Default Folder X 4 Look and Feel

I’m excited about the new look for Default Folder X! Here’s a quick screenshot. In addition to the HUD-style translucent gray, DFX 4 gives you a preview window that floats below Open dialogs, finally letting you look at a decent-sized file preview no matter which view of the Open dialog you’re in (list, icon, or column view). The preview also zooms open to a full-screen image if you click on it – handy if you need to see more detail to be sure which of those two, very-similar-looking PDF’s is actually the one you want. And yes, the preview window also has”Get Info” information, comments, and permissions too.

The preview images come from QuickLook if you’re running Leopard, and from QuickTime if you’re running Tiger. QuickLook is faster and offers previews of many more formats (like MS Office documents), but I’ll try to squeeze in some more preview formats for Tiger before I get DFX 4.0 out the door.

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19 Responses to “Default Folder X 4 Look and Feel”

  1. Frank says:

    So if we buy 3.0.6 now, do we have to pay an upgrade to get version 4.0 when it comes out?

  2. Jon says:

    Of course not – if you buy 3.0.6 now, the upgrade will be free.

  3. Bruce says:

    Hi,
    glad to see you’re working on some great new stuff in v 4. Preview option looks cool.

    But, I have to say, I do not like Apple’s ‘new’ retro gray-on-gray monochrome buttons. It is a real step backwards (dare I say, back as far as Mac classic monochrome days) in terms of what information is conveyed to the user.
    In my mind, and my eyes as I use the computer, I want it to convey information to me. Color is good, as many user interface studies have shown. But when I have to stop and stare or squint or guess at a button’s meaning, either because it is too small (as some of Leopard’s) or looks too much like it’s neighbor (as many of Leopard’s), then productivity and user-friendliness have vanished.

    I have taken snapshots of my existing Default Folder X and your new white/light-gray-on-dark-gray schema to compare them, and I just don’t understand the rush by Apple and many ‘me-too’ developers to dump color and button identifiability (if that is a word).

    Please consider allowing the color buttons to be an option.
    - long-time default folder and default folder x user.

  4. Jon says:

    Thanks for your comments, Bruce. Apple’s approach on this is twofold – you’ll notice that they’ve gone to the “HUD” black and white motif for some purposes, and have actually beefed up support for even larger, more detailed color icons as well (Leopard can display icons up to 512 x 512 pixels now).

    The thinking is that in some cases, you don’t want too much color and detail because it detracts from what’s displayed on the screen or pulls the user’s focus away from what’s important. The gray HUD windows are used for things like iPhoto, QuickTime Player, and QuickLook previews, where the focus is on the images or other media being displayed. Graphics folks have actually complained that the extraneous color in the user interface distorts their color perception and focus on their work.

    So, the idea with HUD-themed display items is to use them where the purpose is not to distract from the user’s focus too much. I feel that the DFX user interface is one of those applications where using gray around an Open or Save dialog actually helps to focus your eye on the bright spot in the middle – the actual file dialog, where your attention needs to be. And in the case of DFX, the black and white icons are clearer than their color counterparts were.

    That’s my 2 cents on it anyway. At this point in the development process, it’s not feasible to add color icons back in there – and I’m honestly not sure they’re necessary – but we’ll revisit this if we hear demand for them from a lot of users.

    Thanks for your feedback!

    – Jon

  5. Frank Taylor says:

    Hello Jon,
    I am a eight year user of DF (and DFX) and I feel I must agree with the comments from Bruce above. In addition to his thoughts, the screenshot you show of the new DFX window look just does not appear right to me. Being able to see open windows and desktop items through the DF opaque preview window is very distracting. The overall grey color and the black and white icons give the entire thing a very drab and unfinished look. To my eyes it all looks very hard to understand what I am seeing at a glance. The new functions you have added are nice, but Apple has spoiled the look of the operating system enough by themselves. Please at least consider giving the users a little of the old color and style.

    Thanks for listening and for your great work over the years.

  6. Michael Conner says:

    I actually like the “monochrome” look… I’d rather have the operating system be more of a background thing than having a lot of catchy, flashy, brightly colored interface elements. I don’t want the interface overwhelming my work. By the same reasoning I’ve never used patterns, strong colors, or photos as my desktop because I don’t want a lot of visual conflict on my screen. What I don’t like is the Mac face icon… one of the worst things I’ve ever seen Apple do. I can’t understand why they have let it linger on so long.

  7. I agree that monochrome is better from a designers point-of-view (moi), but something still seems ‘off.’

    The dark mask and inverted contrast acts as a very great distraction from where the focus should be (i.e. on the save window).

    And as much as I find DFX absolutely essential when dealing with thousands of images… this ‘surround’ appears hammered on rather than truly melding in and not becoming a distraction.

    Just my 1ยข as a designer.

    Never-the-less… DFX is excellent no matter what it looks like.

  8. Mike says:

    I don’t mind the shades of gray. I am concerned about what looks like excessive use of pixels. Specifically, the DFX buttons are 2 or 3 times larger than the items presented by the OS (in the open/save dialog); there is a largish border around both the save dialog and the new preview window. This use of pixels on the screen affects usability for (at least) 2 reasons: the large buttons mean I have to move my mouse a lot more than necessary; and, border means I have (a lot, on a 13″ screen,) less space to interact with my open Finder windows while viewing the open/save dialog. The latter point interferes with one of the neat things that DFX enables in the first place!

  9. Jon says:

    Mike and Ron: The buttons are smaller now than they appear in this post (check Of Turkey and Travels to see what I mean). There’s also a “floating palette” option in the preferences that replaces the bezel with a small floating palette instead – I included it specifically for use on smaller displays where the bezel would take too much space. And the preview and spotlight windows below the Open and Save dialogs, respectively, can be turned off, of course. Then you’re back to real-estate consumption very close to DFX 3 (though the buttons are bigger than the were in version 3).

    Here’s a quick snapshot:

  10. Thanks for the reply Jon.

    I definitely like the image you just posted better than the image at the top of this page.

    And again… you would have to deliberately make it bud-ugly for me to not like using it… though I still would of course.

  11. Eric O'Brien says:

    I must say I *strongly* prefer what I think you are calling the “floating palette” option (illustrated in your Dec 9 post). Really, it is much more visually simple (that is, “direct” or “clear”) than the “bezel” version. What do we gain, for goodness sakes, by adding the “bezel?”

    I’m not sure that I mind “monochrome” icons, but note that the term implies a *range* of single colors, not “bi-colored.” The icons you’re using are essentially of TWO tones. Ya, there is the gradation in the monitor image, and a “mid” gray in the Mac Face, but perceptually they are BLACK and WHITE. You may have to design new icons that will work well with the “HUD” scheme, not just convert the existing ones.

    Now, a comment about Transparency In Interface Elements.

    I hate, hate HATE it!

    While composing an email, if I pull down a menu, I gain nothing and loose quite a lot by having a dim shadow of my message leaking through into the menu I’m trying to read. Who thinks that spinning a mass of spider webs BETWEEN me and what I’m trying to attend to, is in any way useful?

    When I activate a menu, I want to be able to clearly read… (surprise) THE MENU! I’m in Menu Reading mode now… I’m not *interested* in seeing the text that was on the page.

    Similarly, in an Open or Save dialog, I do NOT want to have dim phantoms of the interface bleeding through into what I’m trying to do in the Save dialog. The idea is crazy!

    Conversely, I also hate “sheets!” (I don’t suppose you have any control over this, but if you do, PLEASE allow me to set my open or save dialog free!)

    “Sheets” may make it easier for beginners to understand which document the active dialog is associate with, but me? “Sheets” drive me crazy!

    I often find myself saving some document or other and then thinking something to the effect of “what was I just writing?” Well, when the damn sheet is hanging resolutely over JUST the information I want a peek at, and it is really irritating!

    Thank you.

  12. Jon says:

    Thanks for your feedback, Eric. Let’s see – I’ll try to address everything you’ve touched on:

    The ‘bezel’ option actually works much better on large screens (IMHO), while the smaller palette is good for small screens. Everyone will have to give it a try in actual practice – tightly cropped screenshots don’t really let you get a feel for how it works. When you’ve got a small-ish file dialog on a large screen, the bezel helps focus your attention immediately on the file dialog. Also, the fact that it surrounds the dialog looks much more balanced (again, try it on Wednesday and you’ll see what I mean). And if you don’t like it, well, I guess it’s good that I give you a choice, eh? ;-)

    Apple’s “HUD” style is basically black and white icons. Personally, I think the simplicity and uncluttered look is a welcome relief. I’m not a fan of photorealistic icons. Icons are supposed to be easily parsed representations, not photos, as Daniel Drew Turner pointed out in Apple Gilds the Lily on Salon years ago.

    Transparency: Yes, it’s a step backwards in human interface (so is Apple’s design of the Dock, but I digress). It actually makes things more difficult to read, so why is this a good idea? Because it looks cool. It sells software. All the hip kids are doing it. There, I said it – I feel better.

    I actually spent a lot of time tweaking things to optimize usability with the translucent DFX 4 interface – the only thing I’m still not happy about are the menus when running under Tiger (Leopard actually blurs the background underneath menus, which is an amusing mea culpa from Apple – they’re pushing the GPU even more to minimize the reduction in usability caused by Leopard’s GPU-driven translucent UI).

    Sheets: I’d love to disable them for you Eric, but I have a feeling the hacks necessary to preserve the modal event handling in window+sheet pairs would be a nightmare. Coming in the back door there seems like a Bad Idea. And believe me, most programmers would also love to ditch sheets – the API is a pain compared to the simple, single function call required to throw up a modal alert. But I have to say that UI-wise, sheets generally improve focus and understanding – the only problem is the one you cite – that you can’t see what’s under the sheet. Maybe we just need a little slider on the edge of the sheet that increases its transparency ;-)

    Thanks for the food for thought, Eric. You’ve given me a few more things to consider for future work as I ready DFX 4 for release. Now it’s back to work with me!

  13. Mike says:

    Jon: thanks for listening and being responsive. :)

  14. Jon… love DFX but… and this is a BIG but…

    Design 101…

    Form ALWAYS is suppose to follow function.

    On occasion Apple gets it the other way around and tries to make something look ‘pretty’ without regard to the fact that the function has become subservient.

    In the case of version 4 of DFX you have also gotten it backwards…

    I have an MFA and really do understand design (re. click on my link if you need to for my bio).

    Again… I find DFX absolutely essential and I am posting this ONLY as a necessary (IMHO) criticism.

    The dark gray surround is so large that it makes DFX less functional. It now requires moving/resizing the DFX window to gain access to some of the windows that one would click on to save a file almost every time. (FWIW I use three monitors so it has nothing to do with limited desktop space… because often the windows I want to save to are in my center monitor and directly in back of the DFX save window.)

    Personally since this is a GREAT utility and adds an enormous ability to make ones work much easier… for the life of me I cannot understand how you would be more concerned with a ‘balanced’ form-factor (i.e. huge surround-mask to make the ‘buttons’ on the right not feel like they’re tipping the design and weighting it too heavily to the right)… than a more functional application.

    Trust me… most (all?) of us that use this for the purpose of making our day more productive and fluent… don’t care that much about what DFX looks like —if it means that we have to loose functionality as a result. (I would have added numerous exclamation marks if I thought you wouldn’t interpret that as screaming.)

    Please remove the HUGE surround-mask.

    Your post (above December 9th at 1:21 pm) would be much better.

    Design 101… Form should ALWAYS follow function.

    Land Rovers aren’t the prettiest SUVs around, but they’ll probably out maneuver anything else out there… except perhaps occasionally a Hummer (also not the prettiest SUV).

  15. My BAD!!! :)

    You were WAAAAAAY ahead of me!

    I now see that you have given us the option in the preferences to only have the toolbar attached to the side as before.

    Thanks again for the great app and forgive me for not going through all of the preferences before posting. It’s just that in the past we never had this option before so I wrongly assumed there would be no such choice now.

  16. Jon says:

    Yes Ron – I figured I’d give those more concerned with function a smaller obstacle to get in the way of using Finder-click. Another thing that I’d like to fix is making the menus nearly opaque when running on Tiger. Leopard actually blurs the background behind menus so that whatever’s underneath doesn’t reduce readability (too much) – but Tiger offers no such feature, so the menus are harder to read on 10.4. I didn’t personally work with Tiger that much during development because Xcode 3 only works in Leopard, so I missed this detail. It’ll be corrected in 4.0.1.

  17. No doubt my next observation is a moot point for the moment (or perhaps ever) but…

    Perceptually it’s necessary for a reader/user to ‘switch-gears’ when moving their eyes from a light background with dark text to a dark background with light text.

    Functionally this slows the decision-making process for the user/reader. This is also one of the reasons you will almost never see an ad or article that does this. Entire articles or websites may incorporate dark backgrounds with light text, but not simply part of an article or website.

    Understandably you (and other developers) are trying to maintain a consistency of design with Apple, but… Apple sometimes likes to look ‘different’ rather than function well. And sometimes even their looking ‘different’ does not always end up looking better… just different. (I’m a long time Mac user and wouldn’t change… but this is a simple fact… as you know.)

    You certainly won’t change your appearance because of this observation (I know) but I thought never-the-less that I would bring this to your attention.

    Sometimes masks function very well… as in the case of the crop mask in Photoshop. But this is more the exception than the rule… since usually they become more of a distraction than a focusing agent (unless blanketing the entire background as Photoshop does).

    Just keep making DFX… no matter what it looks like. ;) <>

  18. Recent examples of Apple’s liking to look ‘different’ and DEFINITELY not working or looking better is the Leopard’s Dock (no hierarchical menus and not as easily discernible icons when the 3D dock is used) and Stacks. Ouch!

    It almost astounds me how they can get it so right with Quick Look and Cover Flow and so very wrong with the above.

  19. Jim Curto says:

    As a long-time Default Folder user, I immediately upgraded to the latest version for $14.95 for my MacBook Pro. I probably don’t take advantage of all the things Default Folder can do, but the new “look” certainly threw me – enough to go to the blog and see if there were others who commented on it.

    Now that I’ve figured out how to get rid of the Spotlight window at the bottom and changed to the smaller floating window, I’m happier. Much less BLACK. I’m still on Tiger until the SuperDuper upgrade is ready.