What Panther Should Fix: Part Four, Duplicate Directories

by Hadley Stern May 16, 2003

imageOne of the most brilliant things about the original Macintosh operating system was its solid logic. The first time you saw this interface you immediately got the metaphor. Want to delete something, throw it in the trash. Want to save a file? Put it in your documents folder. And need to find an application? Look in the application folder.

OS X is ten, no, a hundred, no a thousand steps forward in terms of stability. But in terms of usability for the everyday user it is a few steps backward. Many of the so-called features of the underlying Unix engine of OS X are a great benefit to stability and power but can be crippling to the user experience. Perhaps the great example of this is the lack of a single user environment. If I?m working on my home machine why on earth should I need to give permission every time I want to install an application? This usability annoyance pales in comparison to the greatest flaw in OS X that must be fixed in Panther?duplicate file structures.

The first time I looked at OS X I saw the higher level of the drive. It had a couple of things I was used to seeing, an Applications folder, Fonts folder, and a System folder and some items I had never seen before, a Library folder and a Users folder. Once I opened the Users folder and navigated to my user name I saw the Documents, Fonts, and Library folder duplicated. This made no sense to me. Any Macintosh I had used up until then had one documents folder not two!

This all made sense to me once I understood that the power of OS X was that it could be used my multiple users on one machine, each having their own place to store things and a shared location for certain items. I also know this is a very simple thing to understand and get over. But the Macintosh user interface historically has always held ease of use up to a very high standard. The fact is that for a novice computer user this file structure makes absolutely no sense. It reeks of a Windows approach to usability?the operating system driving how the user interface functions. Apple needs to introduce a single user option with Panther. Scrap the user folder and the rampant permissions problems for those many computer users who are the only ones using their machine. I respect that the technology of Unix may make this difficult, even close to impossible to achieve but of all companies that should be able to innovate for the user Apple is the one.


  • ummm… the first macintosh operating system had neither a documents folder nor an applications folder. There was no logical place to store any applications or user data. In OS 9, it’s still screwed up, because some apps won’t install into the applications folder even though you specifically tell the installer to do it! If only apple would link the /Documents folder to the first user’s ~/Documents folder, and tell the finder to open to the home directory when making a new window, it would be much easer on the user.

    anonymous had this to say on May 16, 2003 Posts: 1
  • I don’t share your view on this. Even for computers used by one individual only, there is great validity to having multiple user ACCOUNTS. You speak of novice users. Well, I don’t regard having the ability to unwittingly delete essential system files (as OS 9 permits) as an example of “usability.” To the contrary, even on a single-user system, I generally prefer not to log in as root (or System Administrator). Besides, since the Finder gives the option for the default window view to be at the user’s directory level (rather than at the root level), I see no reason the user need be confused by “duplicate” directories.

    Also, consider the ease of data back-up. Since one’s documents AND config settings are all stored in the same directory tree, a simple recursive back-up of the user folder alone would suffice. Just drag your user folder to another volume and all is preserved. Compare this with your beloved OS 9 environment in which the user has to leap from folder to folder (including sub-directories in the System Folder) to get a proper back-up of his computing environment.

    There is good reason to have separate settings for the super user and an ordinary user of basic applications—yes, even on computers used only by a single individual.

    Jeff Mincey

    Jeff Mincey had this to say on May 16, 2003 Posts: 74
  • Jeff I must disagree with you.

    I see no reason to even have root access for the normal uninformed user. Why?

    Mac’s before X gave root access to all users. How do you keep people from deleting important stuff. Simple, tell them to stay out of the “System Folder.” Worked for me. I tell all my clients to leave the System Folder alone. They can use the Control Panels accessed through the Apple Menu, but stay out of the System folder unless I direct them to over the phone.

    By keeping sensitive files invisible or in one place, the System Folder, keeps naive users away. Simple, clear, direct.

    Boozeterier had this to say on Jun 27, 2003 Posts: 1
  • You must be missing the point of multiple Library folders. The one in the root is for generic Library files - various fonts, preferences, and even desktop pictures. The User’s Library is solely for that user. This includes Mail and Address Book info, browser caches, preferences, fonts that only YOU can or want to use, personal choices for desktop pictures and more.

    AND there is a Library in the System for what I hope are obvious reasons.

    The UNIX file system is very solid, very well organized, and this is reflected almost perfeclty with Mac OS X.

    I say almost because I too feel that forcing one into a multi-user environment is silly. HOWEVER, there are benefits. Your computer illiterate friend will have a harder time installing Stripper Desktop 20.3 freely on your machine. (OK. Terrible example.)

    Waa had this to say on Jul 29, 2003 Posts: 110
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