Nasty Surprises

· by Steve · Read in about 3 min · (515 Words)

I don’t have as much time with it as I’d like, but over the last six months or so I’ve grown to like OS X. It’s slick, easy to use and generally just gets out of my way, and I keep finding neat little tricks I don’t expect (like dragging the icon on the title bar of the current window to create a shortcut to the document you’re viewing - nice).

However, today something about it had me swearing like a trooper. I’m actually surprised I haven’t come across it before, but the crux of the matter was the behaviour of Finder when you copy a folder into a location which already contains a folder of the same name. In Windows  Explorer if you answer ‘Yes’ to the confirmation dialog the contents of the folder you’re copying will be merged into the destination, only overwriting files of the same name. Finder conversely will completely replace the copy of the folder that is currently there, deleting its previous contents and replacing them with only the contents of the source folder you’re copying. I managed to completely screw my Eclipse install this way (which I use for Java dev sometimes) by copying ‘features’ and ‘plugins’ folders from a plugin archive, which ended up excising every previous plugin and feature that was already in there, including the core. Gah.

In fairness, the prompt that comes up does ask you whether you want to replace the folder that’s there. However, having been conditioned on Windows, I interpreted that in the non-literal sense to mean ‘merge’ and answered in the affirmative, little knowing that it really did mean ‘replace’. Unfortunately the replaced content doesn’t end up in the Trash either, so I had to reconstruct my Eclipse install from scratch. Once again, gah. Luckily it didn’t take that long since it kept all my automatic remote plugin sources, it’s only manually installed plugins like this one that needed re-doing.

I guess it’s arguable that the reason for my confusion was that I’m just used to Explorer’s interpretation of ‘replace’ to mean ‘replace files in folders’ and not ‘replace entire folders’. I’m therefore not going to suggest that this paradigm is necessarily wrong and should be changed to match Windows - in fact I’ll acknowledge that semantically it’s an accurate description of the operation. However I do think that not providing a merge option is a serious oversight in Finder, since it’s very common to want to do this. Simply including a third option called ‘Merge’ in the confirmation dialog which currently just says ‘Replace’ or ‘Stop’, would serve a dual purpose - indicating to users familiar with other OS’s what the true meaning of ‘Replace’ is in this context, and also allowing you to perform an operation that is after all very useful. OS X prides itself on how obvious and direct most operations are and on the whole it succeeds, but in this case, the ease with which a simple misunderstanding can cause permanent data loss is unacceptable to me. Come on Apple, you can do better than that.