons all the time and Apple hiding them behind a delay and animation is infuriating.

I don’t mind the look of Big Sur but this is a regression in functionality.

Joe Groff:

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but

defaults write -g NSToolbarTitleViewRolloverDelay -float 0

Marco Arment:

People keep sending me this, but it doesn’t fix the problem — it just makes the delay shorter. (There’s still an animation delay — it just starts on hover instead of shortly after.)

It’s still a needless mode with a needless delay to achieve only the shallowest visual appeal.


Update (2020-10-07): Daniel Jalkut:

It’s not about the Finder but about a long-standing affordance for working with the file representation of any document window. Cmd-clicking in the title is a related, priceless affordance.

Matt Birchler:

Looks like you guys were more familiar with proxy icons than I expected! It’s still a minority of a nerdy group, so I suspect it’s lower among the general public, but still, not as niche as I assumed.

Update (2020-11-07): Jeff Nadeau:

Changed in macOS 11.0.1 β2:

  • You no longer need to wait on the reveal animation before starting a drag from the proxy icon.
  • Holding the Shift key instantly reveals the proxy icon and expanded title, and it turns the entire title region into a draggable proxy.

Update (2021-05-21): chucker:

Want old-style proxy icons and a bigger grabbable title bar back?

defaults write NSWindowSupportsAutomaticInlineTitle -bool false


Update (2021-07-15): Aaron Brager:

The proxy icon can be re-enabled in macOS Monterey Beta 3 woooooo 🎉

Brian Webster:

This is great to see, but a classic example of Apple shoving something in an accessibility option when it’s really just the better design for everyone.

Update (2021-07-26): John Gruber (tweet):

Does removing proxy icons from document window title bars reduce “clutter”? I can only assume that’s what Apple’s HI team was thinking. But I’d argue strenuously that proxy icons aren’t needless clutter — they’re useful, and showing them by default made them discoverable. Keeping them visible reminds you that they’re there. There’s a one-to-one relationship between a document icon in the Finder and the open application window for that document; showing the document icon in the window title bar reinforced that concept. This hidden Finder preference for MacOS 11 Big Sur delights me, because in addition to showing proxy icons, it also restores grabbable title bars in MacOS 11.

Steven Aquino:

Worth adding to this @gruber piece proxy icons are a useful de-facto accessibility feature (not the discrete Accessibility features John mentions) insofar as the more visual feedback, the better. Not insignificant for cognitive load.

Jeff Johnson:

“Minimalist” design is supposedly for non-experts, but ironically it forces everyone to become experts, because hiding most useful controls means that users need to already know and memorize how everything works before they use it.

John Gruber:

Zack Katz found this archived version of Apple’s developer docs on the feature for Mac OS 8.5[…] What a joyful little feature this was (and could be again).


12 Comments RSS · Twitter

Yikes, I didn't know about this. Much like drop-down sheets, the proxy icon is something I used and enjoyed a lot on the Mac, something that made the OS stand out to me, something that told me thought or care was put into its design, something I miss on other platforms. Apple seem committed to systematically removing or downplaying the parts of their OS that remain unique or advantageous...

What problem does it solve?! I imagine it's their misguided quest to remove "clutter". ;(

Turns out you can Cmd+click the window title to show the path popup menu. Avoids the delay, but doesn't help discoverability... I suppose one could argue that discoverability of the proxy icon was never great.

@nhojb Yes, but Command-clicking doesn’t help you drag the proxy icon.

I really feel like macOS is steadily losing its coherence as a platform that works for novices and power users alike, all in the name of some fetish for extreme design minimalism. I'm thinking more and more about leaving when Mojave stops getting security updates.

Curtis points out you can show the path bar instead, and that’s a nice feature, too. But it’s no substitute.

Most critically, because it’s not on by default, it has the same problem as the current proxy icon: it’s so hard to discover and to remember that it exists that usage will decline, and that in turn will (seemingly) prove those who wanted to hide it by default right. Which means a few releases from now, they can remove the proxy icon altogether.

The proxy icon is one of those hidden-gem features in macOS, and while this may sound overly get-off-my-lawn-y, removing it while also not having added all that many cool things in recent releases is a net loss.

I still haven’t tried Big Sur, and so many things I read and see about it (those screenshots! Gah!) makes me reticent to try. I kind of like the Yosemite-era look. The vibrancy is mostly a gimmick and not that useful, but it’s also just plain fun to see what blurry background hides underneath Safari’s toolbar sometimes. In contrast, what I’ve seen of Big Sur so far just seems… bland.

all in the name of some fetish for extreme design minimalism

Yeah. We’re losing discoverability and clarity in the name of… I’m not sure, frankly.

@Sören The path bar is a possible alternative in Finder, but many apps with proxy icons don’t offer a path bar.

The path bar is a possible alternative in Finder, but many apps with proxy icons don’t offer a path bar.

Yeah, I didn’t comment on other apps because I haven’t seen them yet. (I don’t have the beta here. I could install it on a different volume, but then again, I remember Siracusa’s bridgeOS horror story, so…)

And, even with just the Finder, I don’t think it’s enough of an alternative.

I want to straight-up murder someone over this change. %%@$# terrible UX decision from some inexperienced jerk indulging form over function. If you use this feature, they just @^$%^ ruined it.

Discoverability isn't the issue. It's usability, and it adds a BS, huge, and unnecessary friction every damn time you use it, %$#@ing up your workflow

The change to add shift-drag is really nice actually - allowing to drag-n-drop the title itself is lovely.

I wish there was a way to always display the icon though, it was a great visual aid to understand which kind of file / dir you are working on in an app (akin to favicons). Also makes it clear that you can drag-n-drop, which is otherwise very non-discoverable.

Drag-n-dropping the icon is definitely not the most niche feature: admittedly I'm in the tech sector, but having talked to people around me, many knew about it and used it on a regular basis.

I really wish they would add an "up" button to the Finder "Customize Toolbar" options, i.e. to go up a level. With all the other options in there, that one just seems obvious.

Michael Schmitt

I want the proxy icon back for Mail messages, which made it easy to create an alias to a message by just dragging the proxy to a Finder window. I'm not sure which OS X version dropped this. I found a Macworld article that references it in 2011, so it was there then.

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