The Finder makes me avoid it

Okay, so everyone knows that the Finder is one of Mac OS X’s biggest embarrassments. And the real reason that I started writing in this place was to participate in Apple Bug Friday and hopefully help to build up whatever momentum will actually help fix the problems.

Bear in mind that I do accept that the next version of Mac OS X isn’t due for eighteen months or thereabouts, so any improvements that we’re going to see won’t appear for quite some time. Also remember, though, that actually coming up with a Finder That Doesn’t Suck (and associative services such as Spotlight) will take quite a bit of time indeed so the window for actually getting such a project started might be very small indeed.

The problem with writing up bugs with the Finder is that usually the bug that occurs is rather transitory. Say that I’ve got a few icons on my Desktop and suddenly all new icons are placed on top of “Macintosh HD”, a ridiculous state of affairs. This is the Finder’s fall-back method when it thinks there are no spots left, but in my case there clearly was a lot of space that could have been used. After a bit of fiddling to get enough info to actually file the report, however, the problem seems to have disappeared. Well, that’s one less bug we need to deal with again, if it never happens again. But will it? Oh, I guess so.

So now I’m racking my brain trying to think of what else the Finder does that really gets under my skin, and wouldn’t you know it—I can’t think of anything. So I go looking around a bit, starting to think “hey, maybe the Finder isn’t so bad after all” (although not believing myself), when, browsing through the preferences, it hits me: that God-damned dialog that asks me if I’d like to really change the extension on the file I just changed the extension of.

Sure, I get why it’s there. But give me the damn option to turn it off. I’m sure many people have submitted this bug before. But I figure, the more submissions of the same bug, the more the one guy working in Finder QA (and (s)he must be part-time) will get irritated that people keep sending in the same bug, trivial though it is, and get someone to fix it.

On the other hand, this is the type of thing that will probably change in 10.5 whether people file the bug report or not, so the actual use of doing so asymptotes to zero. But here we go anyway with bug #4250447:

Summary: When the extension of a file is changed, the Finder confirms whether or not you wish to change the extension.

Steps to Reproduce: Change the extension of a file in the Finder.

Expected Results: The first time such a thing happens, a confirmation dialog should appear, with the option to turn it off. (A checkbox to not sure this dialog again.) The default button of the dialog should be to accept the change, since the text of the dialog should deter any user that doesn’t know what they’re doing to cancel the change.

Actual Results: Every single time I need to change a file’s extension, I have to confirm it. The default button in the dialog is the not make the change, so it needs to be clicked with the mouse. This gets very tedious very quickly.

But the whole state of affairs is quite depressing. It’s quite easy to see that there are certain pieces of software in Mac OS X that share a certain lack of polish. The Finder is the worst culprit, and suffers from two problems: bad design and poor implementation.

But Tiger’s Mail.app gives me the same vibe, and I’d bet that the two programs at least share the same manager. The UI to Spotlight is lumped in with the Finder in my eyes, but it’s obvious that it exists in the same family tree. In the case of each, when using them for extended periods of time I’ve just run into so many little problems that if there were really decent alternatives I’d like to live without them.

I do believe that the terrible state of the Finder has directly resulted in my avoiding of it as much as possible, because it’s simply unpleasant to hang out there (if you’ll pardon the expression). I remember traversing my folder structure in the classic Mac OS, giving things icons and tweaking their icon positions, but in Mac OS X it’s strictly “get in get out” and minimise the exposure. There’s no reason to linger, and lingering is one of the reasons that people enjoy using their computer. Or maybe it’s a side-effect. Whatever. I do not enjoy using the Finder. I want to, but it just won’t let me.

The tragedy of the whole thing is that I don’t think it would take that much to fix everything up. Refine the UI, and reduce the wasted space that it has everywhere. Fix the terrible UI elements, such as the bizarre way that labels work. Just get someone to sit down, and write a design spec for everything that’ll be in 10.5 (and it had better have damn fancy metadata like Windows Vista already has) and you’re set.

The Finder should be Mac OS X’s standout application, the way it used to be. But enough people have wished for it before now, and look where we’ve ended up.


I found a new bug that I hadn’t seen before that annoys me no end now that I know about it. Check out the most vexing bug #4250475:

Summary: Finder windows may exist in one of two states: with or without a toolbar. In these states they are themed with either brushed metal or aqua, respectively. After a smart folder is saved in brushed metal, closing and reopening it displays the smart folder with the search query hidden and a button “Edit” to reveal it (a “query-less” state). However, when changing the window to aqua, this query-less state reverts to displaying the entire search query again. Closing and reopening the folder (still in aqua state) STILL does not show the query-less state.

Steps to Reproduce:

  • Create a smart folder. The more search terms, the better. Notice how they use up a fair amount of space in the window.
  • Save it on the desktop, say.
  • Make sure the window is brushed metal.
  • Close the window.
  • Open the smart folder in its own window (double-click its icon).
  • Notice that the search query is suppressed and the window looks relatively elegant.
  • Now press the toolbar button to change the window into aqua.
  • Note that the search is now revealed, possibly taking up several lines of space.
  • Close and reopen the window.
  • Note that the search query is still shown. If the lag on opening the window is great enough (use a complex search that finds lots of items on a slow computer), the query-less state is displayed as the window opens, but is replaced when the window finishes loading with the search query instead.

Expected Results: The aqua view should display the query-less state in the same manner as the brushed metal windows.

Actual Results: The query-less view is never shown, except momentarily, in the aqua view.