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Switcher Hangout The place for switchers to discuss their new machines, and how to work with OS X. General support can be had here for newbie stuff, like "How do I restart my new iMac?" :)

Copying one folder over another of the same name destroys data!


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Cloudane
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I've been bitten by what I think is quite a nasty difference in the OS X finder for switchers! Lucky thing I had backups... in fact it was backups that I was working on, but that's besides the point.

Copying one folder on top of another in Windows causes it to merge the contents of the new folder with the contents of the old one, overwriting any files which have the same name but keeping all the existing files. It does this for every single subfolder and sub-subfolder etc it comes across too. This may not be the most logical method, but it's the safest and wisest UI choice because it avoids deleting a user's data - which should be treated as sacred. All other platforms I've ever used have also done this, so I've never questioned it or even thought about it since the very first time I used a computer.

Copying one folder on top of another in OS X, however (and telling it to replace it), causes it to DELETE the old folder and ALL its subfolders - the entire tree if you will - before replacing it with a copy of the new one. Kiss goodbye to any existing files you had in the the old folder, they've gone forever... they don't even go into the trash.

Let me use an example to illustrate...

Let's say I have disk A from computer A which runs Windows. Disk A contains a backup of the "My Documents" folder. That folder contains a bunch of documents as well as "My Pictures", "My Music" etc.

Now I have disk B from computer B. That has the same thing - a bunch of files and folders along with My Documents and its subfolders.

I want to copy the contents of disk B onto disk A so that the My Documents folder on disk A will contain its existing documents as well as those from disk B. I want the same thing to happen with its subdirectories so that My Documents\My Pictures contains the pictures that were already on disk A as well as those copied across from disk B.

In Windows it's easy - you copy My Documents from disk B to disk A and say "Yes to All" when it asks whether to overwrite any files it comes across with the same name on both disks. The two folder structures and contents are now merged into one, with the contents from disk B taking priority over those existing on disk A.

In Mac OS X, it's not so easy. Copying My Documents and telling it to replace the old one will do just that - it'll delete the old one and you'll end up with two disk Bs and everything from disk A destroyed.

The only workaround I've found is to open up a terminal and (for example)
cp -rp /Volumes/A/My\ Documents /Volumes/B

but this comes across as a bit clumsy and goes against everything I thought OS X stood for - i.e. being infinitely flexible as well as friendly, never destroying data unless explicitly asked to, and not having to require the terminal for anything. Then suddenly this huge usability issue pops up - I can see a lot of switchers learning a valuable lesson here, but one which they shouldn't have to learn IMO. And if you're not technically-minded, you won't necessarily realise what happened... the only thing you'll notice is that some files you expected to still be there are suddenly missing.

My questions are:
Is Apple aware of this? If not, what's the best way of telling them? IMO the best thing for them to do is change the dialog that pops up if it encounters a folder of the same name. Have it so that it asks "Trying to copy BLAH into FOO, but there is already a folder under FOO named BLAH. What would you like to do?" - buttons: Replace, Merge, Stop. Choosing merge would assume that you want to do the same for any subdirectories it comes across.

Is there a workaround - maybe a hidden Finder feature or a third party plugin - that doesn't involve terminal hacking? From a Windows perspective, merging folder structures is such a remarkably easy thing to do that Windows users don't even think about it until they come to OS X and find that it's missing. And then we're stuck - even Automator can't seem to do it.
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tootallUK

 
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Thanks for that advanced warning - my iBook and Mini should arrive later this week and I will sjortly be trying to transfer all my datd from the Pcs to them...

I wonder what they'll make of my Maxtor OneTouch...
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Kokopelli
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Yes, when you think about it Macs behavior is more proper. When you are copying a folder you are copying the folder and all contents to a new location, over writing any folder of the same name. You are not copying the contents of a folder to another folder of the same name. See the difference? I too have been bitten by this learned behavior though.

I wish OS X had a "merge contents when copying folders" option, but alas that is not the case.
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rman

 
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This is normal behavior for any unix system is far as I know of.

Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, It's about learning to dance in the rain!
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Murlyn

 
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That would be pretty sweet though.. I do like the idea of having a replace / merge / cancel dialogue.. I don't see why that would be hard for them to do... I know Apple's site has a suggestion contact us area... that would be a good place to start in suggesting this change.
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technologist

 
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Quote:
Copying one folder on top of another in OS X, however (and telling it to replace it)
No comment.
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Stephanella

 
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I like it this way I have to say. I am a de-clutter freak and when I switched from PC to Mac I just made sure I had everything I WANTED to have in place and copied the files to the Mac.

Cogito, ergo lectito.
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mangoSharingan
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Yea, I found this out in the most cruel way: I lost all my 'private' things, lol. I too, had no idea it meant replacing the WHOLE folder, and not like replace any individual files in there with the same name as in Windows.
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Cloudane
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Quote:
Originally Posted by technologist
No comment.
Then kindly don't make one. Yes it may sound obvious to you, but before you look down your nose at me, consider that for something like 15-20 years, Windows users have been trained to think "replace" means "merge" when referring to a folder. Try having that engraved into your brain like we have, then you'll understand that it's not as obvious to a switcher as it is to yourself.

I googled this issue and there are indeed HUNDREDS if not thousands of other people doing the same thing.

Obvious or not, there is NO excuse for deleting a user's data irreversably without making it absolutely obvious that's what it's going to do. By any HCI standard.
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Does Apple listen to comments and suggestions? I mean, if a good many people suggest something, how likely will Apple be to take them into consideration and make some changes? I know just coming from the Windows world, it never really comes across your mind to suggest changes, how likely will MS be to change it when Longhorn comes out in who knows how many years? Apple seems to have a more personal relationship with the customers, and it may be more open to suggestions.

I can see the logic in both the Windows way of merging and the OS X way of completly removing the original folder. It would be nice if OS X had that "Replace / Merge / Cancel" option when you tried to copy a folder as described. Maybe if we start suggesting to Apple that they should add this feature it may be there in a update to tiger?
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Sorry that you have lost files etc.
A Mac is straight with it's options, replace is just that. Tiger is putting more "Are you sure?" type boxes up, annoys the heck out of experienced Mac users but does save some new user problems.
Feed back is usually taken seriously so worth a try.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cloudane
Obvious or not, there is NO excuse for deleting a user's data irreversably without making it absolutely obvious that's what it's going to do. By any HCI standard.

The dialog asks the user if he/she wants to replace the folder with the one that is being moved. The relevant definition of replace is the third one in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, namely
Quote:
3 : to put something new in the place of <replace a worn carpet>
. I know of no English definition for "Replace" that fits Microsoft's implementation.

From an HCI standpoint, the most important factor is consistency. The Finder's behavior for folders is the same as that for any other item: when you copy a document into a folder that contains a different document with the same name, the same dialog appears. If you again choose "Replace," the existing document is deleted.

Truly, the best solution from the standpoint of "Protect the user" would be a complete refusal to move a folder or document into a folder containing another item with the same name. If the user wants to replace, he/she should have to deliberately Trash the conflicting item before moving.

Under Windows, you end up with a new folder that is niether the one you moved, nor the one that was originally there. This type of inconsistency is frowned upon, and confused the heck out of me the first time I saw it.

Finally, note that for every switcher, there are ten long-time Mac users who are accustomed to the way Replace is implemented. I'm not sure how long Merge has been the default in Windows, but I'm certain it wasn't there before Win95. The Finder's replace operation has been in place for 21 years.
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KuruMonkey
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Quote:
Originally Posted by technologist
The dialog asks the user if he/she wants to replace the folder with the one that is being moved. The relevant definition of replace is the third one in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, namely. I know of no English definition for "Replace" that fits Microsoft's implementation.

The actual confusion for us switchers is that both OSes implement "replace", its just that the text of the confirm dialogs is different, yet close enough to allow you to think you've read it when, in fact, you haven't.

To be precise; OSX asks if you want to replace the _folder_ and does just that if you say yes.

Windows asks if you want to replace _files with the same names_ and then does just that if you say yes.

Both systems actually state very precisely what they are offering to do, and then do exactly what they offered. Its just that the casual switching observer might easily gloss over the differences and think "both said replace; they do the same thing".

Lesson: always read the dialog properly if its the first time you've seen that dialog.
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Cloudane
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Indeed, and the simple answer is that it's the user's fault. Quite true, it's my fault that I destroyed my own files.

But I hate the phrase "user's fault" and I'm pretty sure Apple do too. Since 99% of the time, with this one exception, their interfaces are designed completely with the user in mind and the fact that they're human (they won't read dialogs, they make mistakes etc).

I reiterate an arguably even more important HCI element than consistency - the ability to reverse any action whenever it's feasible. It's part of the "human" part - humans make mistakes.

Is it really asking *that* much for the original folder to be placed in the trash instead of being irreversibly destroyed? Why fight against such protection? Just so you can feel superior against all those stupid switchers? What is this, a Linux forum?

Even better, use a dialog that quotes options as "Replace (Mac traditional)" or "Merge (Windows style)" and provide a tickbox for "do not ask me again". Existing Mac users would choose the first option, tick the box and pretend it never appeared. Ex Windows users would do what they like.

Why is that such a bad thing to ask for?


(This makes me really admire the likes of Jakob Nielsen. They have to fight against such unnecessary closed mindedness when it comes to usability)
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I agree with Cloudane. But there are two sides to this. I hate "are you sure" dialogs. They annoy me. Yes I am sure, I told it to do that!

I would like to see this implemented as a feature similar to "secure delete." Not immediately noticeable, but there if you want it.

It is important to think of the switchers. There are many simularities between Windows and OSX (trash=recycle bin, etc...). However, it is not Apple's responsibility to make OSX Windows, then it would be Windows. Still, Apple does need to have a 100% commitement to making things work for the user in an easy way.
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