Discoveries in Mac OS X Snow Leopard: The Finder

Finder Desktop Small

If you listen to Apple, pretty much all they did for the Finder in their latest OS was rewrite it using the Cocoa frameworks (oh, and report hard drive size differently). But they tend to dwell less on just what the Finder gained from all that rewriting.

File Icons As Big As Your Screen Used To Be

SL Icon 512x512_SmallThe file icons in Snow Leopard can be bigger than the original Mac’s screen. Consider that for a minute. This icon for the System folder in Snow Leopard is larger than the entire screen of the original line of Macs.

Original Mac Screen SmallTo put the two into perspective, they’re shown below full-size with the Mac’s 512 x 342 desktop on top of a Snow Leopard 512 x 512 icon. Wow. We see proof of how far we’ve come in computing every day, but for some reason this one kind of blows me away:

Original Mac vs SL Icon

You can preview these large icons. For example, you can scroll though a PDF page by page, or even play a movie. With sizes this large it’s actually workable. However, when I want to preview something I use the excellent QuickLook, which opens an even bigger window.

For me, the larger icons (and slider in each window to control them) have other purposes. For example, they’re perfect when browsing through a folder full of images. Sure, you could use QuickLook there, too, but it’s a little clumsy just for random browsing. Much better to make the icons a big size  – kind of like a photographer’s light table — and scroll through them, as below:

Finder icon Scrolling

In case you’re wondering, those are 224 x 224 icon sizes. Previously, the highest you could go was 148 which wasn’t large enough sometimes, forcing you into QuickLook. However, at the larger size it’s easy to distinguish them, so now a selection can be made (if necessary) for more detailed viewing via QuickLook or an app. I go though lots of images for this blog, and I already find this feature great.

For another Finder feature, notice the above window has the toolbar and sidebar neatly hidden. Just a click on the “pillbox” in the upper right of the title (or Command-Option-T) takes care of that. Do again and the window’s back to normal.

Saved From The Trash

Put BackClassic Mac OS used to have this, and Windows has it, so I’m only dwelling on the new Put Back feature in the Trash because it’s one of those things that, simple as it seems, I believe they had to dig into the OS to add. Without a rewrite this likely doesn’t happen.

The same is true for the improved disc eject, where the Finder is now kind enough to tell you what app has a hold of the drive you’re trying to get rid of. Apple said addressing this required getting “deep” into the OS, and only a rewrite was going to make it possible.

By the way, no keyboard command for Put Back is listed, but it has one. It’s the same as the one that put the file in the trash to begin with: Command-Delete.

The Finder on Speed

There are no screenshots or benchmarks that do this justice. You’ll just have to see (and feel) it for yourself. But the 64-but rewrite of the Finder brings much speed to the interface. Icon previews — even in the new larger sizes — draw much faster than before. File operations, windows openings, and stacks draw faster than ever.

It’s very noticeable, so much so that when you move to a Leopard box after only a day you begin to feel that OS is slow.

The Finder is Stacked

I looked forward to the navigation of Finder stacks perhaps as much as any other feature of Snow Leopard. The good news is I love it, though it’s not without a downside for me.

The good news is obvious, many times I don’t want to go to a Finder window, but would rather just keep navigating the stack. Previously, if you clicked a folder the Finder window opened and you were on your own. Now, it opens up in the stack and you can just keep navigating. An arrow in the upper left corner takes you back up the hierarchy. I love this.

The bad news is, well, sometime I wanted to open a Finder window, and now I can’t easily do so. For example, consider this stack:

Stack Navigating

You can see by the arrow at the top left that I got here via stack navigation, which is good. But now I want to open the “_Blog Potential” folder in the Finder. If there were a keyboard shortcut (say, Option-click), that would be great. But there’s not.

What I have to do is click the folder (opening it in the stack), scroll to the bottom, and then click Open in Finder. Alternatively, I could Command-click it, which opens the enclosing folder in the Finder with the clicked folder highlighted, and double-click it. Either way it’s more clicks or scrolls than I’d like. Apple, please provide a keyboard-click in stacks to avoid either of these options.

The above doesn’t spoil stack navigation for me. I’d much rather have it than go back. But it does put a damper on the process.

I also wish I had some control of icon size in the stack’s grid view. They were shrunk quite a bit in Leopard to show as much as possible. Since Snow Leopard can scroll, I guess Apple felt they may as well make them huge. I’d rather make them a bit smaller, especially since I have a 13” MacBook and it doesn’t fit that many on one stack “page”.

Other Niceties

Search FolderI love that the Finder has more control over file searching now. Why go to a folder and do a search when the Finder couldn’t start there? Well, now it’s your call. Set the new option to Search the Current Folder and you’re all set. If you invoke a search from a folder that’s where it will begin to search.

View Search ResultsAnd once the Finder has found your stuff, you can change the order in which it’s displayed. After a find is completed, the View/Arrange menu lists multiple options, each with a keyboard shortcut. Finally. Further, a preexisting or saved search can now have the view setting changed like any other Finder folder, and those setting will be retained. I have a saved search for recent image files, and it’s great now to always have it in the order and icon size I want.

Finally, if you drag everything out of a Finder sidebar category, the heading itself is smart enough to disappear. A nice touch.

You Can’t Be Done, What About the Dock and Exposé?

Actually, I am done. This article is long enough. Besides, I want to write about the Dock, Exposé (and Spaces) in their own article to point out the great window and workspace management they provide, and how it’s enhanced in Snow Leopard. That’ll be the next article in my Discover series.

Previous Articles in the Snow Leopard Discovery Series:

Discoveries in Mac OS X Snow Leopard: MobileMe

MMe iDisk

Next up in my discovery series on Snow Leopard is MobileMe. Apple didn’t talk about it much for this upgrade, but I’m writing about it because I ran into a frustrating snag, and found a great new option.

Bad News First

I keep a local iDisk on both my Macs. I use the data on whichever machine I want, and never worry about it being current because MMe keeps it all in sync. The beauty of this approach to Cloud computing is that I’m not at the whim of the Cloud in terms of whether performance is slow, or if I can even log in at all. Further, since I’m using local data I get great performance, and can use desktop apps with capabilities that exceed Cloud alternatives.

Since I launch some apps via documents, I kept a handful of document aliases in the iDisk’s Documents folder. These aliases would point to the correct local file no matter which Mac I opened them from. Not any more.

On Snow Leopard, if I used an alias on one machine, the other would balk when it tried to sync it. I could override it, but the resulting synced file was garbage text instead of a functioning alias for that machine. It took some experimentation with three different aliases to confirm this was the problem. I could no longer get a good alias for one machine if it worked on the other.

To get around this, I deleted the aliases from iDisk and created them locally on each machine. They don’t sync, of course, but they don’t need to.

This really isn’t a big deal, but it was frustrating today as I tried to figure out what was going on. Anyway, since I deleted the aliases iDisk syncs have been fine. No more errors and all seems well.

And Now For The Good News

Personally, I think Apple should have shouted from the rooftops that MobileMe iDisk syncing has a new option:

MMe Sync Option

This is great. I don’t get a lot of sync errors, but when I do I can’t think of a single time that I didn’t take the most recent version of the file. From now on, if the sync issue is due to a time discrepancy I won’t even be bothered.

I understand the idea behind any discrepancy stopping the process and prompting the user, but I also believe that some of the prompts are overkill. In my opinion, having the option to always use the most recent file is a great addition.

Discoveries in Mac OS X Snow Leopard: Installation [UPDATED]

Snow_Leopard_DVD2

I’m not going to write a Snow Leopard review; there are many of them already written anyway. Rather, I’m going to write separate articles that dwell on things I’ve used in Snow Leopard and how they worked for me. May as well start at the beginning, so this first article is about installation.

That Was It?

I can honestly say I’ve never had a smoother or more non-eventful OS upgrade in my life. I popped in the disc, ran the installer, and that’s it. It estimated 1 hour and 2 minutes to upgrade my unibody 13” MacBook, and it pretty much nailed the estimate. It required no intervention on my part after starting the installer. A couple reboots later and it was done.

No, I didn’t wipe the disk and do a clean install, and I haven’t done such a thing in years. I think people who install that way have way too much time on their hands, but that’s just me.

All my preferences, apps, settings, etc. were preserved, with one exception. The Preview app’s toolbar customization was gone. This is because there are some new tools and the old settings wouldn’t work. Further, image and PDF files had their own toolbars before, now the toolbar is the same no matter the file type opened. In any case, it didn’t take long to set it the way I like it, and Preview will be one of the first apps I write about; the changes are very welcome.

A Little Preparation Is Good

The great install may have partly been due to some planning on my part. After reading up on it a bit, I took care of the following before attempting the upgrade:

  • I uninstalled Glims and Safar140 from Safari because I knew they were not totally compatible.
  • I uninstalled MailBadger because these types of “hacks” are sometimes trouble in an OS upgrade.
  • I was going to uninstall AdBlocker as well, but they claimed to have a release that was compatible with Snow Leopard, so I upgraded it and left it in.
  • I uninstalled Chax (a great iChat enhancer)
  • With a completely re-written QuickTime player I thought it best to uninstall those enhancers that let it play more file types. I uninstalled Flip4Mac, but kept Perian since their web site said it was compatible with Snow Leopard.

The Aftermath

SL_Screenshot_Small

AdBlock_32bitAfter the install I launched Safari, and AdBlocker was not there. When I went to the site it clarified that you must run Safari in 32-but mode for AB to work. Sorry, no. Safari is much faster in Snow Leopard at 64-bits, and I’m not slowing it down for AB; I’ll wait until it’s upgraded. So I uninstalled it.

32bit_SysPrefPaneI left DoubleCommand installed on my system, and it works. I use it for one thing only: To change my forward slash ket to forward delete key. When I accessed its control panel System Preferences informed me it would have to shutdown and relaunch to display it. This is the tipoff you’re dealing with a 32-bit control panel. No big deal (though inconvenient) but it worked fine after that. I shouldn’t need to open its control panel again (I never change it), so I’m happy.

The new QuickTime player is sweet, but it doesn’t have all the features of QuickTime Pro. For example, you can’t edit out parts in the middle of a movie, or combine multiple movies into one. In short, it lets you do more than Leopard’s QuickTime Player, but is not a substitute for QT Pro. I inserted the Snow Leopard disc and ran the optional installer to put Quick Time 7 back. It recognized my Pro license immediately, so the features were all enabled. I’ll still use QT X to play most media (it’s slick, and fast), but retain QT Pro for quick and dirty editing jobs.

Conclusion

So, here’s the deal after the install:

  • I lost Safari AdBlock and will miss it. This product (or a substitute) I’ll reinstall as soon as it’s ready for 64-bit. Thanks to a reader I was pointed to GlimmerBlocker, a sweet little tool that not only blocks ads but also helped me with using searches other than Safari’s default.
  • I lost Glims for Safari but only used it to change the default search engine. I’m fine until it’s upgraded. Not sure I need this now that I’m using GlimmerBlocker.
  • I lost Safari140 (Tweeting from Safari), but never used it much so I’m not sure I care.
  • I lost MailBadger, and am trying to figure out if I want to see if it works, or if I really miss it that much.
  • I no longer have Flip4Mac, A reader pointed out that the folks at Flip4Mac have a beta 64-bit version for Safari, so I’ve installed that, and with the new QT X player and Perian I think I can open any media files I need to (I also kept the VLC Player app for the occasional Real Media file).

All in all I couldn’t be more pleased with the installation. In the last 24 hours or so I’ve run most of my programs and am not seeing any compatibility issues beyond what I mentioned above. I’ll document whatever I find in another post, but for now I’m just enjoying the enhancements and faster performance. More later.

[UPDATE:] SInce I wrote this I’ve installed Snow Leopard on my 2-year old original aluminum iMac 24″ (2.8GHz Core 2 Duo Extreme). That install went every bit as smoothly as on the MacBook:

SL_iMac_Screenshot

Windows 7 vs. Snow Leopard: InfoWorld And Others Out For a Troll.

MS_Fud_W7_SL

It was a fine day, so InfoWorld’s Randall C. Kennedy decided to take a nice stroll through the tech neighborhood. I’d say the resulting piece is destined for the link bait Hall of Fame, but I know it’s just the beginning. The launch of new Operating Systems by Microsoft and Apple is too good an event to pass up.

I think analysis of each OS is great, and that an inflammatory headline (“Is Snow Leopard just a cheap Windows 7 knockoff?“) in and of itself does not make for a bad article. However, when you read the thing, and see the outlandish and silly claims made, you know its true purpose. No matter the headline, I’d like thought and reasoning to back it up. The IW piece lacks that.

InfoWorld’s Reasons For The Headline

“Yippee,! Apple finally goes 64-bit — BFD! As a Windows user, I’ve been livin’ la vida 64-bit for more than three years. Vista was the first mainstream desktop OS to deliver a viable 64-bit experience”

Oh please. You mean Microsoft should be rewarded for being unable to bring 64-bit in any manner other than a separate OS? One that requires you to purchase a new license, blow away your existing setup, and start over? This is why there’s a small percentage of people running 64-bit Windows. Microsoft’s 64-bit strategy is so overwhelmingly hostile and user unfriendly that no one bothers.

As for Apple’s implementation not being “fully” 64-bit, spare me. I have an icon in 64-bit Windows 7 Ultimate for a 32-bit Internet Explorer, and I run it because some sites don’t play with the 64-bit version. So what’s all this nonsense about a “full” 64-bit system?

That Apple’s 64-bit strategy is vastly superior to Microsoft’s is obvious to anyone who bothers to think it through. The idea that separate OSs make more sense for this is ludicrous.

“This one’s [Exposé in the Dock] a joke, right? Am I to understand that Apple is just getting around to adding this? Microsoft has been offering this type of functionality (aka thumbnail preview)”

Nice of Kennedy to ask if this is a joke, because his argument certainly is. Exposé has been around for years, including the ability to see all of one app’s open windows. Snow Leopard simply adds yet another way to invoke it, in addition to the configurable keyboard, mouse, and gesture options already available. Options that Windows 7 lacks.

Mac OS X also includes Spaces, a higher-level method of organizing windows. In short, Mac OS X Leopard, all by itself, blows Windows 7 away in this regard. Snow Leopard simply increases Apple’s lead.

“So while I’m glad to see Apple finally getting on the ball with its PDF handling (I hear the updated viewer lets you basically do away with the piggish Adobe Reader for most common tasks), I’m still utterly stunned by the fact that this is even an issue.”

Kennedy is bent out of shape about Apple’s Preview enhancements for PDFs. But Preview allowed most Mac users to “do away” with Acrobat the day it was first delivered, that ability is not new to Snow Leopard.

In any case, Leopard allowed for previews of multiple pages in a PDF file (via Quick Look), and enhances that capability in Snow Leopard. Further, it allows for “smart” text selection that I’m looking forward to. Finally, it will be sped up considerably. Given that it already blows past Acrobat, the new speed will truly leave Adobe behind.

“Can you believe the Apple folks used to charge for this thing [QuickTime Pro]? I guess they saw the writing on the wall, what with Microsoft releasing yet another excellent iteration of its free Movie Maker application.”

Comparing QuickTime Pro to Windows Live Movie Maker is nothing more than proof of either ignorance or link baiting. The real comparison (and it’s no contest) is between Movie Maker and iMovie. The latter blows the former away. It’s not even close.

InfoWorld’s Conclusion

“I’ve often referred to Windows 7 as “Vista R2,” an incremental follow-up release that was mostly about righting the wrongs of its predecessor.”

So have lots of people, which is why Microsoft began their campaign to say the same thing about Snow Leopard. Isn’t it odd they can’t think of a decent reason for Windows 7 except that “It’s better than Vista” (how could it be worse?) and “Apple does it, too” (wrong).

“Viewed in these terms, Mac OS X Snow Leopard is more like a service pack: a collection of bug fixes and minor functional enhancements that, quite frankly, should have been in the original release. As such, Snow Leopard is nothing to get all excited about; it’s not worth even the modest “upgrade” price Apple is asking.”

The “service pack” line is right out of Redmond’s talking points memo. I guess since many people think that’s what Windows 7 is, Microsoft put all their big brains together and came up with the “I know you are, but what am I” defense. Brilliant.

My Conclusion

Microsoft displays a certain disdain for what Apple accomplished with Snow Leopard. Their supporters have whined about it for months, and the heat is really on now. As if Microsoft wouldn’t love to refine Windows under the hood. As if Windows doesn’t need refinement under the hood! Get rid of the antiquated registry, get a handle on DLL issues we’ve had for years, remove the bloat, add better security, and don’t require separate versions for 32- and 64-bit. But they can’t. They don’t have the vision, they don’t have the priority, and they don’t have the desire to make things better for their user base.

Finally, though Kennedy’s article is link bait, and doesn’t deserve one, here’s a link. Expect more like this as the Microsoft FUD machine rolls onward. In fact, Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows has a “Quick Take” on Snow Leopard that’s almost as bad as Kennedy’s. And then there’s Ed Bott’s cherry-picked data that uses the “service pack” meme from the Microsoft playbook. All these articles posted on the same day (8/25); these folks are well-schooled.

Can Mary Jo Foley and the rest of Microsoft’s tech press friends be far behind? More of this is undoubtedly on the way; brace yourselves for some pretty foul stuff.

Forget The Snow: Windows 7 Is Behind Mac OS X Leopard

L-SL-7-Small

I don’t know why Microsoft is worried about Snow Leopard. They want to dismiss it as a “service pack” or some such nonsense, but they’re worried about the wrong OS in my opinion.

Microsoft should be worried about Leopard. Yep, plain ol’ Leopard, without the snow. In my eyes Windows 7 is still behind that OS, so Snow Leopard will just be gravy on top of Apple’s lead.

Sure, Windows 7 is an improved OS. Perhaps, as Steve Ballmer says, it’s even Vista done right. But what does that mean? While no one thought Vista would be the failure it is, neither did anyone think it would be particularly special. So if they’ve finally done it “right” that only makes it the XP successor we should have had five years ago. Even with the whiz-bang features added, it’s lack of polish is evident.

Here’s a sample of what I miss from Leopard when I’m working on Windows 7:

  • One-click access to my most common folders (i.e., can’t add folders directly to the taskbar);
  • No folder springload capability;
  • No QuickLook;
  • No stacks with a graphical or hierarchical view of folders;
  • No easy way to keep the screen uncluttered via virtual desktops (instead I must minimize windows to get things out of the way);
  • The taskbar scrolls (ugh!) when it runs out of space, instead of elegantly resizing to fit;
  • No easy way to see all windows at once.
  • I can see the whole desktop, but it’s only for viewing, whereas on the Mac it’s “live”;
  • I can Command-Tab to switch apps, but on the Mac that’s “live” as well.

So even with Aero Peek and the new taskbar, Windows 7 is not very “smart”. Why not let you pin folders? Why not show all my windows? To me these are obvious details that Microsoft just didn’t think of, or can’t implement on the aging Windows code base. Meanwhile, it’s the attention to detail Apple’s famous for. I use these things without thinking about them, and miss them on a system from 2009 that sometimes seems to have been designed a decade earlier.

Windows 7 adds nice enhancements over Vista, but not the Mac. For me it’s nowhere near the Mac even just in terms of keeping your apps, folders, files, desktop and windows under control; too many clicks are still required.

Windows 7 runs fine, has been stable, no viruses (yet), and I can’t imagine anyone using the new taskbar for more than 60 seconds and not thinking it’s miles ahead of the old one. Still, it’s only a start and there’s a long way to go. Snow Leopard isn’t even needed for this round.

Apple vs. Microsoft OS Family Packs: Microsoft Loses

As more and more households have multiple PCs, the idea of a “family pack” (i.e., a piece of software with multiple licenses for use) makes a lot of sense. With Apple and Microsoft set to release new versions of their respective operating systems this fall (Snow Leopard in September, Windows 7 on October 22), it’s interesting to look at the family pack that will be available for each.

Microsoft

Microsoft finally ended the rumors and speculation of a Windows 7 Family Pack, announcing that there would indeed be such a product:

The Windows 7 Family Pack will be available starting on October 22nd until supplies last here in the US and other select markets. In the US, the price for the Windows 7 Family Pack will be $149.99 for 3 Windows 7 Home Premium licenses.

It’s not that paying $150 for three licenses is a bad deal, it’s just that the paragraph above pretty much constitutes the entire announcement, and that’s bad because:

  • Home Premium. Where is the Family Pack for Professional? What about Ultimate? Sadly, there is no such thing. Why isn’t Microsoft bundling the other editions in similar “family friendly” offerings?
  • Until supplies last. Huh? This is a software product on disc that comes with a three-user license, there are no “supplies” to run out. The only thing that can run out is Microsoft’s desire to provide this value to the consumer.

So, Microsoft will punish those who desire Professional or Ultimate by requiring full licenses even if they want to run it on all the PCs in the house. It’s practically an engraved invitation to pirate the software.

Further, after some as-yet-unnamed amount of time passes, the Home Premium deal will be withdrawn. Is this just a maneuver to juice up early sales for PR purposes, and once they can report big numbers of licenses sold they’ll just end the deal?

Apple

By contrast, Apple’s upcoming Snow Leopard will be sold in family packs for $49 with five licenses. This is a much better deal than Microsoft’s in many ways:

  • Obviously, $50 for five license is a much better deal than $150 for three.
  • Unlike Microsoft, Apple doesn’t mess with crippled editions. Their family pack will consist of the full (“Ultimate”, to use Microsoft’s term) version of Snow Leopard.
  • There is no expiration date on availability.

I think it was a great move for Microsoft to offer a family pack for Windows 7, but I believe they’re misguided to limit it to just the “cheap” edition, and even then to make the offer short-term.