Just the other day, while recording an interview with Mac author and commentator Kirk McElhearn, we both ruminated about the fate of the Mac OS X Finder in Leopard. I think most of you agree with us that the present Finder is severely broken, and has been from the first.
No, I’m not talking about the basic interface, because I think that’s pretty much in good shape. I’ve always found the column view a convenient way to check your stuff and drill down into deeply-nested menus. There are times, of course, when I prefer list view to reorder file display and such, but the basic layout gets the job done.
We could, of course, talk of ways that things might improve, particularly when it comes to the Open and Save dialog boxes, where features that were pioneered years ago in such products as Default Folder and Super Boomerang, such as automatic rebounding to the last opened file, are still missing in action.
It’s not that such tweaks represent an insurmountable problem for Mac OS X, since Default Folder has remained compatible with each operating system upgrade all these years. However, Apple’s online documentation for Leopard fails to mention any such enhancements, so I’ll assume that, aside from taking on some of the more distinct elements of the Leopard interface, the Open and Save dialogs will remain largely untouched. Sad, but true. But at least the publisher of Default Folder can continue to sell the product without competition from Apple. Our kudos to programmer Jon Gotow for his great work in making Default Folder such an indispensable tool.
Maybe he deserves a job at Apple, or maybe that’s the farthest thing from his mind.
As to the Finder itself, the prospect of grafting cover flow from iTunes affects me hardly at all. It’s neat to look at if eye-candy is your thing. But I prefer to see lists of the files I want to open, not pretty pictures that will simply put the brakes on my Finder navigation process. But that’s a viewing scheme that is optional, so you can do what you want, and if you like the effect, then maybe Apple was right to include it. Of course, once I have the chance to really use Leopard, maybe I’ll change my tune, but I doubt it.
My real concerns for the Finder are far more mundane. I want it to work efficiently, without bogging down. Now that may not seem to be such a demanding request, but when you look at every single version of the Mac OS X Finder, you’re apt to think it’s an impossible accomplishment. Sure, it’s gotten a little better over the years, but when you see it in action in a quad-core Power Mac G5 or Mac Pro — let’s not worry about the eight-core version of the latter — you will be astounded how bad things can be.
Consider a very simple action, which is to copy the same 10GB folder to two other drives for backup. This is something I do regularly with my stash of audio interview files. And it doesn’t matter if the drives are internal or external, but let’s just say they are real fast mechanisms
The first symptom you’ll observe is that the Finder has apparently been struck by a severe case of flu, for it becomes extremely sluggish. You try to open an application during this file copying process, and the launch sequence seems to take minutes, rather than seconds.
If you have the temerity to try to open a Finder window and look over a few things, watch out for the spinning beach ball, because it can get to be mighty frustrating.
Now consider network access. Apple touts its cross-platform capabilities, but watch what happens when the file share falls off the network for any reason. It doesn’t have to be a crash. Say you’re sharing files with your MacBook and the note-book drifts into sleep mode. The Finder will take its sweet time figuring that out and then some. During that period, you may think the Mac that’s connected to that MacBook has, itself, fallen asleep or perhaps crashed till things clear up, as they do eventually.
Admittedly, a MacIntel seems to be a better home for Mac OS X, and the slowdown isn’t so severe. In fact, my dual-core MacBook Pro with 2GB of RAM outshines the G5 quad, with 4GB of RAM, in that regard. But the PowerPC is history, so I suppose I shouldn’t fret over that. An Intel-based desktop is on my shopping list, and one of these days, I’ll act.
But I’m not saying anything here that Apple doesn’t know. Indeed, I have little doubt that Apple wants the Finder to, once again, become the showpiece of the Mac user experience, which means that speedy performance and efficient multithreading should be a given.
Will it happen in Leopard? I can’t make any predictions, nor do I want to know what’s going on with the beta process, since that’s protected by Apple’s confidentiality agreements. Besides, any experience one has with prerelease software, good or bad, doesn’t always follow completely through to the final release.
Let’s just say that I’m extremely optimistic that Apple gets it, and, further, that we will see many of our hopes realized when Leopard is released.