Finder: Inconsistent and nonsensical selection behaviour when deleting file

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh, Mail
January 25th, 2014 • 4:09 pm

In OS X 10.9 (Mavericks), take a Finder window in list view and select a file in the list:


Now press command-Delete to delete the selected file. Here’s what happens:


The Finder automatically selects the next file in the list. This is important.

Now undo what you just did and, instead of pressing command-Delete to delete the selected file, just drag it to the Trash icon in the Dock.

Since dragging a file to the Trash is equivalent to deleting it, the selection behaviour in the Finder window should be the same, shouldn’t it?

Well, it’s not. If you drag the selected file to the Trash, OS X deletes it and plays the sound effect for deleting a file, but it fails to select the next file in the list.

This seems inconsistent to me. So I submitted a bug report to Apple about it. And after a few days, I got the following response:

After reviewing your submission engineering has determined that the behavior you reported is currently functioning as designed.

In other words, according to Apple, this inconsistency is “by design”.

This does not make much sense to me. First of all, deleting a file is deleting a file. It shouldn’t matter whether it’s done with the keyboard or with the mouse.

For completeness’s sake, I also tried with the “Move to Trash” menu command in the “File” menu (or in the contextual menu when right-clicking on the selected file) for which command-Delete is the shortcut, and using the menu command triggers the same selection behaviour as the keyboard shortcut, i.e. OS X’s Finder automatically selects the next file.

Now, one could argue that drag-and-drop with the mouse is not strictly equivalent to using a menu command or a keyboard shortcut. After all, the mouse pointer is moving in a 2D space and the user might have a different focus, where list order and selection is less important and spatial location on the screen is more important. I suppose that is how Apple’s engineers rationalize this.

How do they explain, however, that the situation is markedly different in OS X’s Mail?

In Mail, when you select a message in the message list, you can delete it by pressing the Delete key, you can right-click on the selected message and select the “Delete” menu command in the contextual menu, or you can also drag the selected message to the Trash mailbox in the list of mailboxes on the left:


And get this: no matter which method you use to delete the selected message (menu command, keyboard shortcut or drag-and-drop), Mail automatically selects the next message in the list.

Why the difference? What justifies selecting the next message in Mail in the list when dragging and dropping a message to the Trash, and not selecting the next file in the list when dragging and dropping a message to the Trash in the Finder?

I suppose — this is pure speculation, of course — that Apple’s engineers might argue that, in Mail, even when dragging-and-dropping messages, you are not really in a completely spatial environment, since the only possible destination of the dragging in the list of mailboxes, which is a restricted 2D destination space. And there is nothing that you might want to do other than select the next message, whereas in the Finder there are all kinds of things that you might want to do.

But really? Is that enough to justify such an inconsistency?

To make matters worse, try the same thing in the Finder with a Finder window in list view sorted by Date Added. To me, the addition of the “Date Added” column in Lion’s Finder back in the day was a terrific improvement. It’s particularly useful for the “Downloads” folder, but also for all kinds of other folders where you keep adding more files every day.

So I use this column and this sort order quite often in Finder windows in list view. Now, if you have a Finder window in list view with tons of files in it sorted by Date Added, the Finder can only display a limited number of items in the list at any given time. Say your list is sorted with the most recently added items at the top. Select one of these items at the top and drag it to the Trash.

What does the Finder do? Not only does it not select the next item in the list (by Date Added order), but also, for some strange reason, it scrolls all the way down to the bottom of the list, i.e. to a file that you might have added a very long time ago.

This is an extremely irritating bug (surely there is no rational explanation for this scrolling), and I included it in my bug report. Yet, once again, the only answer I got was that the behaviour was “as designed”.

This is very frustrating. It’s all the more frustrating that everything that I have said so far applies not only to trashing files, but also to moving files around. Just like moving a file to the Trash, moving a file to a different folder (in another window) with drag-and-drop fails to trigger the automatic selection of the next item in the list and, if your list is sorted by Date Added, OS X automatically scrolls down all the way to the bottom.

It is completely nonsensical and, based on the response I got from Apple, we might have to live with this inconsistent and absurd behaviour for many years to come. It’s hard not to be discouraged by this.

To be honest, it is the spurious scrolling in lists sorted by Date Added that initially prompted me to submit a bug report to Apple. So maybe I should have restricted my bug report exclusively to this aspect of the problem, and not questioned the inconsistency between drag-and-drop and the other methods as well. I might just submit a new bug report exclusively on the spurious scrolling, and see what happens. But really, I expect a bit more understanding on the part of Apple’s response team, and I expect them to be able to distinguish between the two issues (the general inconsistency, and the scrolling behaviour in lists sorted by Date Added) themselves, without requiring me to submit a new bug report.

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