Last Week on my Mac: Finder fluff, and FileMaker

Solving user problems is unglamorous. Sometimes users are quite angry when they write in, and some seem to assume that I must work for Apple, so it is all my fault. Most, though, are delighted to receive a prompt response which tries to help. Even when I am thinking that what they describe is simply not possible.


This user’s problem seemed both simple and impossible: the Finder sidebar contents and those shown in the File Save dialog were different, the latter having duplicated items.


It has probably not occurred to you, but the settings for those two sidebars are determined in the same Preferences dialog, that of the Finder. If you want to check, arrange your screen so that you have (at least) one Finder window open and its sidebar visible, and a File Save dialog open too.


Then switch to the Finder, open its Preferences dialog, and select the Sidebar tool. There, select an additional item to show in the sidebar. That change will be shown immediately in both the Finder window and the File Save dialog. The only significant exception to this is the Recents item, which does not appear in the settings or the Finder sidebar, but always appears first in the File Save dialog. This preference setting is kept in the Finder’s preference list, in each user’s ~/Library/Preferences/ file.

For it to have become changed, so that the sidebars stopped matching, would require there to be third-party software installed, driving one of the sidebars to operate differently. In this case, as it was the dialog which was playing up, this would mean software which altered File Save dialogs, such as Default Folder X. If this is a third-party extension, we may be able to prevent it from loading by restarting in Safe mode, with the Shift key held down. As I should have expected at this stage, that had no effect on it.

Whatever is doing this is likely to be a rogue extension of some kind, which will have to be in a Library folder. With /System/Library now out of bounds, it could be installed in the main, user-wide /Library folder, or just the single user’s ~/Library folder. A good way to distinguish those two, and limit your quest for the offending extension to one of those two folders instead of both of them, is to switch to another user, and see if the problem vanishes.

As most Mac users work with just the single, primary admin account, this normally means creating a new user, in the Users & Groups pane. This technique is an excellent trick when trying to isolate problems which are likely to reside in /Library or ~/Library, although it is less useful when they occur in apps, because you could find yourself unable to use a single-user app from that second account. But for global problems like this, it is usually very helpful.

Once you know which Library folder the extension or whatever is in, you can then slowly work through that folder, trying out the possibilities. Unfortunately it was at this stage that the user became tired of the process, and I think is now resigned to having the oddity in their File Save dialogs.

If I had to suggest a likely cause, then it would have to be an old and incompatible version of Default Folder X, which migrated across during a Mac or OS X upgrade.

Last week was also time to do my quarterly accounts, in my bespoke FileMaker Pro accounting database, and a timely reminder that there is one Apple subsidiary which still develops world-class software, and won’t even sell it in Apple’s own App Store: FileMaker.

FileMaker Pro actually started off as an MS-DOS database named Nutshell, in around 1982. The year after the Mac was launched, its developer offered a version with an appropriately GUI front end for the Mac, and called it FileMaker. Microsoft then bought its distributor and wanted to buy the developer too, but Apple’s subsidiary Claris did instead. By 1990 it had become FileMaker Pro, and two years later Claris boldly launched an almost identical version for Windows.

By 1998, other Claris products were dying, so Apple changed the subsidiary’s name to FileMaker and left it developing its increasingly successful FileMaker Pro products, and either brought the other products back in-house, or axed them.

FileMaker Pro has become steadily more capable and powerful, and supremely cross-platform. I have used it to host many thousands of sensitive medical records on Macs and PCs, doing all my development on a Mac (of course), but mainly using it on PCs. It takes very little skill or knowledge to build extremely friendly front-ends. Whether run as an app, or used as a client to its server version (which can be hosted on a Mac or PC), it is thoroughly dependable and easy to maintain.

Most of all, though, in its FileMaker Go form, it is the database of choice for iOS devices – and free.

It seems a shame that Apple didn’t manage to create a similar subsidiary for Final Cut and its other Pro apps. If it had been half as good as FileMaker has been, we would all have been the richer.