Bugs & Fixes: Default folder changes in Mountain Lion

Apple wants you to use iCloud as the location for your saved documents. If you aren’t willing to cooperate, Apple applies some pressure to get you to change your mind.

Case in point: The Open and (especially) the Save dialogs for apps that support OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion’s new Documents in the Cloud feature (also called iCloud Document Library). Apple has changed the rules here, as compared to how things worked in previous versions of OS X.

When you select to save a new Untitled document, the Save dialog opens with a folder location already selected. In OS X 10.7 Lion and all prior versions of OS X, if you’ve never changed this default location, it’s probably your Documents folder. If you do change the folder location, the app typically remembers your decision. This means the next time you attempt to save a new document, the default folder will be the location you last chose. This is what most users want and expect. So far, so good.

TextEdit’s Save dialog for an new document. It always starts with iCloud as the default.

Starting in Mountain Lion, apps that support the new Documents in the Cloud feature make iCloud the default location for saving a new document. Apple is making a not-so-subtle suggestion here. I’m fine with that. The problem—at least it’s a problem from my perspective—is what happens if you change the folder location. Nothing happens. The next time you try to save a new document, the default folder will once again be iCloud. No matter what you do, it’s always iCloud. If you don’t want to use iCloud, this means you have to remember to shift the location every time you create and save a new document.

Note: This iCloud restriction applies just to saving new documents. Saving an already saved document, or using the Duplicate or Save As commands, continue to work as expected: They save to the location where the file currently exists. Further, if you know that you never intend to use iCloud for storing documents, you can disable the feature by unchecking Documents & Data in iCloud’s System Preferences. This should avoid having apps save to iCloud by default.

Applications that support this always-iCloud feature include Apple’s own TextEdit and Preview as well as third-party apps such as iA Writer. This is apparently an OS X imposed standard that will likely spread across most apps as they begin to adopt Documents in the Cloud.

If you’re thinking that the venerable Default Folder X (St. Clair Software; $34.95) can help here, you’d be wrong—at least for the moment. On my Macs, with Default Folder X installed, the default location for saving a new file (when using one of the apps noted above) changed from iCloud to Documents. Oddly, in what I assume must be a bug in Default Folder X, the option to save to iCloud no longer appeared at all! In any case, the Save dialog still refused to shift the default folder to a new location—even with Default Folder X installed. That is, after selecting to save a document in a location other than Documents, the Save dialog returned to Documents the next time. Even using Default Folder X’s option to assign a default folder had no effect. (Technically, it occasionally seemed to work, but inevitably reverted back to Documents after a few tries).

When opening files from these apps, Mountain Lion handles the task somewhat better. You can choose to see files either in iCloud or On My Mac. Either choice is remembered the next time you select Open. If you chose On My Mac, Documents is the default folder selected. In this case, if you select a different location, it is remembered the next time you select Open. However, if you temporarily switch to iCloud for any reason, the default location reverts back to Documents when you return to On My Mac. Default Folder X also appears to work better here; I could successfully assign a default folder location via the utility, although it would not override the shift back to Documents when toggling between iCloud and On My Mac.

I asked Jon Gotow, the developer of Default Folder X, about all of this. He replied: “Default Folder X enforces your default folder selection the first time a file dialog is presented by the application, but subsequent dialogs are left up to the application.” The fact that Default Folder X is no longer affecting the “first time” choice “is a change that Apple’s done in Mountain Lion. Mountain Lion and iCloud are basically overriding all other settings, even if Default Folder X tries to dictate otherwise.” Needless to say, Jon is working on an update that will address these matters.

To comment on this article and other Macworld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon