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Suggestions for OS X improvements

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It occurred to me tonight that OS X isn’t getting any new features in version 10.6 of this amazing operating system. It really sunk in. You know, geeks hear these announcements at WWDC or in the blogosphere and its only when there is enough time to reflect before it sinks in. That’s what happened to me anyway, and if you’re thinking the same thing then the next question applies. Does no new features bother anyone? I think I said a while back that 10.5 ‘could be the bastard child in a a long line of fine operating systems’ and thankfully 10.5 has been pretty good to the world. Granted it had a rough start, but Apple has delivered more significant updates than its peers in the same business. 10.5 is certainly far from perfect though, and it’s still good that the strategy moving forward is one about quality and design.

It finally sunk in for me what no new features meant. Being greedy and always wanting more, I pause in moments to remember a favorite quote.

“Perfection (in design) is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but rather when there is nothing more to take away.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Yet I still can’t stop thinking of ways to make 10.6 better. Sure we all suspect major changes in the way we interact with computers using a multitouch platform. All of the multitouch goodness on an Internet device, on my desk or in my pocket, and one that uses standards-based browsers has me very excited to be alive and geeky.

I thought of a few things tonight can apply to either OS X now and moving forward. For your enjoyment or resentment, feel free to read on. Bear in mind there is no ‘target’ for when these ideas are possible. Let it stay imaginative, creative, and fun. This is just my idea, free and clear, only because I hope that it makes sense and its attainable to do.

Application Installations

The way we install apps on OS X is stupid. There is a fairy simple set of changes that could dramatically simplify how installs and uninstalls function while making easier packages for deployment. Get rid of all thoughts on 4 current ways it is done now for a moment.

The Applications folder is where we want most things to go. By and large though an application can live anywhere in the file system and run, with exception to the Trash. The new installer method adds a check box to Get Info on a folder to mark a folder as an Application folder. This action requires authentication to change. There can be as many application-marked folders as desired. When an application installer is completely downloaded into ~/Downloads (i.e. Downloads folder as preferences provides), the Finder switches focus to this file (with an on/off option for setting focus in Finder preferences). When the user drags an drop the installer package onto an application folder, the package installs. Of course some Applications require some additional steps and there is no reason I can see why the installer bundle couldn’t run a configuration/installer when the user drops an app in this folder (or opens it for the first time). Microsoft Office 2004 is a good example of a drag-n-drop install app that adds files elsewhere in the filesystem during first launch. In other words, when ‘’ is dropped onto an Application folder the Finder looks at the package and locates a package installer, determining where additions files may need to be installed (adhering to file permissions of course) and any configuration UI may run with permission. The user completes any optional configuration steps and is ready.

Removal/Uninstall is done via a bit of XML containing support file locations. This list is read when the file is removed from the app folder and put into the Trash. A folder marked as an apps folder is able to identify legacy installer methods and proceed to process them in the background.

Benefits of this are enhanced security by identifying a folder location (outside the defaults) App bundles may execute. It unifies package management via drag and drop while still providing support for current methods. Lastly it provides a complete uninstall method with a developer defined external file removal, with (power) user editable XML files.


Yes yes, it’s unavoidable. The smiley face that makes you want to throw a monitor across the room sometimes. My personal favorite is “An error occurred -10060”. But in so many ways the Finder’s ideas aren’t even the fault of Apple. It goes further than that, back to when things went all wrong in the world of UI’s and computer sciences. Files are bad. Folders are bad. Look around the house and its pretty certain that the majority of us don’t have all the paperwork in a folder called “/” and all subsequent subfolders below that with symlinks and alias, references and pointers, or whatever you want to call them. Bottom line is, people don’t seem to think in this rigid sense the industry has forced things into. So I propose we get rid of files and folders.

Is it that radical of an idea? I don’t think it is, considering on my iPhone I never deal with files as a user. I have applications that store my data, but I certainly didn’t have to save them in some arbitrary location I need to remember later. I see many users say “Oh it’s in Word”, when there is a real separation between the file (a document) and the file creator (Microsoft Word). I still think there is, and needs to be separation, with these two things things. Attempting to simplify file management from a users perspective I realized its not important to create a hierarchical and logical folder list. Instead bundles contain the data an application creates. When an application runs, it reads the bundle and the user can search or choose from the last n# items opened. If something the user wants is in another bundle, then there is an application associated with it.

The 1-2 punch on these ideas

Moving forward though, if an operating system were organized around Application and Data it could be more secure. Application-containing areas and bundles that contain the users data are clearly marked. The OS X system in mind would only allow execution in these defined areas. Backups of specific data would mean copying 2 bundles. The simple finder realized and useful to even the power user. Think about it, most usage on a computer is about launching applications, either via the file or the file’s reader. Bringing the focus to these ideas and building from there should make a very easy to use and mature OS. In many ways, applications in iLife behave this way already. iPhoto and iTunes doesn’t require sifting through a myriad of folders to retrieve data. What if other applications adopted this concept? Seems we’re headed there anyway.

That’s my idea, love it or hate it it’s free of charge and open to discussion. What’s on your mind for OS X polish?

22 Responses to “Suggestions for OS X improvements”

  1. hi! maybe you guys thought of this already. I would enjoy very much a “Save as” click-and-drag interface. I have wasted hours navigating through my system to the destination folder when wanting to save a file while having the destination folder (paradoxically) open as a window on my screen. I would like to be able to drag my save action to that window area. Does this make sense?

  2. thinking about removing the hierarchial file system. what would be replacing it? in ilife apps they have all the file/music/photos in a list that is grouped together.
    iphoto, ignoring the HUGE catalogue that is the library, you place the photos in events (folders) with each event containing photos of your choice.
    iTunes, ignoring the HUGE catalogue that is the library, you set up playlists (folders) with each group containing music of your choice. this of course works for movies/podcasts/tv shows/ etc. but there is no way to seperate out the different media. something a hierarchial file system could fix by having another layer of folders ontop of that. you know that panel on the left, that has the library folder, store folder, and playlists? change this panel so that it seperates the different forms of media. also with this panel, what does it look like? the panel on the left of the finder? BINGO!
    if you look at any app, it’s always the same, hierarchial file systems are used because they are logical and easy to use, they are only difficult when an amatuer organizes one. having to drill down is wrong… yes, and an amatuer makes a hierarchial file system this way because they haven’t thought about it before hand.
    what would you suggest putting in Pages for your files. something like itunes? it’s already in finder. it’s just files of the same format are grouped together in apps, and in finder its up to the user to organize them. easy to do if you think about how you set out your documents folder. hey, if it makes it easier call it a group or something. try organizing your folders, it’ll make your entire filing experience easier. especially with the columns view, just try setting it up so that all files can be accessed within two levels of the Documents folder.

    ok, enough rambling. wish list for finder? Tags. the reason its so easy in itunes to find a song in the 60gb library is because you can search absolutely any element of a song. tags would give you those elements in finder, also would require an upgrade to spotlight.
    but if you think about it, tags is just having the hierarchial file system upside down, you see all the files, and you go to the files to have tags, and a group of files with the same tag, is like having a folder with the files in it.

    in my opinion, you can work with either, and work well, as long as you think about how you set it out.

    as for the file system of windows? umm… no! in finder you have all the folders you need on the left, everything you need regardless whether your a consumer or prosumer (i don’t think it’s good for a IT tech of any sort because its so hard to get down to the core of the system). in windows, you have the links to the folders all over your computer, you have some on the desktop, some in start menu, some in My Computer. do you not notice how they change this to reflect the finder in vista?

  3. Mark O'Henly

    Easy tag selection from the “File Save As” dialog box for inclusion in the Spotlight Comments field to aid in searching. You would select (click) from a list of previously used tags and/or add new tags. Some users would prefer tags so as to avoid complicated folder hierarchies. Please!

  4. Tiger's Fang

    More gestures!!! For example, don’t we all lose the cursor when flipping between apps? I end up hitting cmmd-Z and then alt-cmmd-Z just to see where I was last (sometimes the cursor is beyond the scrolling area). How about a tablet or mouse gesture that would identify the cursor?

  5. In response to your idea of removing folder hierarchies in Finder:

    I think that’s a great idea for amateur users but that wouldn’t work for me. I simply have too many files that I need to keep organized in some way. For example, I’m a part time photographer and I have thousands upon thousands of digital images. If they’re all in a little cluster and I open Photoshop, it’s going to be impossible to find the photo I want if there’s no way to organize them into smaller clusters (folders!). I would have the same problem with documents. It’s an interesting concept though.

  6. Marcelo R. Lopez, Jr.

    Make Bluetooth work properly. Since the switch to Leopard, it simply hasn’t worked either properly or consistently. If Snow Leopard is a huge stabilization release, then I would hope that the area of Bluetooth ( and drivers in general ) have a huge focus placed upon them. When you can’t properly pair a smartphone to your MPB, you know there’s something not right.

    Keep up the good work.

  7. ah gotcha- yer absolutely right, there should be an option in those international prefs to automatically have the os spellchecker switch to the chosen input language. it’s an excellent idea and might be easy for apple to implement. i believe apple has some sort of suggestion form for feature requests… there’s also the apple forums – if apple don’t hear u, some shareware developer might

  8. Thanks for leaving the comment jimmy, but I have tried the international prefs. If you choose the Spanish flag and open up Textedit or Pages as I did it still thinks you want to type in English. If Apple could sort this out so that whatever flag you have selected in the menubar is the language that you wish to type and want the spellcheck to switch to it would be great. I choose the Welsh flag as default as it alters the keyboard slightly so that it allows me to create accents easily.
    Please Apple, easy language switching and a built in Welsh spellchecker for 10.6.

  9. have you checked the international preferences in leopard’s system prefs? if not try going there – note that their support for languages for the most part entails the appropriate keyboard layout and the proper display of a document or webpage in that language. Spell checking i believe is reserved for languages the OS comes in. Anyways – the quickest way to switch languages on the fly is to click on the input menu tab in the international prefs and select “show input menu in menu bar” in the bottom left of the pref pane. You can tick the keyboard layouts you wish to use – welsh is last btw. The options will appear as a flag in the top righ part of the menu bar. Switch to your preferred input from there. Nearly all modern unicode supporting software is compatible with this.

  10. To be able to switch language quickly in Mail, but to allso have a Welsh dictionary installed on the Mac, I know there’s CocoAspell but the Welsh dictionary for it is so wrong it’s not funny.

    On Outlook on Windows I can easily ad a language box so that when I open a new message i can choose which language I’m typing in. This feature exists in Pages in the inspector panel under languages I think. If OS X could auto detect which language you start typing in and so change the spellcheck over that would be amazing.

    How are people out there currently using more than one language switching back and forth to make spellchecking easy? Am I missing something?

  11. SimonSharks

    It seams to me that Apple is purposely playing down expectations for Snow Leopard. I don’t think we will see as many new features as Leopard as the focus will be under the hood but they will announce one or two blockbuster features so that they can sell it.

    I would like to see Vista style window previews when you move your mouse over a dock item. OS X needs a better way to reveal what’s going on in an application, especially now we have spaces.

    Blu-ray support also seams like a no brainier.

  12. i’d like to see some features which are a bit hidden to come out to the fore more and some default settings need improving.

    e.g of the former – a very useful feature of leopard’s file browser windows (open/save) is when hitting cmd-r it reveals the selected file in the finder. a small widget in the file requesters or a menu item when right clicking on an item might help more people find this feature.

    the mouse button and trackpad defaults are ridiculous. Each time a new mac is tossed my way from a new user is to change these settings to enable right clicking.

    windows has always had better file managers and though leopard has improved the finder to a point of usability there is still great room for improvement. A widget controlling to zoom of thumbnail sizes without having to resort to cmd j to open the prefs. Better file filters – why can’t i sort my files according to pixel dimensions?

    also better a find in finder and mail too will help.

  13. Greenbook

    @ Robert:

    How is it you cannot also run mac applications from the key board? Ever function in the menus can be run from the keyboard via a keyboard short cut — if a menu item doesn’t currently have a shortcut assigned, you can easily add them in system preferences. Maybe I misunderstand your complaint.

  14. I agree with mjc about easy keyboard access. While I hate Windoze, it’s only saving grace, IMHO, is that I can drive any Windows application without ever touching the mouse or taking my fingers off the keyboard. This is a HUGE timesaver for me.

  15. I want to be able to use my iPod touch as an external screen connected via USB. App developers could write to this so you could have regularly used functions mapped to that screen.
    Would be great with shortcut intensive programs.

  16. Here is a suggestion for OS ImprovEments…

    Snow Leopard will have more features, heck – they list a bevvy of them just on teh Snow Leopard pages on

  17. Two changes I have wanted for years in OS X:

    1) Be able to change window sizes by grabbing ANY edge or corner. If Windows and Linux can do it, whynot OS X?

    2) Easy keyboard access to menu items. imho, the Windows way is much easier than the OS X way.