Blog: Secrets from the Chef

Who pecked all the crumbs, or why MacOS is not Windows

Yegor GilyovAuthor: Yegor Gilyov
24 April 2007

Finder serves as a file manager in MacOS X. Its main problem is that it does not give the user the sense of location.

Take a look at this screenshot:


Can you understand where these files are located by looking at this picture? Alas, no. No “breadcrumbs”, no some other “You are here” sign.

Take a look at MS Explorer’s window for a change:


To be fair I need to say that you can pull up the path to the active folder by clicking the window’s header in the Finder while holding Command button:


There is another button — Path on the toolbar (invisible by default):


However all these features cannot be a sufficient replacement for “breadcrumbs”, since they show the current location only on demand. Can it be true that the designers at Apple consider this information so infinitesimally insignificant that they sacrificed it for the sake of simplifying the interface? Please do not jump to conclusions just yet! First, take a look at three Finder’s viewing modes: icons, list and columns.

First mode — icons — is the simplest one. Here we could use some “breadcrumbs” obviously. Here’s how it could have been implemented:


I even did not bother to work out the design of “breadcrumbs”: they were spotted in the interface of Spotlight search results window.

In the “columns” mode, on the contrary, the “breadcrumbs” would be odd:


Now, let’s take a look at the “list” mode. Here the “breadcrumbs” could act as a reef. In this mode the Finder allows the in-depth research of the folder tree without changing the current location:


Where are we right now? On one hand, we see that folder “Apple” is selected. On the other hand, if we select command “New Folder”, the newly created folder will be created not as a subfolder of “Apple” but as a subfolder of the currently active location — “Work Stuff”. Figuratively speaking, we are standing with one foot in “Work Stuff” and with another foot in “Apple” folder reached through researching subfolders of “Reading”. Whereas, “breadcrumbs” leading only to “Work Stuff” may sometimes confuse the user:


We have the “breadcrumbs” on the picture above but are they useful? They do not tell us about the file location. Note that we do not see “Reading” folder anywhere there! It has disappeared through scrolling the window down. OK, we can throw in some more “crumbs” if we want to indicate the path not to the current location but to the selected file:


But what shall we do if the user selects several files located in different locations of the current tree?


We have reached the dead end here. We can show the path to the current location but it may be confusing for the user. And showing the path to the currently selected file is only allowed if just one file is selected. Alas, there are too many exceptions and limitations.

It appears to me that a similar course of thinking lead designers at Apple to the decision of hiding the “breadcrumbs” out of harm’s way by making them visible only to advanced users on demand (I am talking about “Path” button or clicking the header while holding Command button). So, this compulsory and tough decision was hardly influenced solely by the desire to make the interface lighter in design. I take off my head before the designers at Apple. They did what they could. Well, almost… Is it really that useful to be able to open folders in the “list” mode to rid it of the yummy “breadcrumbs”?

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When I first started looking at desktop computers, I had a demo of a Lisa. The sales personnel tried to convince me that I could use it for architectural drawings. It was all I could do to keep from actually laughing out loud.
A year or so later, I went out to get my first computer. I would go into an Apple store and an eighteen year old sales clerk would show me how I could write music and how the box would play Beatles music when he drug stuff over to put it in the trash. I actually begged each of them to show me something that I could do with it as a grownup. No joy.
When I went into the IBM clone shop, they had a word processor program by Leading Edge that would work. I walked out with an 8086 clone by Epson.
I’ve averaged more than one new computer a year for myself and way more than that for my architecture practice. Not once have I ever been shown anything on an Apple/Mac system that made me say, “I wish I could do that on my system.”
And it would take something much more impressive than the interface to get me to accept that single key double click and do the hoky-poky system that goes with the Apple.
Thanks for the review.

Reply Oran Woody, 26 April 2007

I agree with Woody. MacOS has lots of flash factor and looks cushy and neat, but I’ve never seen a Mac do anything that a Windows system couldn’t do much easier and more logically. I’m a software engineer.

Macs are for people who don’t know how computers works, and they are missing out, sadly. Windows is a hugely powerful environment and it makes sense to anyone who can figure out what a dive is or how a file works.

It’s ok. Macs are for the simple users who need their computer to appear like they are smart. Good for the iPod, bad for a desktop or notebook. The rest of us have Windows and Solaris.

Reply Matt Lowery, 27 April 2007

I use a PC at the office and a Mac at home. I far prefer the Mac, chiefly because it never screws up, freezes, crashes, destroys files or gets a virus.

In short, it does everything I need it to do (including make music and movies), and never lets me down.

Nobody ever said that of windows.

Reply ordinary non-geek, 29 April 2007

Matt, your astonishingly condescending comments first made me smile, than made me feel sorry for you. Of the three platforms I run – Windows XP, Ubuntu Linux, and Mac OS X, my Mac is bar far the best of the three when you consider flexibility, power, ease of use, and security.

By contrast, Windows is the operating systems preferred by people who know nothing about computers. They buy Windows boxes because that’s what everyone else has, so it must be good enough. People who buy Macs typically do so because they’ve gotten fed up with Windows – like I did six years ago – and realize that anything they used to do on Windows is not only possible on a Mac, but easier and more pleasing overall. (The others – as smaller cadre – have been using Macs for many years and know plenty about how to use them.)

Everyone I know with a Mac is a power user – with the sole exception of my wife’s grandmother. There probably are a lot of Mac users who don’t know how to tap the full potential of their machines, just as the vast majority of Windows users don’t, but those who do know how, well, they know the power of running a full-featured Unix based system that doesn’t crap the bed every time you try to uninstall an application.

As Vista roll out penetrates deeper into the market, and PC retailers recoil in horror at consumer reaction, look for more and more power users to be running on Macs.

Reply Mike W., 1 May 2007

I couldn’t agree more. Finder has so much room for improvement from a ui perspective even compared to windows. I’ve found quicksilver helps alleviate some of my basic navigational needs but still does nothing for knowing where I am. Keep the thoughts coming.


Reply mpare, 24 May 2007

I’m using pathFinder – an alternative to osx’s Finder – every day for nearly 2 years.
It’s a bit technical, but it have several huge interface improvements, compared to Finder…
User localisation is one of them.

Have a try, there’s a demo… (

Reply, 26 May 2007

Macs are pretty good except for the fact that the dock sucks and Finder is a piece of…

But an intel based mac mini is the absolute best bang for buck there is.

And even if everyone ditched windows and bought a mac, providing incentive for more mac viruses and malware, it would still not be nearly as bad as the crap we’ve had to put up with in windows for that last 10 years.

Reply thinsoldier, 5 June 2007

I don’t know how many directories deep you navigate to on a regular basis but I’ve never had that problem (thought finder needed breadcrumbs) when browsing files. Maybe you should lay off the pot and let your short-term memory refresh. =)

Reply Mac User, 21 June 2007

I Agree with Mike here… Ive had a mac for 10 years and in this time i’ve also had 3 Windows based pc and every one has eithr got a virus or simply broke.. yet my mac is still going strong.

I use mine for music production mainly but a tonne of other things too yet i know pc users who can only use their pc for music only, due to ‘the net’ causing problems for them.

Im on the mac bench foe now and for the foreseeable future.

p.s. yes the finder could do with a few adjustments.

Reply MacBoi, 25 August 2007

Matt Lowery:

I’m a Windows developer. I started with the Windows API back when the 16 bit Visual C++ 1.0 was released.

Interprocess communication was done using DDE and GlobalLock() was needed to get a pointer to the memory allocated by GlobalAlloc(). MFC vs OWT was the the most vibrant discussion in Dr Dobbs’ Journal. Windows developers had to understand the concept of the selector and the differences between NEAR and FAR. MSDN Magazine actually contained interesting and useful information and Andrew Schulman was still allowed to write about Windows.

And I stuck with Windows as a development platform through the Win16-Win32 migration. Through Windows 95, 98, NT4.0, 2000 and XP. I lived and breathed OLE, COM, DCOM, ActiveX as technologies. I lived (and loved) C, C++ and C# as languages.

I work on a 3 million lines-of-code Win32 system. I know Windows development inside out. Heck, maybe I even know more about Windows than you do.

But when I’m not developing on Windows, I use a Mac, and only a Mac.

Do I do it because I don’t know anything about computers? Do I use a Mac because I’m a dim-witted, slow, moronic simpleton? Do I choose Mac OS X over Windows because I’m an ill-informed idiotic oblivious to the superiority of Microsoft’s solution.

No. I simply choose Apple’s OS over Windows because I prefer it. And not because I don’t know or understand Windows.

But because I do.

Reply Simon, 26 August 2007


I absolutely agree that finder should at least have an option to show breadcrumbs. Those who don’t want them can leave them turned off.

Reply Dave, 9 October 2007

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