Crufty interfaces and file paths

Matthew Thomas' “When good interfaces go crufty” is a fun read. It’s nothing we don’t already know, but sometimes it’s helpful to be reminded that some of the interfaces that we are so used to are still confusing for new users. His talk on the evils of using file paths to reference files and applications is resurfacing in the Mac world, as a new crop of Cocoa-based applications generally ignore using aliases (not alias files in the Finder but the AliasHandle toolbox type to keep track of files that might be moved or renamed out from under the application). Try this test in BBEdit, then in Apple’s TextEdit:

  1. Make a new document and save it on the desktop.
  2. While the document is still open, rename it in the Finder.
  3. Go back to the open document, type some more text, and click save again.

When I tried this with OmniOutliner, I expected it to perform as poorly as TextEdit. Instead, OmniOutliner does recognize the change and updates the document’s title bar with the new name. But then it ruins this intelligence by asking the user whether they are sure they want to save with the new name. It’s as if OmniOutliner is bragging – “Hey look at me, I’m so smart I noticed that you renamed my file”. Applications shouldn’t need to show off, and the ones that just work as expected will usually be more enjoyable to use.

Manton Reece @manton