Leopard’s year-old annoyances

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Beyond that problem, though, the sidebar has other issues. For one, it’s the only area of the Finder that’s completely immune to keyboard control. Using the keyboard, you can control the main menu (Control-F2), the Dock (Control-F3), the toolbar (Control-F5), and even Apple’s menu bar icons (Control-F8). You can’t, however, select or work with the sidebar in any way—you can’t scroll down through the list of devices with the arrow keys, or select a folder by pressing Return. The sidebar basically doesn’t exist as far as the keyboard is concerned.

To me—someone who prefers using the keyboard—this is a moderate annoyance. To someone who lacks the ability to use the mouse, this is a critical oversight. If we’re forced to have the sidebar, it should have the same level of keyboard control as the rest of the Finder.

Finally, the sidebar isn’t customizable—well, it gives the appearance of being customizable via the Sidebar tab in the Finder’s Preferences, but that’s mostly an illusion. Sure, you can use that dialog to turn various elements of the sidebar on or off, but that’s all—you can’t, for instance, change the font size or face if you find the default settings too small, too big, or too hard to read. (You can change this for Finder windows themselves, so why not the sidebar, too?) You can’t rearrange the main groups in the sidebar—Devices, Shared, Places, and Searches are locked into that order. Personally, I use Places much more than I use Devices, and I’d rather have it at the top of the list. No luck.

What if you don’t use a section, like Searches? You can disable all the built-in searches in the Sidebar tab of Finder’s preferences, which would get rid of that section, or so you’d think…but no, removing all the entries from a section still leaves it visible. (This is completely different than in Mail, where if you remove all the RSS feeds, the RSS section vanishes.) So you wind up with a strange looking sidebar, as seen in the image at right, showing totally empty sections. If a section is empty, shouldn’t it simply vanish, as it does in Mail? I’d much prefer this behavior, as it would reduce clutter in the sidebar.

2. The ‘new and improved’ iCal event edit/view model: This is one of my two largest annoyances with OS X 10.5, mainly because I rely on iCal to keep me on task and on time for appointments—so I’m in it nearly all the time. In the 10.4 version of iCal, a drawer was used to display the details about whatever event or to do you had selected in the calendar.

This made it super easy to flip through your schedule and see what was coming up—just select an event in the main calendar, then use the Tab key (or Shift-Tab) to move back and forth as needed. As you moved from event to event, the drawer’s contents would update to show you the selected event’s information.

Thanks to the drawer, you could have a compact calendar view when you wanted it—just use the Hide Drawer menu option, and it slid neatly out of view. But I typically left it open all the time, as I loved being able to just glance at the screen to see an event’s details. You could even detach the drawer if you wanted to, turning it into a small floating window.

If you wanted to edit an event’s details, you would just select the field(s) you wanted to change, and change them—there was no real difference between browsing an event and editing that event. I found this interface to be intuitive, fast, and very flexible—you could see (or not see) event info in an attached (or floating) window, based on your personal preferences.

iCal’s event info in 10.5 (top) covers many days, compared to no days for the same information in iCal in 10.4 (bottom)

In 10.5, all that goodness is gone. The drawer is gone, banished to the Land of Deleted Features. Instead, event information is always hidden, unless you specifically call it up by pressing Command-I (or choose File -> Get Info).

When the event info window appears, it then blocks out the calendar behind it—and if you mainly use month view, as I do, that means that there are several entire days that aren’t visible—and one of those blocked days might contain, for instance, a meeting or to do that you wanted to see while viewing the current event.

The image above shows iCal in both 10.5 (top) and 10.4 (bottom); notice how many days are covered in the top image, versus none in the bottom.

Even worse than the blocked background, though, are the keyboard gymnastics required to use this new method when browsing multiple events. I select an event and press Command-I to see its info. If I want to then see the info for another event, I must first close the info window (Command-I again), otherwise my key presses will be sent to the info window. So browsing multiple events becomes: Tab - Command-I - (read event info) - Command-I - Tab - Command-I - (read event info), etc. Tell me how this is progress over simply pressing Tab and moving my eyes from one section of the screen to another?

Things get worse if you want to modify the event information—you have to actively enter Edit mode now, which requires clicking the Edit button in the info window. After editing your data, you click Done, expecting (perhaps) to return to the info window, which is where you were when you entered edit mode. Instead, the info window closes entirely, leaving you back at the calendar view. So to verify that you made the correct changes, you have to press Command-I again, just to bring up the info window you’d already opened once!

For those who prefer the pop-ups (though I’ve yet to meet anyone who does) I have a recommended solution for Apple. Leave all the existing features as they are in iCal, but just add back the drawer, and a user-accessible preference to enable it. Those who like the new iCal interface—speak up, anyone?—will continue as they are, and those of us who find the new interface convoluted and poorly thought out can switch back to the drawer version with the toggle of a single preference value. For the sake of my sanity and my fingers, please rethink this ‘improved’ iCal interface—it’s a large step backwards from the usability of prior versions.

1. Spotlight results in the Finder cannot show additional columns: My top 10.5 annoyance has to do with Spotlight—which is somewhat surprising, as the improvements in Spotlight in 10.5 have made the search feature incredibly useful. Being able to search on phrases, use boolean logic, and easily search for filenames in the Finder are just three of many improvements that turned me from a Spotlight hater into a Spotlight advocate. But, unfortunately, one glaring omission in Spotlight—or perhaps it’s in the Finder—means that some of the most-useful ways that I use Spotlight no longer work well in 10.5.

10.4’s customizable search results
In OS X 10.4, when you ran a Spotlight search in the Finder, you could switch the results window into list view, and then customize exactly which Finder columns would be displayed. As an example, one of my often-used Spotlight searches is for files greater than 100MB in size—this helps me quickly find large game demos I may have downloaded and never deleted, for instance.

In 10.4, I could run that search, then switch to list view, open the View Options dialog box, and (as seen in the top image of the image at right) choose which columns I wanted to display, including Size. It was then trivial to sort on the Size column—just click the Size column heading—and all my super-large files would float immediately to the top of the list.

10.5’s non-customizable search results
Try that same search in 10.5, though, and the results are basically meaningless. That’s because the Spotlight search results window in 10.5 only displays three columns: Name, Kind, and Last Opened. So after running my search for files over 100MB in size, I have a list of matches…with no simple way to see—much less sort—the list by size! So while I know that file XYZ is over 100MB in size, I don’t know just how large it is.

As you can see in the image at right, you cannot customize the displayed columns at all, so there’s no way to see the size in the results list. The only semi-solution I’m aware of is to open the Inspector window (Command-Option-I), and then move through each file one by one with the arrow key—as you do, the Insepctor will show that file’s information. This is so far from usable for large searches, though, that it’s not much of a workaround.

This becomes even more annoying if you want to use any of Spotlight’s other search fields to do more advanced searches. You can, for instance, run a search on exposure time for your images—find all images with exposure over one second. Again, though, you can’t modify the search results to see the actual exposure time, so you’re back to using the Inspector window. It’s wonderful that we can search on all these fields, but the usefulness of the feature drops to near zero if we can’t actually see the values we were searching on. (To be fair, 10.4 couldn’t display these additional fields either; but at least it could handle the standard Finder columns.) I reported this as a bug early on in the Leopard life cycle, and it was quickly marked as a duplicate. Unfortunately, that’s the only activity I’ve seen on this issue in the last year.

My solution to this problem has been to switch to HoudahSpot for my advanced Spotlight searches. Not only does it let me build my search criteria first (without searching as I type), but it can display pretty much any Spotlight field as a column in its results list:

HoudahSpot can display and sort any data field that Spotlight is aware of.
So thanks to the limitations in 10.5’s Spotlight search results, I’ve found it best to stick to the Finder for simple searches, and let HoudahSpot do the heavy lifting. I would think that making Spotlight work properly in the Finder (or work at least as well as it did in 10.4) would be high on the list of priorities, but that hasn’t been the case during Leopard’s first year.

What lies ahead

Despite this list, though, I’m still a Leopard fan, and really enjoy many of the new features it brought to the table. Given that Snow Leopard has now been announced with a ship date of “about a year” from the June 2008 Developer’s Conference, I guess I can only hope that many of the items on my list are addressed for its release—I’m not holding my breath to see any of them fixed in the any 10.5 minor updates between now and then.

I’m sure my list differs from yours, and if you’ve got a particular Leopard issue that’s bugging you, I’d love to read about it in the comments.

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