New Machine - Finder Problems Continued

The mac Finder is just astonishingly bad, and, I hear, the Leopard version I am using is far superior to the Tiger version. What an atrocious experience that must have been.

I have made some comments on this window of woes already but there appears to be more to say.

Folder Creation

It turns out that it is not an easy process to create a folder. Perhaps one of the most fundamental of features is scattered and inconsistent, but let me show you.

We have to look at this problem from each View because they are all different. We have 4 possible views, Icons, List, Columns and the new Cover Flow. Windows Explorer only supports Icons and List equivalents but it does it in a consistent manner. You decide which is important in a UI but if you decide that lots of inconsistent features are better then you are wrong.

Icon view shows large images with file names below. Of all the views this view seems to remain consistent supporting the right-click "New Folder" and the command-shift-n option to create a new folder.

List view represents the folders in tree form with the details of each folder/file shown to the right. The right-click "New Folder" and command-shift-n both create a new folder in the current directory. The problem arises when you consider that the tree folders allow you to see and select a number of different locations in the hierarchy, however, you can not create folders at the different levels. The right-click on a sub-folder doesn't even contain the option. You have to navigate down a level to create the folder. It's like they replicated the Icon views features in a tree without considering what improvements the tree might offer.

Now I must admit that you might be able to find some twisted logic to conclude that each view allows you to create a new folder in the "current directory" which in the list view is the top level folder. However, this conclusion would be wrong because it would mean that you are a unix developer and have a brain limited to thinking in terms of current directory and changing current directory. This is a UI we are talking about here, you see it, you click it, you interact with it. Simple. Consistent.

Let's look at Columns view. This changes things a little giving you lots of options since it shows lots of "current directories" at the same time. So what does this image tell you is going to happen.

If you answered "create a folder under untitled folder 2" then you would be wrong since folders can only be created in the current directory. However the behavior is consistent with the a intent of my UI action. I actually right clicked on the white background indicating that I want to create a folder in that directory. What is bad about this is that the folder remains selected retaining the visual cue that I am working with that folder. Since this is not the case this is a poor UI feedback problem. Windows Explorer explicitly un-selects the selected folder when the background is left or right clicked since it is a good user interface offering quality feedback.

Cover Flow is the new view introduced in Leopard and offers a nice representation of files in picture form. It is a great way to scan through images. Since this is new it appears to be new code because they have fixed the selected folder problem, and introducing the new problems that I mentioned in the previous post on the Finder.

Cover Flow behaves in a similar manner to List view, you can see the folders but you can use them to create new folders. One might say, consistently bad.

Folder Movement

How to move a file/folder from one place to another. Not so simple. There are a few nice mousing features

Drag folder to move it
Drag folder with options key pressed to copy it

These are consistent across the views, however, as we have come to learn with the mac, the keystroke support is somewhat disabled. The glaring omission is the lack of the command-x to cut a file. You can command-c to copy it and command-p to paste it in another location. There is even an option for the operation in the Finders' Edit menu but it is always disabled.

This prevents me doing simple operations like cutting a file from the desktop, navigating somewhere, and pasting it into some other folder. I actually have to copy it and then navigate back to the original location and delete it. This seems to me to be a major problem. I download files to the desktop and want to move them to a downloads folder when I am finished with them.

Fortunately, QuickSilver solves this problem for me with, command-g to select the file in QuickSilver, so that I can select the "Move To" action and the "Downloads" folder. This is about 7 keystrokes but it much simpler than copy, paste, navigate back and delete.

Now there is a way to do this with the mouse but it is hideous. Drag the file, hover over the next folder and it will open in a new window after a half second or so, keep dragging to hover over the next folder in the path, wait a little more for the new folder to open in another new window, yes I now have 3 windows open, keep going because JBoss paths are long and I need it way down there, oh, and this sentence is really helping illustrate what a stupid feature this is, so keep dragging, and waiting, until you get to the folder you want, then drop. The source windows and the final target window remain open and the intervening windows close. What a horrendous process.

To Windows Explorer credit, you can not do this. Windows explorer has a cut paste feature. Ooooo aaaaa UI candy.

Long filenames

A simple problem of visibility. I create an icon on the desktop that has a long name and it will not show me the name. In Windows, really long names are truncated as well but when the icon is selected the name is shown. Mac just hides it forcing me to command-i to get the information about that folder and even then I have to resize the window because my filename is to wide. This makes working with long filenames on the desktop a problem. And yes, my photo images have long names, so do my podcast downloads, and I hate this problem.

This file name is "this is a folder with a readly long filename" but I guess mac doesn't care.

Change View Consistency

As you change view in the Finder the location on the disk that you are looking at changes. This makes it hard to look at the same thing in different formats. There are two flavors to this.

Firstly the limited current directory mindset. This is the most pronounced in List or Cover Flow views. Select a folder in the view and press command-3 for example but any other view will demonstrate the problem. The new view is centered on the current directory which is not the directory that you just spent time navigating to in the list view.

The use case is this. Say I want to scan through some images in Cover Flow but when I open my Finder it is in List view. If I started navigating down the directories, opening this and that directory, navigating to the images directory and when I find it. I press command-4 for Cover Flow and low and behold all my navigation was for naught. I am relocated back at the top of the tree.

Some might say that I should select my view before I navigate, and I would say they are excuse making knuckle heads. The point of a UI is to be intuitive, not to force me to work in a certain way to get around how crappy it is.

Secondly the new window completely ignores the current directory of the first window. So, navigate to a directory, or not it doesn't matter, it's going to ignore you anyway. Then press command-n to open a new window. This new window will be located at your home directory so, if you are working in a project folder and want to move some things around then you will have to re-navigate back to that project folder.

And yes, you didn't want to hear it, but, Windows Explorer ctrl-n opens a new window at the selected folder. Now this is a nice user interface. They must have put lots of work into that. Really nice.

To do this with finder you have to use the "Open" metaphor instead. Right click open or command-o will open a new window at the selected folder. So, all it not lost.

Navigating Up

I am not going to say much about this because it is so crappy. I want to move up one directory. I press command-up arrow and a new window opens. I didn't want a new window just a different picture of the directory structure.

This doesn't occur in Columns View. If it wasn't for Columns View, the Finder would be practically useless.

URL Context Options

I have categorized this as a Finder problem because when I quit the finder the desktop icons disappear. However, that may have nothing to do with it.

If I drag my browser address bar to the desktop it becomes a .webloc file. I can double click and open the page in a browser. However, I can not copy the url of that site to the clipboard for pasting into emails or blog posts etc. I can not even open the information window on that file to get the URL. Window manages urls as files in a similar way to mac but the file type is supported with copy operations as well as lots of drag and drop opportunities. A url file acts like a url as it shoul in a good UI.

I am not sure what this would take to achieve. The file is just a little XML file with the URL in it but presumably there needs to be some OS extension to handle actions that can be performed on a file. Wait, stop right there. My inner developer is creeping out.

The mac sucks at handling URL files.


Tom Hundt said...

It's so true. For all the hype, Macs have some glaring UI deficiencies.

Anonymous said...

You are 100% true about everything in this post!

Term Papers said...
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