Column Before the Storm

While I’m on the subject of UI annoyances…I’m not real happy with the Finder’s column view.

Here’s a test. Make a narrow Finder window, switch it to column view (Cmd-3), and then just…select one of the files in the leftmost column. What happens?

The column you just selected scrolls offscreen to the left to make way for the next column, which is either a list of contained files, if what you’ve selected is a folder, or the Preview column if it’s a file.

Does anybody find the Preview column useful for anything? If I want file details, I will explicitly ask for them, via Cmd-I. If I want to experience a media file, I will double-click it.

My usual workflow is this: select the file, curse that the file has scrolled out of view, and go down to the bottom horizontal scrollbar and scroll the column back into view so I can do whatever it is I originally wanted to do.

Lots of times, that action is dragging the file onto an app to open it; note you can’t drag a file unless you click on its icon or name, which are the first things to disappear when the column scrolls to the left.

Other times, I might want to rename a file. Same deal.

Yes, I could hit the back arrow to scroll back one column. Hm, I should try that more often. But it’s annoying to have to keep correcting for OS mis-actions. Since I find the Preview panel annoying, I think it should be the one to be partially visible if there’s contention for real estate in a Finder window.

On second thought, I think the selected item’s row should get precedence even if it’s a folder, and the column to the right is the contents of that folder. Sure, I understand it’s important to see those contents, but as a general rule, I don’t like that the mere act of selecting something can make it disappear.

10 comments

  1. Simone Manganelli

    I don’t really see the problem here. If it’s a file, you don’t NEED to scroll back to start dragging the file. Just start the drag from the icon file in the Preview pane — you mentioned that you commonly start a drag-and-drop, and the Preview pane is mighty useful for this because it provides a much bigger area on which you can click and hold to start the drag.

    If you really want to drag a folder or a file, don’t click before starting a drag — just start the drag directly from that view, and it won’t be selected and won’t disappear off to the left in the column view. That makes sense too, because if you single click, you’re telling the computer that you want to see the contents, yet if you click-and-hold, you’re telling the computer that you want to do something specifically with that file or folder.

    Not to say that it’s not annoying. It’s just that I’ve found this way to be much easier when navigating in the extremely-useful column view.

    — Simone

  2. Jonathan Barrett

    Oop – and could you remove my email address from the post? Didn’t realise it was going to be made public…

    Sowwy 🙂

    Oh, and the Column View Options are automatically global, so you don’t have to do this for every window using a column view 😉

  3. Andrew Pontious

    Simone: d’oh! Of course you’re right, you can click on the preview column icon to drag – unless it’s an actual previewable file; the preview itself area does not appear to be draggable.
    And you can drag a file without the separate, initial click, although I find that a bit hard to pull off consistently.

    Jonathan Barrett: d’oh! But…but if I took your very reasonable advice, I wouldn’t have had a weblog post yesterday!
    Oh, and the trick re: comment email addresses is to also include a URL. Then the URL is shown, and the email address is hidden. I had exactly the same problem when I first posted on a weblog like this.
    I’ve added the URL I found for you via a Web search to your two posts. If you want a different URL, let me know.

    Thanks, all!

  4. Mark

    Simone and Jonathan beat me to it.

    Column view is certainly a curious (and wonderful!) beast, with its own rules of behavior not quite like the other two views. The thing that trips me up time and again is the slight difference in behavior in navigating column view by mouse, and by keyboard. I understand why the variant behavior exists (otherwise, you couldn’t jump around in column view by hitting various keys) but the whole fuzzy state of a half-selection, for lack of a better word, continues to throw me. The visual cue (outlined arrow instead of solid), while appreicated, is just too subtle — I keep missing it.

    BTW, the preview column is absolutely essential for designers. (The Info / Inspector window would be a pretty clunky alternative solution.) I imagine it’s also handy for anyone who works with even a modest number of images.

  5. Simone Manganelli

    Andrew —

    Yeah, that’s the one problem with dragging from the preview pane. I actually didn’t realize that until later last night, and I realized my solution wasn’t a panacea. Turning off the preview pane altogether will do the trick, though. 🙂 But I personally like having the preview pane even if it makes column view windows a bit tempermental.

    — Simone

  6. John Evans

    The thing i dislike about column view is quite simple. The widths one sets for the columns are not remembered.

    When I make a specific folder really wide because the file names are quite long with a lot of important info in them I expect next time I navigate to that folder for the width to be remembered.

    It really annoys me that this view, whilst being my preferred view for certain types of folder hierarchies, just isn’t flexible enough to simply remember width settings. These options need to be per-folder and also have a settable global options in the ‘view options’ pane.

    Do that and I would be happy.

    Also whilst I am at it, what would be nice is to control the icon size also and not have it stuck at that one size, i dont need 128px icons but i could do with a little control esp on larger screen resolutions. Also if one could set the app used to generate the preview of a file, esp video content, although I can see why this would be more difficult 🙂

  7. Brent P. Newhall

    I actually use the column view partially for the preview column. I have a lot of videos and MP3s catalogued into various sub-folders, and I appreciate being able to preview that content as I browse through it. It’s especially useful when I’m browsing for a set of content, so I can pick and choose.

  8. Michael Z.

    I use the column view all the time, but little details like that still bug me. I’ve been frustratedly double-clicking and dragging the preview icons, and only realized their pattern of misbehaviour after reading the comments here.