When I first switched from Windows to Mac OS, I was an obstinate and arrogant young man who thought he knew all the answers.
Having spent the previous years working extremely hard to keep Windows stable and usable, I mistakenly took the same approach with Mac OS X. On starting to use it, I decided that I was the boss, and I would make the system work my way.
So I created my own Applications folder, inside my user directory, and in there I put all the apps I downloaded and installed by myself. I thought I was taking control, but after a while I realised the folly of this approach. I wasn’t in control, I was in a mess. It took longer to find things, because I wasn’t always completely certain where they would be.
So I moved all my apps to the place where the designers of OS X intended them to be - the Applications folder. And to be honest, it was better that way.
Another thing I did in the spirit of taking control was removing the toolbar and sidebar from all Finder windows. I wanted them to look the way they used to, under OS 9. Just a title bar and a list of files. Why this preference? Because brushed metal windows made me squirm, and I just wanted to get rid of them.
So I spent a few years with my plain Finder windows, constantly opening one then another with Quicksilver in order to move files around. It wasn’t the most convenient set-up, but it avoided brushed metal and as far as I was concerned, that was the most important thing.
My workflow system required me to have three or four of these windows open at all times. I even devised a little script that would open all of them for me.
A lightbulb went ping above my head.
As an experiment, I opened a new Finder window and messed around with it. In the toolbar I stuck the apps I’m most likely to drag things to - TextMate, WriteRoom, Flickr Uploadr, and Yojimbo. In the sidebar I put all the folders I use frequently (there’s not many of them, six in fact). And I sat, and looked for a moment, and realised that this arrangement would suit me better. I wouldn’t need three or four windows open, just one. I could do all the file moving I needed to just by dropping stuff on to the sidebar.
In the weeks since, it has saved me a huge amount of time and an astonishing amount of clicking and mousing around.
Now, I realise that the vast majority of Mac users reading this will slap their foreheads and say: “Doh!” Because this is how most people work already. How come a so-called Mac pundit is only just working out simple stuff like this?
The point of this post is not self-humiliation in public (although it might result in that). It’s to point out that sometimes, it pays to work with OS X, rather than against it. The default directory structure (/username/Documents, /Applications, the various Libraries, and so on) was built that way for a reason. Likewise, the Finder’s layout was designed to make moving files around easier. By ignoring it, I’d only been making life harder for myself.
This post does not mean I think the Finder is faultless (I don’t), nor that I do, or always will, do exactly what Apple says I should (I don’t and I won’t), nor that everyone else should do things this way (heaven forbid). My only intention is to highlight the value of examining all the different ways of doing something, and considering the default on equal footing with any home-brew solutions you might have created because you felt instinctively that they were better. On this occasion, my instincts were flat wrong.