Mac OS X: The problem with having ‘Network’ under ‘Computer’

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
October 6th, 2004 • 5:19 am

This is something that has bothered me for a long time. In Mac OS X’s Finder, there are several ways to access networked volumes. One of them is to go back to the root of your file structure, a.k.a. “Computer“, and look under “Network“, which appears as a volume alongside your hard drive partitions and mounted CDs or DVDs.

I know that Mac OS X’s Finder is no longer based on a purely spatial metaphor. But still — this particular approach to browsing networked volumes is clearly meant to give the user a sense of where he is spatially. And that’s where I have a problem. No matter how much I think about it, I cannot bring myself to thinking of the network as something that is located “inside” my computer.

From my point of view, what’s inside my computer is my hard drives and my DVD/CD drives. It makes sense for them to appear under “Computer“. But the network? To me, the network is something that is located outside my computer.

As a matter of fact, when I have file sharing on, and I try to access my computer from outside, I do have to go through a step where I get connected to “Pierre Igot’s Computer“, which is the default name that Mac OS X gives to my computer when file sharing is on. Logically, if I had full access to everything from outside, this means that, under “Pierre Igot’s Computer“, I should find not only my internal hard drives and optical drives, but also… “Network“. And of course, “Network” is not there, because the network is precisely where I am connecting from.

The problem is in fact that what is called “Computer” in the Mac OS X interface is not the same as what is called (by default) “Pierre Igot’s Computer” when file sharing is on. And that’s precisely where things are confusing. These two things should be the same thing. And “Network” should be outside the realm of that thing.

Of course, this would mean that there wouldn’t be a single access point under which everything is found. There would be two access points: “Computer” (or “Pierre Igot’s Computer” or whatever I choose to call it) and “Network“. But that shouldn’t be a problem, because that’s exactly what things are like from a purely spatial point of view: there is my computer, and then there is the network that my computer is connected to. If anything, it’s not the network that is inside my computer, it’s my computer that’s inside the network!

I honestly believe that this simple, yet essential design choice is one of the things that makes networking still unnecessarily complicated and abstract for the average Mac user. For the average Mac user, things should be organized spatially as much as possible, especially when there are no significant benefits to be gained from using a non-spatial approach.

2 Responses to “Mac OS X: The problem with having ‘Network’ under ‘Computer’”

  1. ssp says:

    Interesting one.

    I take this one on from a slightly different angle, though.

    The whole ‘computer’ concept is very ‘Microsoft’ish. It’s plain wrong. I was once told it was only added to OSX to make transition for Windows users easier.

    Why should there be some virtual container ‘Computer’ in your machine, when you’re sitting in front of the device anyway? (And just from a physical point of view it’s also silly that the ‘Computer’ will contain external drives or mounted network volumes…)

    The good news is that you can easily avoid the silly ‘Computer’ metaphor. Just turn off the references to it in the Finder preferences and make sure your mounted volumes appear on the desktop (or in the Finder sidebar) and you can forget about it. In fact I almost had before reading your comments.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Even if you remove ‘Computer’ from your preferences, it still appears under the Path toolbar button in Finder windows (which I use all the time) and in the window title when you go all the way to the top of the hierarchy. In addition, it’s still necessary (and visible) when you are using the keyboard to navigate up and down the hierarchy in Open/Save dialog boxes.

    Incidentally, I was wrong in my initial post. The “Computer” icon does actually bear the name that you gave your computer in the file sharing prefs. So there is at least some attempt to make the whole thing make sense. But the problem remains that “Network” is under “Computer” (or whatever you’ve called it), when you are actually sharing your computer with the network.

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