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OS X Rants

Trust me, they won’t even notice…

So let’s assume you’re a big, powerful, corporation, generally viewed as “customer centric” with very cool and useful products. Sometimes, though, you have the occasional ‘what we’re they thinking?’ moment with a product. Let’s further assume your name is, oh, I don’t know, how about…Apple? Here’s yet another of those moments they seem to have with some regularity:

iPhoto icon

That, in case you’re not familiar with it, is the button in iPhoto toolbar that lets you publish a selection of images to your .Mac homepage. Click it, and a wizard comes up that helps you select the theme, layout options, and other features for your photo page. You then click Publish, and presto, your images are published on your .Mac homepage, complete with a very nice slideshow feature. Presto, bango, simple!

So what’s the problem? Well, that button (and the wizard it launched) has simply vanished in iPhoto6. There’s no discussion about it in the manual, nor in Help, nor in the Read Me, nor in the Knowledge Base. It has simply disappeared into the ether.

Instead of using the handy wizard, you’re now supposed to send all your images through iWeb, which will then force you to create an actual site, just to contain what should be a simple slideshow page. Yech. There is a workaround, which I’ll write up in detail for macosxhints next week. (Short version: export and resize to 800×600, upload the folder to your iDisk, then use the .Mac homepage to create the photo page.) But the workaround is a far cry from the ease of use of the old wizard.

Now personally, I never used this feature, as I don’t use .Mac for my photo pages. However, after recommending the iLife upgrade to my mother, I definitely got an earful about this “new and improved” iPhoto when she found her single most used feature missing in action! Since I feel responsible for the problem she now faces, it’s the least I can do to try to help spread the word about this, and hope Apple can see fit to return a basic feature to the application.

I’ll probably be writing about why this is a Really Bad Thing on macworld.com next week, but I wanted to get something up about it now, while it was fresh on my mind. Of course, based on Apple’s treatment of the discussion I linked to above, I don’t have a positive feeling about the chances of this feature’s return…

Locked!

Perhaps, though, if enough people make enough noise about it, they can bring back what was a powerful and easy-to-use feature.

An annoying Address Book glitch

Tiger boxGiven my background with it, and its role in leading to an unexpected but welcomed career change, I’m clearly a fan of OS X. But sometimes, I really question the quality assurance (QA) testing that goes into the OS and its associated applications. Consider the following glitch I ran into yesterday with Address Book.

Address Book screenshotNow granted, I don’t run Address Book directly all that often–I usually just use it via Mail and the other programs to which its connected. But yesterday, I was trying to do something with my nearly my full contact list when I ran into a problem (not fatal to the task, but highly annoying). Here’s the problem: Address Book fails to save the scroll thumb location when unselecting entries from the Names list–but only when you’re unselecting entries from anywhere other than the first or last screenful of the list.

That actually sounds quite confusing, so I thought I’d demonstrate with a short movie. Click the image at left for a small version (182×174, 188KB) of the problem demonstration, or you can view the full-size version (364×548, 976KB) if you prefer. The clip first shows how unselects should work, by positioning the thumb at the top and the bottom of the list of names. It then shows what happens when the thumb is elsewhere.

To recreate the problem on your Mac, just follow these simple steps:

  1. Launch Address Book, click on any entry in the Names column, then hit Command-A to select all the names.
  2. Move the scroll thumb somewhere towards the middle of the list.
  3. Hold down Command and click any one name. Watch the scroll thumb leap back to the top of the list.
  4. Repeat ad infinitum.

As I noted, this isn’t a fatal bug–it just makes it much tougher to deselect a number of names after selecting all. The bug also doesn’t occur if you’re simply selecting names from the middle of the list; it’s only when you’re deselecting (though it doesn’t have to be from a Select All).

The bigger question is why do we see these types of glitches in many OS X programs? I probably launch Address Book about once a month, and yet it took only one relatively simple task to reveal a fairly obvious problem–how come a QA team didn’t spot it long before the program ever left the development lab?

Spotlight’s odd definition of a match

Tonight, while doing some testing for the ever-growing discussion about my Macworld Spotlight writeup, I stumbled across yet another ‘feature’ of Spotlight that I just don’t get. I’m think I remember reading this somewhere in the hazy past, but it slipped my mind when I wrote the long article for Macworld. But after playing around some more, this new ‘feature’ has jumped well up on my list of Spotlight annoyances.

So just what is this ‘feature’ that bothers me so? It’s this:

Spotlight will, by design, not find exactly what you asked it to find.

At this point, you might be saying ‘huh?,’ but let me explain by way of a simple demo.

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More on Spotlight…

Macworld logoI know that not everyone that visits here reads my stuff over on Macworld’s site, so I thought I’d put a quick note here, too. Over on Macworld today, you can read my latest opinion piece, A Dim View of Spotlight.

This piece is a follow-up to my original Shining the spotlight on Spotlight article, which (confusingly enough) appeared here on robservatory in May (I wrote it prior to the Macworld changeover). If you read the original, you can skip the whole “what I said back then” section in the new article, and just read through my latest thoughts on why Spotlight still isn’t quite everything it could be.

Executive Summary: I don’t like the way Spotlight works at all, but I still think it has great potential. Read the story for the specifics on why I feel that way!

When is a sorted list not a sorted list?

One of the things I like the most about OS X 10.4 is Automator, Apple’s new tool to help automate routine tasks. There’s an amazing amount of power hiding beneath a relatively simple user interface. The fact that users can create their own Automator actions (not workflows, but the actual actions that show up in the Action column), as described in this hint published today, means that Automator can be easily extended by those with a bit of programming experience.

Considering both Actions and Workflows, there are already over 100 entries on Apple’s Automator Actions download page, which is quite cool. (This does, however, pale in comparison to the 1,289 Dashboard widgets currently available for download.) In any event, Automator is a good tool to have around, and I’ve already put it to use on a number of occasions.

Automator sort orderThere is, however, something that irks me about its interface. Consider the screenshot at right of the Actions associated with the Finder Library entry (hover and click to zoom).

If you scan the list of Actions, you’ll find that they’re not in alphabetical order. Well, they’re sort of alphabetized. Look a bit closer, and you’ll see that the list is actually sorted by the relevance indicator, just like the search results in Mac Help. While this makes sense in Mac Help, as you’re searching for something that’s not definite, it makes no sense at all in this context. What is this list relevant to? The Finder Library entry? If that’s the case, then how come “Get Selected Finder Items” sits at the top of the list with 100% while “Filter Finder Items” (which sounds very similar) scores 0% and is sitting down near the bottom?

Within the relevance sort, the sort is then alphabetic, so with some practice, you can eventually find what you’re looking for. But Apple’s use of the seemingly-undefined relevance criteria makes the task much more difficult than it should be. Consider the iTunes Library entry; it has four levels of relevance, which means the alpha sort restarts four times—and one of those times is for one lousy item! It takes way too long to find a given entry in a list ordered in this manner, and there’s no reason for it at all that I can see.

You might think that using the Applications Library entry (the first one in the list) would solve the problem, since it selects all actions and displays them at once. But no, even in this situation, the relevance sort order is maintained! As a result, I never use this entry, as it’s really, really hard to find anything.

The solution seems simple to me: Apple, please sort the Automator actions by alpha, not relevance. If you’re going to insist on a sort by relevance, then at least give us the option to sort by alpha instead…

Sept 16th Update: I emailed Sal Soghoian, the AppleScript Product Manager at Apple (and all-around good guy!) to ask for some clarification. I asked “can you shed any light on exactly how Automator sorts its action lists?” He told me that Automator does indeed sort on relevance, and that “relevance is based on input/output types, keywords, keyword order, categories, and the related actions parameter.” He also mentioned that an alpha sort has been a popular request, so hopefully we’ll see it soon…

Should Apple applications be movable?

Tiger boxA quick entry tonight, just because the subject came up recently in this hint regarding iSync. In particular, the hint (and comments) note that iSync will fail if the application is moved into a directory whose name contains spaces. I had added an editor’s aside about moving apps in OS X, and my personal belief that it’s a Bad Thing to do. As noted in the second comment, it’s not necessarily an issue with using applications — they’ll (more than likely) run fine from most any location. Instead, it’s an issue with Apple’s updaters failing if the application they update isn’t in the usual spot.

Although it’s my philosophy not to move Apple’s applications around in OS X, that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it. I have multiple partitions on my drive (partition vs. don’t partition; that’s a subject for another day!), and have one set up particularly for all my applications and utilities (called Apps). I put everything on that partition — it makes it easier, for instance, to erase and install OS X if I have the need. As of result, the only things you’ll find in my boot drive’s Applications and Utilities folders are Apple’s programs, along with anything that just won’t run if it’s located elsewhere (Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4, for instance, fails if it’s not in /Applications). Everything else lives on my Apps partition. As much as I’d love to move Apple’s stuff out of there, after reading about the issues people have had with upgraded applications not working, I’ve decided to just let sleeping Mail applications lie.

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The many faces of Apple’s OS X applications

finder iconGiven my background with macosxhints.com, it’s quite clear I’m an OS X fan. But that doesn’t mean I think it’s perfect. While there are many, many things it does quite well, there are also areas that bother me, and make using OS X tougher than it should be.

One such area is the consistency of applications’ interfaces. Long a hallmark of the Mac experience, major pieces of that consistency have been falling away slowly but surely as OS X and its applications evolve. With the recent release of OS X 10.4, I thought I’d take a look at the state of application consistency in OS X. Generally speaking (Java applications excepted), menus remain a high point of consistency. File and Edit are always there, with there generally familiar choices. After that, of course, the menu structure is up to the program designer. But overall, I have no complaints with menu consistency in OS X. It’s the actual application interfaces that are bugging me.
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Ten questions on the Finder and user interface

Finder iconI spend a lot of time using OS X. A typical day will involve somewhere between 12 and 15 hours usage, with somewhat less than that on the weekends. I’ve been doing this basically ever since the Public Beta. After all that time, there are obviously some things that make we wonder “What was Apple thinking?” when they made a certain decision.

So without further ado, here’s a list of ten such questions — in this case, I’m focusing on the Finder and the user interface in general. Answers aren’t provided, of course, but please feel free to comment if you have any insight on any of them…

  1. Why can’t I sort a Finder column-view window? Yes, the UI would be tricky, but it’s quite doable (see Path Finder, which does it quite nicely).
  2. Why isn’t there an easy way to colorize the Finder’s sidebar? It can be done, of course, but it’s quite the hack — and this one no longer works in 10.4.
  3. Speaking of colors, why can’t I colorize (or use a picture background in) a column-view or list-view window? Are only icon-view users thought to enjoy color?
  4. How come a folder in the Sidebar is spring-loaded (you can drill-down while dragging an object), but folders in the Toolbar are not? They used to be, but when the Sidebar was added, that functionality was removed from the Toolbar. I find the Toolbar more useful than the Sidebar (there’s more room there, for one thing), but the lack of spring-loaded folder support there is somewhat crippling.
  5. Why can’t I add a visual divider to the dock, without resorting to aliases with lame custom icons?

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