Of all the built-in Mac OS X applications I know, Finder is probably the one that comes most often under attack, closely followed by DVD Player and Address Book. For some users, the Finder is asinine, full of annoying bugs, unworthy of its name while some others praise it as the foundation of the Mac OS X experience, the easy entry door to a world of computing fun.
Looking objectively at the Finder, it sure has its share of bugs, some strange, some annoying and some rather theoretical. In fact, many of these bugs go beyond the scope of the Finder itself and happen when Finder interacts with its interface cousins, such as the Dock and menu bar extras, making pointing out the guilty party a lot harder.
The question, of course, is whether the Finder is fundamentally good enough at what it does and whether it should, as some users claim, be replaced or re-written from scratch. Some Mac users would like to see it totally replaced by a Spotlight-driven interface, where files would be tagged and categorized in “Smart Folders” that would be little more than SQL queries in disguise. Others believe the current Finder is just in need of a good bug-fix release but has plenty of power left. Some argue the current folder/file analogy has run its course and would like icons and windows to better adapt to the contents of a directory — the long rumored piles interface that never made an appearance but drew a lot of ink back in the days.
Radically changing the structure of a filesystem and replacing it by a query-driven one is not without challenges. For example, how do you adapt to the needs of UNIX applications that still want to see a “/tmp” or “~” in a filesystem where everything is nothing but a big pile of files with a side of SQL? Write a translator? Doable, maybe, but definitely difficult and slow. Mixing Smart folders with real folders is what the Finder already does and few people seem to have entirely switched to dynamic groups for their daily work. The Finder could of course add UNIX-like options like regular expressions but a dash of AppleScript already takes care of the user’s most pressing needs (or good old Terminal, of course).
All in all, as you can see, I would lean towards the simple “scrub and fix the bugs” path which, admittedly, is easier said than done. The Finder as it is has to appeal to the geekiest of users as well as to the least advanced, which gives it an impossible task, the one to please everyone. In that, it is necessarily stuck in a middle point that remains very hard to navigate.
Of course, I would like to see a dramatically different Finder come up one day, one making use of visual effects for real, one that would present a radically different way of browsing files. I do not believe however the technologies and demands of today make it very easy for the Finder team to find an easy and quick way out. Am I wrong?