By John Gruber
Work at Atoms. Make the best shoes ever.
Regarding Tuesday’s “That Finder Thing”:
I speculated that the OS X Finder engineering team was comprised of former NeXT folks; I also suggested that the OS 9 Finder team might be a good choice to fix the OS X Finder.
Forget all of that — it’s wrong, and beside the point.
I heard from an ex-Apple engineer who was involved with the development of several technologies directly related to the Finder, and it ends up there’s only one Finder team at Apple, responsible for coding both the 9 and X Finders.
That’s a bit surprising, and worth clarifying, but it’s not really that big a deal. In the end, it doesn’t matter who coded it. What matters is who designed it.
Mihai Parparita sent along an interesting link to the resume of Arno Gourdol, a long-time Apple engineer who led the OS X Finder engineering team.
To increase market share, Apple hopes to entice Windows users to switch, and a number have happily done so. But it also needs longtime Mac users to switch—from OS 9. The last statistic we saw claimed one out of five Mac users has switched to OS X. By our arithmetic, that means four out of five have not. If Apple wants to be sure they will, it must listen not only to the praise of satisfied customers but also to the gripes of those who find OS X slower, less consistent, and less intuitive than the classic Mac OS.
Panic’s Steven Frank expresses concern over the new Apple’s obsession with style over usability:
At WWDC last year, my co-workers and I sat in quiet horror as we heard the umpteenth presenter say, “Now I’m going to turn on the new ‘metal’ look for this window, because it looks pretty cool.” This from actual Apple employees, in Apple’s actual engineering department. What happened to all the people who gave a damn about the Mac user experience?
I maintain that the real cause of OS X’s interface problems is not poor design but (for lack of a better word) poor supervision—the result of Steve Jobs’s dissolving of the human interface group. With no one enforcing consistent interface principles and a woefully incomplete set of guidelines, it’s really no surprise that we are where we are. Apple has lots of programmers, and this is what happens when you let them loose (however smart they may be). I don’t think it’s so much a matter of their platform heritage. There are obviously a lot of Mac-type people working on OS X. Joel Spolsky loved that Microsoft gave him a lot of freedom when he was low on their totem pole. I think that this element of corporate culture, while it may be a great way of keeping programmers happy, is a lousy way to ensure quality and consistency. Yet rejecting this idea need not lead to Joel’s Juno scenario; programmers respect HI experts when they are good. Programmers need HI experts in the same way that writers need editors.
Long-time Mac users obsess about the OS X Finder, which they deem to be less perfect because it’s, well, not the OS <= 9 Finder, which in their eyes is perfection. No it’s not, guys; it’s just what you’re used to. I have no problems with the OS X Finder and, to be quite honest, I don’t use it that much. I don’t push files around that often, and when I do, I tend to use the file for quite some time, or access the file from within the application. Sometimes I even use the command line. I have seen article after article denouncing the OS X Finder since before I switched last year, and I can’t for the life of me see what the big deal is. But then, they put up with cooperative multitasking and a crash-prone operating system (extension conflicts, anyone?) for years on end, so they’re clearly selective about what’s important. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve used enough different operating systems not to freak out over something new, which is, I suspect, really what long-time Mac users have trouble with.
Since he admittedly doesn’t “push files around that often”, and when he does, sometimes uses the command line to do so, is it any wonder that he doesn’t see anything wrong with the OS X Finder? Mr. Crowe, along with others who espouse similar opinions on the state of the Finder, miss the point. My criticism of the OS X Finder is not that it is worse because it is different. It is worse because, as Zeldman wrote, it is “slower, less consistent, and less intuitive”.
It’s true that many long-time Mac users do complain, loudly, about petty differences in Mac OS X. That doesn’t mean, however, that all complaints are petty.
Like many switchers from other platforms, Crowe admits that he doesn’t often move files around. But it’s important to understand that many Mac users do. The Finder is not just a simple shell wrapped around the file system — it’s an essential productivity tool for many professional Mac users.
For example, many graphic design shops follow a production workflow like this:
Dozens of files, large and small, moved and copied throughout the day. Many Mac users pound on the Finder. I know several designers who love Mac OS X and have no desire to revert back to 9, but I don’t know a single one who doesn’t miss the Mac OS 9 Finder.
Switchers from other platforms don’t understand just how much Mac users use the Finder. For one thing, they often perform tasks that don’t require frequent file moving. Unix software developers, for example, use version control tools like CVS to manage project files. And Windows Office users seldom move Word or Excel files after they’ve been created (and, in my experience, still have trouble finding them once they fall off the recent file list in the File menu). Mostly, though, I think they’ve been conditioned by years of exposure to poorly designed file managers. If your file manager is irritating, you learn to stop managing your files.
That the OS X Finder is good enough for some does not mean it is good enough for all. When newcomers to the Mac — no matter how experienced they are with other platforms — dismiss long-time Mac users’ criticism with a bit of “good enough for me” hand-waving, it belies their ignorance of what the Mac truly stands for. Let’s turn the tables and imagine that the GNU bash shell (favored by many Linux users) wasn’t able to run on Mac OS X. Bash advocates would, rightly, complain loudly. Now imagine if a long-time Mac user responded to their complaints by saying, I only use the Terminal to run “top” and to open hidden files once in a while, but I don’t see anything wrong with tcsh. You Linux switchers are just complaining because tcsh is a little different.
Steven Frank — whose Mac cred is off the chart — sums it up well:
I’ve heard it argued that Mac OS X, in many ways, is easier for a novice user to understand than Mac OS 9, and I would mostly agree with that. But the one trick that OS 9 mastered that OS X needs to work on is that it is possible to present a simple, easy-to-use interface for novices, while still offering flexibility to power users with additional options lurking just below the surface. The OS 9 Finder was appealing to newbies and experts alike. The OS X Finder is appealing to newbies but… well… I still do most of my file manipulation in Terminal.