Sidebar in Panther’s Finder: Apple repeats the same errors again

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
December 12th, 2003 • 5:22 am

Sometimes, it looks as if, in Mac OS X, Apple is deliberately trying to prevent us from using visual clues to differentiate between similar looking items.

Try, for example, putting several folders next to each other in the right-hand side of the Dock. They all look exactly the same, and the only to tell the difference is to roll over them with your mouse so that Mac OS X displays their names.

Panther might have reintroduced Finder labels, but label colors don’t make any difference in the Dock: all folders still look exactly the same.

Personally, I just can’t stand the thought of having to constantly roll over my Dock folders in order to check which one is which. So I use the third-party utility Can Combine Icons to create customized folder icons with various colors and other decorations. Here’s what my right-hand side of the Dock looks like:

A bit better than a row of seven identical generic folder icons, wouldn’t you say?

Now that I have started using the new Finder’s Sidebar to list various common destinations that I might want to drag files to, I am faced with the same problem as with the Dock. All folder icons look the same. Yes, if the Sidebar is wide enough, you can also see the folders’ names, so it’s not as bad as the Dock — but more visual clues is always better, and identical generic folder icons are not much help in that department.

Unfortunately, even though the name of a folder in the Sidebar is visible, its label color is not. Why? I have no idea. It’s totally inconsistent.

What is worse, however, is that the Sidebar even refuses to display custom folder icons! Even if I add a custom folder icon to a folder before dragging it to the Sidebar, it only appears with a generic folder icon in the Sidebar.


(PS: The problem with custom icons only seems to affect folders to which I’ve added a custom icon myself by creating it in Can Combine Icons and then copying and pasting it into the icon well in the “Information” window for the folder in the Finder. Folders that come with a pre-existing custom icon, such as the “Library” folder(s) or the “Microsoft Office X” folder or the “Roxio Toast” folder, do not lose their custom icon when dragged to the Sidebar.)

12 Responses to “Sidebar in Panther’s Finder: Apple repeats the same errors again”

  1. ssp says:

    You’re touching an interesting issue here. I fully agree with you that the sidebar’s behaviour is quite quirky still (say, because it uses toolbar icons for certain folders).

    However, I haven’t had problems with custom icons yet.

    What sometimes helped me as far as custom icons are concerned is opening the information window, selecting the icon, copying the icon and pasting it again. While I am not convinced that this may solve your problem, it may be worth a try.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Thanks for the tip. I tried it, and it didn’t make any difference. Funnily enough, when I drag a folder with one of my custom icons to the Sidebar, the custom icon flashes for about 1/4 of a second, and then the icon reverts to the generic folder icon. I wonder if there’s some kind of cache file that I should trash somewhere…

  3. Pierre Igot says:

    Found it! I trashed the file called

    from my home prefs and relaunched the Finder, and now the custom icons don’t disappear anymore!

    This problem with “corrupted” plist files is becoming a royal pain in the neck if you ask me. It happens just too often for too many aspects of the Mac OS X experience.

  4. ssp says:

    Very strange. Almost sounds like a bug.

    Does it work for users other than yourself? Is the folder in question on a different volume? Special permissions? How is the icon file stored?

    I don’t think any of these <em>should</em> make a difference – but knowing the bugs we tend to see, they might.

  5. vaag says:

    If I add a custom icon to a new folder or a folder that didn’t had a color label before, the icon will stick in the sidebar, but if it had a label before or if I add a label afterwards it won’t stick. I guess there must be some caching going on here.

  6. ssp says:

    Right, forget the previous comment then…

    I didn’t have too many plist accidents yet. I still tend to like plists in fact as this way I can simply edit the preferences of any application myself if needs be. Perhaps Apple’s way of writing the preferences isn’t quite safe. I sometimes have the impression that it fails in low-disk space situations.

  7. smk says:

    Seems that if you relaunch the Finder with Opt+Cmd+ESC. The custom icons appear, as mentioned before.
    Editing the .plist files had no effect on my system.

  8. Pierre Igot says:

    In fact, relaunching the Finder doesn’t solve the problem in my case. The problem occurs when the folder with the custom icon is on a volume (typically a FW drive) that might not be available at all times. If the volume is not available at some point, even if the user doesn’t attempt to use the folder in the Sidebar, its icon reverts back to the default folder icon. And it doesn’t go back to the custom icon once the volume is available again. I guess an alias would be the workaround here.

  9. Pierre Igot says:

    I don’t use Labels X but I do use a couple of other third-party system modifications. However, the unpredictable behaviour of custom icons in the Sidebar is not a big enough problem to warrant the removal of these third-party modifs. :)

    The core problem — that the Sidebar doesn’t even show Mac OS X’s built-in label colouring — remains.

  10. weev says:

    I had the same problem, tried reinstalling 10.3.4, deleting both

    several times in several ways, but to no avail

    I then solved the problem by uninstalling the haxie Labels X bu

    All works well now.

    Perhaps you should look at the third-party ‘extensions’ in your system.


  11. Rob Sherman says:

    I really appreciate the prior posts. I was having the same difficulty of generic folders showing up in the sidebar–as soon as I dropped a folder into the sidebar, it would appear in its custom version for second then revert to a generic folder.

    A combination of the above tips got me my custom folders back:

    Delete LabelsX from your System Prefs.

    Delete the

    Re-log in or re-start.

    (Doing one of the above won’t fix it. Even after I deleted LabelsX, the generic folders remained. Then deleting the .plist and restarting got the custom folders back).


  12. Pierre Igot says:

    Rob: I don’t use Labels X so I don’t think it’s related to the problem.

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