That Application Support idea

by Francois Joseph de Kermadec

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When Mac OS X came out, it introduced a new foundation, a new interface and a new architecture. Developers, who were only discovering the system, were instructed by Apple to carefully read the new guidelines for files creation and placement, lest they wanted their applications to have horrendous seizures with every upgrades.

For a while, it seems that these guidelines were — more or less, of course — closely followed and not even an extensive library of software would turn one's aptly named Library folder into a file soup. Sure, some folders, like the Preferences or Caches ones were among the busiest but, thanks to strict naming schemes, things were kept in check even in these potentially hard-to-manage spaces.

With time, though, it looks like these good resolutions have started dissolving, much like they had at the end of the Mac OS 9 days, where every application had taken the habit to place files where it wanted. Now, I shamefully confess that I didn't think about it until I installed the latest nightly build of the excellent Camino and started looking at the release notes.

Camino, you see, stores its files and preferences in "~/Library/Application Support/Camino". "Where else?", I hear you say... Well, it suddenly occurred to me that Safari had its own little directory within the Library folder. Actually, make that three:

  1. The "Cookies" folder, shared with other WebKit-using applications from what I gather

  2. The "Safari" folder

  3. Its own directory in the "Caches" folder

How is that a big deal? Well, let's start imagining, just for one second that every application does the same. We would immediately end up with dozens of special directories in our Libraries, accompanied by dozens of files in the Apple-specified folders.

The irony of the matter, of course, is that Camino, that prompted this reflection, isn't doing things perfectly either. Indeed, it stores preferences within the "Application Support" folder while they should, clearly, be within "Preferences".

Safari gets the preferences thing right but fails by placing bookmarks and other support elements within the "Application Support" folder.

Don't get me wrong, I am definitely not criticizing the Safari or the Camino team — or the Apple guidelines for that matter. All these applications surely have very good reasons to place files where they do and, in many cases, moving them around would probably require more time and effort that one could justify. Nevertheless, I cannot help but wish that applications could, much like in the early Mac OS X days, go back to a more organized file placement system. By keeping the "system stuff" clear and organized, developers can help users find their way around their computers more easily, and, therefore, learn more quickly how their Mac works.

Do I really have just too much time on my hands?


2005-08-19 08:34:21
You're right, and even more so with your last comment.

New users are always going to have a hard time of things, and consistency is key to getting around anything for the first time; be it a new car, a new house et cetera...

2005-08-21 19:58:39
Erm, Caches is not just for Safari.
2005-08-21 23:58:08

Indeed. Sorry if I wasn't clear: this is not what I meant to imply.


2005-08-22 07:31:35
Rules, what rules?
Does this imply the installers are getting worse too?

Many developers still seem to assume that all users are admin users. Some installers require a user to be logged in as an admin; some will only run as admin (so tweaking permissions is necessary); some will require an app be launched once while logged in as an admin; and some installers pretend that network users (with network home directories) is a concept that is yet-to-be-developed, perhaps lifted from a sci-fi movie. As a result, users then want to ignore sensible guidelines and make themselves admin users. And so we ride the snowball into hell.

Three cheers for the good people who develop apps with drag and drop installers. Please authenticate. Sure. No problem. Isn't that how it's meant to be?