Wednesday, November 30, 2011

windows kudos, osx phoodos

So here's something from Windows that I think belongs in a UI Hall of Fame. It's the Location bar of the Windows 7 File Explorer:

It shows you the current folder location in a logical, breadcrumb manner. Hover over part of the current location:

BAM! It fades into a button, and you can click it and hop the folder's view to that location. That's brilliant! (Somewhat less brilliant because it's getting more obscure: (AKA I didn't realize it 'til just now:) click the arrow to the right to hop to siblings of that folder.)

(UPDATE: OSX has a "Show Path Bar" option that brings up a similar breadcrumb-y view. You can even hop up to any of the parents, but you have to double click, which seems unfriendly to me.)

But the really great part is clicking on the location bar just outside of the visible path:

DOUBLE BAM! That is a text version of the path, pre-select for your Ctrl-C copying convenience. Now, even if you're not using the dear old command line much, it's still hugely useful: in any standard file dialog, you can paste that into the filename, press return, and now you're ready to save your file in that location. (OSX sort of does something similar if you start typing with a slash, but it's heart isn't really in it.)

So I don't know if that is a "poweruser" usecase, but I find it hugely intuitive and fast, fast, fast. Now, there are imperfections in this system of text versions of the path-- if you click for a file path when you happen to be doing a search, the result is an unreadable mess that you can't really usefully paste anywhere. But there are other nice touches to the widget that I'm not even going into here.

Speaking of standard file dialogs, here's a bit of crapness from OSX. Here's a file save as dialog.
So that "Where" interaction, showing a small list of common spaces you might want to Save To,  is something relatively new in UI land. Windows does it too, but the dropdown menu is used to control a larger folder view. So you can jump to one of the standard areas, and from there, say, create a new folder, or go up a level, or do the usual folder manipulations:

And so I figured that that functionality must be somewhere in the OSX file dialog, that I could save somewhere other than exactly one of the pre-ordained file locations... but where? How do I get to it?

Answer: that small triangle to the right of the filename. That changes the look of the dialog to this:

That's better... but why is it so hard to find and why is it like that in the first place? I like thinking through the challenges UI designers must have faced, because sometimes you realize there's a complicating detail... Why isn't the more flexible view part of the dialog to begin with? I guess to simplify things, stop people from getting overwhelmed with options, while satisfying an 80/20 (70/30?) rule about where a user wants to put something. So why is it arrow to the right of the filename, and not the "Where" dropdown? (It is functionality related to the location, not the filename...) I guess because the "Where" dropdown changes form enough in the new mode that the up arrow to put it back might get lost. But it seems unintuitive to me. (Meaning I had to go ask a more experienced OSX user where to go for it.) Combine it with the way I've lost my ability to copy and paste a path here, and I have to say, I find the Windows experience superior.

(I know Mac fans stuck working on Windows probably miss the 3 column view for its folder viewer, along with the too-cool-by-half "Cover Flow", but for me, I'd rather have the ability to easily transfer path information around. UPDATE: OSX has this functionality, by dragging the icon at the top of a Finder window onto a dialog. Even given my lack of experience with OSX, this seems a little fiddly to me, where I might think I was trying to move the folder to whatever location the dialog was open to.)

Another OSX-ism I find irksome: the default Preview program is great for quick viewing, except it has no concept of "go to the next file in this folder". What's weird is that the basic functionality is in place: it does the right thing if you drag and drop a bunch of files onto it once, or select the files and right click and hit "Open with" (Sorry, I was wrong: Preview doesn't support drag and drop.) I have had friends who are bigger fans of OSX say I was expecting the wrong thing, that file systems are arbitrary ways of holding a bunch of files anyway, that a more realistic usecase is just using iPhoto for all this stuff, but, whatever man. It was a detail I think they could have done gotten better, and it makes my life on OSX less easy than my life with Windows.

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