Braindead Finder Behaviour

Because of what I consider totally braindead behivour in the OS X Finder I appear to have lost about 60 pictures from my trip. When I offload pictures from card I generally drag the 100PENTX folder from the card onto my desktop and I leave things in that folder until I have a chance to compress the pictures, divide them into days, and upload them. Well OS X does this crazy thing where when you drag the folder onto the desktop it asks you if you want to replace the folder with the same name. On Windows I always say yes and it just adds the new pictures to those already in the folder. In OS X it apparently means delete the folder that’s already there with no way to recover it and replace it with the one you’re dragging. This happened to me a few times and I couldn’t figure out what was happening, luckily though I had backups on my iPod. Unfortunately going back over the pictures from the trip it seems a day is missing. Fortunately it was a day of mostly travel so I’ll live, but still a bummer. Updates: John Gruber weighs in, and here’s the exact message in Windows.

New update: Robert Scoble put me in touch with Bob Day who had this to say:

If the question is just “Why do merge by default?”, there are lots of

1. Because it maps well to operations that users are likely trying to
accomplish (see the scenario of dropping a picture folder from a
2. Folder replace can be done by deleting the destination folder first,
and then copying. If you have replace be the primary method, then merge
becomes a very tedious process.
3. Because it is less destructive?

Please realize that having a camera that uniquely assigns picture
numbers until you reset them becomes very important with this merge
behavior. If your pictures are all uniquely named, the default of
replacing files with the same name will allow you to not lose any files.

Also realize that this is a complicated scenario for most users. Almost
any choice is going to be bad for some users.

And yes, the behavior is a concious choice. We had to implement this
feature in Windows 95.

I followed up that “So before that [Windows 95] folders were deleted and
overwritten?” Bob responded: “I need the source code to Windows 3.1 to confirm. Anybody remember “File
Manager”? wow, that is old.” And dug up:

Ok, archeological discovery over. (wipes the dust off his sleeves)

Win3.1 would say the same thing for folders as it did for files:
“Replace file with file

And if you said “yes” for a folder, it would try to delete the
folder first, which would error out if the directory
wasn’t empty. Not sure what the error message is there.

I would love to get similar background for the Mac OS X behaviour.

192 thoughts on “Braindead Finder Behaviour

  1. This behaviour must have been inherited from OS 9. Linux does not have this problem.

    Yesterday I spent hours driving myself mad when I realised I had lost some text from my Palm 4 months ago. No back-ups could save me. Learn to forget…

  2. Matt,

    No way around it, the Finder blows. With all of Apple’s Usability Experts they should have nailed this issue YEARS ago. The loss of information because of the lack of feedback from an interface is asinine.


  3. This caught me out after switching as well, but it does make it easy to install new programs because the program folder is completely replaced with the new version rather than merged as it would be on Windows.

  4. I’m totally biased here because I’ve been a Mac guy my whole life, but doesn’t that behavior seem perfectly logical? It does to me. Drag a folder named “Whatever” to an area where a folder named “Whatever” already exists and the original folder gets completely replaced. It’s the same behavior that would occur on a Mac (or a PC) if you tried the same thing with a file instead of a folder. Things with the same names overwrite each other (and the dialog box is clear in asking you to confirm this). Also, treating folder drags and file drags differently can be a bit dangerous because some things look like files but are actually very folderlike (app “packages” on OS X), and some things look like folders but are actually files (zip files on PCs).

    I think the PC behavior you speak of, while handy, is probably a shortcut Microsoft added to Windows at some point. It would be interesting to find out which way of doing things appeared first, but I would guess it is probably the Mac way dating all the way back to the first Mac. Does anybody know when Windows first got this behavior? Windows 95 maybe?

  5. Gotta agree with Mike D. on this one…Finder tells you that your action will replace the old folder if you move forward–why isn’t it logical that _replacing_ the folder would result in losing everything that’s inside it, just like in the real world? The Windows behavior isn’t consistent with itself, or with the real world–and the fact that Linux does the same thing just means it mimics the wrong example.

  6. Ah, one of those switchers are ya? See, us Mac users consider the Windows way the wrong way, and the Mac way the right way. Obviously it’s another feature Microsoft copied from Apple but didn’t quite get right.

  7. Even if the Mac way is the right way I was genuinely confused and still miss my pictures. I never read file dialogs, really.

  8. I ran into this same thing Matt when helping a friend update his WP. I said…sure just hit replace. Everything in the folder that doesn’t have a new version will still be there. I guess I shouldn’t have said that since I know nothing about Macs.

    I much prefer the Windows way. If it’s going to delete files it should ask you if you want them deleted. Replace doesn’t mean delete! Overwriting files with new versions is perfectly OK, but replacing a file that is there with nothing? Now that’s nothing like the real world.

  9. Precedent or not, the Mac way sucks. The situations where I want to merge folders outnumber those where I want to overwrite folders at least 10 to 1, and I can’t imagine this being significantly different for other people. Even when it comes to programs, most of the file manipulation I find myself doing on them involves copying big sets of extension files which require the subdirectory structure to stay intact.

    On the other hand, the real problem is the design of the prompt. Instead of a wordy dialogue with “Yes” or “No” options, it should be concise with “Merge Folders” or “Replace Folders” options.

  10. Under any circumstance, it is more logical to avoid erasure of files. Finder easily diposes of files; maybe it should be called Loser, not Finder.

    Mike: your opinion suggests that “easier-to-implement” is better. That’s the same cause for, e.g. image2.jpg appearing after image10.jpg. It’s simply a common ‘bug’ that became a norm.

  11. I always though it a little odd that Windows’ version of replacing a folder didn’t actually replace it; and I don’t even have an Apple computer. I’d like one, though, heh. The Apple way does make more intuitive sense to me, though it is less convenient. I still dislike Finder for other reasons, however. I am curious… while it is easy to mimic the Apple way by first deleting the folder and then dragging it in Windows, how do you do the other way on Mac OS X?

  12. Kind of off subject, but did you use your laptop as a go between with the pictures and the iPod, or did you use an apparatus that let you directly connect your camera to the iPod? I know of one product that Belkin makes that lets you do this, but my camera wasn’t listed as one of the guaranteed compatible cameras. I’m going to Europe at the end of this summer and I would rather store pictures on my iPod than buy 4 or 5 more memory cards. (I’m not taking my laptop).

  13. Well, regardless of “brain dead” OS behavior or not, I’m sorry you lost photos, Matt. Can’t help but say that dialogs are there for a reason, though…and I say this as a person who’s often had to fire up file recovery tools on ANY platform for “brain dead” user behavior!

  14. If Apple’s way of “replacing” a folder is the logical way, why is it that Apple is the only platform doing this? Every other platform I have ever used, does this the “overwrite” way. Amiga, ProDOS, Irix, Sun, RedHat, Windows.

    I have noticed that Apple does a lot of things different from others. I don’t necessarly consider this a bad thing, however, sometimes it can be a real pain in the a**. Take black being #$FF and white being #$00. I understand the logic behind this being done back when the Macintosh first came out, but considering the hardware has become so sofisticated, I really don’t see the need to keep using these values. Yet they do.

    On the good side, the iPod and the way it browses the music on it is different and way better than any other device I have seen.

    Pete, did it ever occur to you that maybe Apple just miscopied Xerox’s code? Hmmm?

    Mike D.: So let me see if I understand this. In the command line (or what ever Apple calls it), if you type:
    cp 100PENTX desktop (meaning copy 100PENTX to the directory desktop)

    will “replace” the directory 100PENTX in the folder desktop the contents of the source 100PENTX?

  15. I don’t thin we should blame Mac or Windows for this. It’s simply what you’re used to. If you switch to something else then you gotta learn to adapt to it. I’m sorry you lost your photos. It would drive me mad if I did mine.

  16. That’s really bad luck – but Apple’s wording is pretty exact, right? I was recently caught by this in a different manner – see here for details. I exchanged some e-mails with Panic and they told me that they had changed the programs behavior to make it more finder-like. But they are considering offering the old way as an option now…

  17. If you’re a Windows user: Don’t try moving a folder on top of another with the same name – Mac OS X will replace the entire folder … This is a very significant difference between the Finder and Windows Explorer that catches most people at least once, and is simply a matter of different traditions (plus the UNIX underpinnings of Mac OS X, where things have worked like this from time immemorial).

    How to Switch to the Mac

  18. “On the other hand, the real problem is the design of the prompt. Instead of a wordy dialogue with “Yes” or “No” options, it should be concise with “Merge Folders” or “Replace Folders” options.”

    Yes, absolutely. This is probably what should be done on both platforms really, since there seems to be a legitimate use for both functions.

    Someone asked how Mac users accomplish merges. Generally I just open up the folder, hit Select All, and drag all the files to the destination folder. Pretty easy. But that brings up the question, does the Windows behavior of not replacing directories work recursively as well? Meaning, if I drag a folder to where a folder of the same name is (in order to do a merge), what happens if I have ten levels of folders nested inside of there? Do all of them honor the merge behavior if folders of the same name and structure exist in the source? I suppose they should, right? This seems all very out of the reach of my simplistic Mac mind. I’d rather just replace. 🙂

  19. The Mac OS rarely ever has a ‘wordy dialogue with “Yes” or “No” options.’ The dialogue in question clearly states: “An older item named “My Picture Folder” already exists in this location. Do you want to replace it with the newer one you are moving?” Then you have buttons with “Stop” and “Replace” not “Yes” or “No” like Windows does. Windows dialog boxes are so unituative that you usually need to read them more than once to obtain any meaning. That’s probably why Matt says he never reads them.

    I don’t understand why anyone would think performing an action with a folder and the same action with a file would get different results. If you drop a MS Word file onto a folder that contains an item with the same name, it is replaced, not merged into the same named document. The same should happen with a folder, whether it’s what you want to do 1 out of 10 times or not. It’s all about consistency in the UI. That’s why when you hit Command-N in the Finder, you get a new Finder window, not a new folder. Even though you may make new folders much more often, Command-N is the new window shortcut in all other apps, so the Finder complies.

    Just because Windows has a larger user base doesn’t mean that all of its conventions are “normal” or even logical.

  20. The sensible option?

    “You already have a folder with that name. Would you like to replace the original, merge the two or canel?

    Replace | Merge | Cancel”

    Obviously the wording can be tweaked or changed for usability’s sakes, but you get the idea.

  21. Damn it, should read all the comments… that Mike D… what right does he have to have my opinion firtst. (send us one of those iPod shuffles in compensation 😉

  22. Actually I think the Finder behaviour is just fine – it’s doing what it is supposed to do and that is replacing a same-named object regardless of the objects format. But what the finder does wrong is that on replacing it doesn’t trash the old object but completely removes it. _That’s_ a big useability bug in my book. Objects should never be discarded directly, they should allways go through the trash.

  23. Dave M. says “Pete, did it ever occur to you that maybe Apple just miscopied Xerox’s code? Hmmm?”

    No, because Apple really popularized the personal computer, not Xerox. I’ve never used a Xerox computer and don’t know anyone who has.

    None the less, I am sorry Matt lost his files, and it would be nice to have a “merge” or “replace” option, though Apple wouldn’t do it because it probably could not be done elegant enough for them. (Third party hack perhaps?)

  24. I also agree that the Mac way makes more sense, but I’m also biased. Replace means exactly what it means: if you replace your car with a new one, this implies that you don’t have your old car or the things that make up the car. You don’t have a bastardized car made of both cars.

    To merge, you drag the ITEMS… not the folder, as folders are treated as files… that you want to merge into the folder in which you want them merged. This will override same-named items (you will be prompted regarding that), and add any items that do not have a name in the set of names of items in the destination folder.

    As a person who works in HCI, I must say that the Mac way is correct and consistent with the definition of the word replace. However, reworking the dialogue to be even more drastic may be a compromise:

    Presently there is one dialogue for both files and folders. The OS could probably detect which replace operation you are doing, and when you are doing a folder, have the dialogue go from saying:

    An older item named “foo” already exists in this location. Do you want to replace it with the newer one you are moving?


    A folder named “foo” already exists in this location. Do you want to replace it and its contents with the one you are moving?

    Perhaps the older/newer convention could be kept as well. But either way, the merge operation only takes one extra step – dragging the contents of the source folder instead of the source folder itself. Choices of Merge, Stop, and Replace, while l33t and such, are probably not good to introduce at this point.

  25. Sorry you lost your photos but I have to agree with everyone that in the future reading the dialogue boxes might be pertinant. In the real world when you REPLACE your car, its gone. You don’t keep old things like the 8 Track and just add in the new things like the CD player, all the old stuff is gone.

  26. “On the other hand, the real problem is the design of the prompt. Instead of a wordy dialogue with “Yes” or “No” options, it should be concise with “Merge Folders” or “Replace Folders” options.”

    Actually, when you replace a folder on the Mac the buttons say “Stop” or “Replace.” This is another advantage that Mac has over Windows. The buttons often give you a description of the action you are about to perform without you having to read the description, whereas on Windows typically there is a “Yes” and “No” button. And rest assured, when the Mac says “Replace” it means “Replace.” If it was going to merge the folders it would have said “Merge.” The Mac actually does what it says it’s going to do, unlike Windows.

    “…did it ever occur to you that maybe Apple just miscopied Xerox’s code? Hmmm?”

    Please, Apple didn’t copy Xerox’s code like Microsoft copied Apple’s code. Sure, Apple was inspired by the Xerox design, but their implementation was their own. Microsoft, on the other hand, actually did use Apple code. For a more thorough discussion of this, see the following link:

  27. Amazing what people will complain and the debate about. Despite de fact that replace has the precise meaning given by the Finder, the correct behaviour for the user would be to produce a dialog asking what is it you want: Merge, Replace, Cancel. So… really…. both sides are right 😛

  28. Regarding my own last comment,

    “Nothing here suggests that we think “replace” should mean “merge.””,

    I actually hadn’t picked up on the fact that Windows uses the word “replace” in its prompt. But when you read the prompt text (which you should never have to do), it makes a very little bit of sense; “replace” refers to the overwriting of files of the same name.

    If you think of “replace” as some kind of abstract function, and “folder” as a sort of parameter to that function, then the term “Folder Replace” almost works. You Mac-heads are just obsessed with decipherable English. 😉

  29. Replace is ‘merge’ on non-Mac platforms? That’s just plain sdtiufpfiedrent.

    Yesterday, I noticed my the expiration date on a carton of milk was a few days old, so I went out and bought a new carton. Once I was back home, I decided to replace the old milk carton with the new one, so I poured the new milk into the old carton, mixing the two together.

    My son is a bit scared of his new fish. The old one died, so I replaced it with a new one. It took forever to do, as fish scales don’t adhere to super glue that well.

    I then realized a few seconds ago that I used a word with possibly negative connotation when I could have used ‘different’. So I replaced it.

    I honestly cannot think of a single instance where I could use the world ‘replace’ when I mean ‘merge’.

  30. Lets just look at this logically for a second.

    In windows, when you drag a file called music.mp3 into another folder that already contains music.mp3 what happens?

    In windows, when you drag a folder called ‘music’ into anther folder that alrady contains ‘music’ what happens? If they merge, what exactly are you replacing?

    It’s a question of uniformity.

    I never knew about the merge functionality of windows, and I do kinda wish that there was an option for that on my mac, but it doesn’t make sense* to do that when you want to replace something.

    As far as usability goes, I think ‘cancel’ is the default option, so it’s non-destructive as it should be in the Finder.

    *If you say you replaced your car, that doesn’t mean you welded them together 😉

  31. The windows dialog box specifically says “This folder already contains a folder named . If the files in the existing folder have the same name as the files in the folder you are moving or copying, they will be replaced. Do you still want to move or copy the folder?” It’s a pretty straightforward message, says exactly what it is going to do. is the Mac message box that precise? At least Mac users on a Windows machine would know what behaviour to expect if they clicked yes. 🙂

  32. Let’s see if i have a blue box and i replace the color of the box with yellow….. do i have box that is half blue and half yellow….. a blue box and a yellow box….. a green box…..or what it absolutely should be….. a yellow box.

  33. i do support at a university. I can tell you nobody reads dialog boxes, and its always to their own peril. We try tirelessly to communicate with people to help them avoid situations like the one above that is so tragic. If we put out too much email or too many dialogs, we get blamed for spamming you. Its a no win situation. I am sorry you lost your pictures, that really does stink… But blamespotting the computer on this one is kind of lame.

    Where does individually responsibility for what you do come into this world? Why does everyone have a finger that they can point somewhere else to place the blame for their actions? Yeah, you can call the Finder stupid, but it seems to me, you are just trying to deny any responsibility on your part for knowing how the system works, and what replace means… You’re not on Windows, you’re not fighting viruses, you’re using your computer to do cool work… The Mac is not perfect, but neither am i or you..

    May I ask why don’t you import directly to iPhoto? It saves your pics in a cool by roll kind of metaphor that seems very intuitive. It would have protected you from losing your pictures, and given you a whole toolbox of easy ways to manage your photos. So instead of dragging your photos folder to the desktop and replacing that same folder name, why not just drag them into iPhoto… and you are done. I truly treasure the photos of my friends and my family, and with such a precious thing, i am extra super careful with the files that cannot be replaced…

  34. Roy: Nice KDE Theme… 🙂

    I agree that deleting data should *never* be considered good usability unless the user *expressly* indicates to do so. The concept of folder replacment in Windows and Linux is more usable to me – I’m not replacing one folder with another, I’m combining the files of two folders – which is what I’d expect it to do when I drag one folder to another. Ideally the OS would be smart enough to do a diff on the two and only replace the files that have changed, leaving any extra files alone.

    When I drag one folder into another of the same name, it’s just bad usability to assume that I want to do a replace rather than a merge. Personally, I think Apple should allow you to use a key + drag combination if you want to do a replace and have the merge be the default action.

  35. “This folder already contains a folder named . If the files in the existing folder have the same name as the files in the folder you are moving or copying, they will be replaced. Do you still want to move or copy the folder?” It’s a pretty straightforward message

    I beg to differ, its FAR from straighforward. No dialog message should be THAT long.

  36. Just like the new Finder Preferences allow for a lot of new things in OS X now (Show certain items on the Desktop, or Sidebar; Show extensions and/or warnings, etc.), Apple should include on option about “Replace” or “Merge” so that those that are use to doing it the Apple way can continue and PC switchers have the option of doing it to.

    Also, if Apple is concerrned with PC switchers, they should have an intro video .MOV presentation that outlines key features of the OS, differences and similarities between platforms that might be challenging, including this Replace/Merge situation. Not trying to educate the switcher is a mistake.

    I also believe “Show TRASH CAN on the Desktop” should finally be an option for us from the “old-school” of 7, 8 & 9 operating systems.

  37. Just like the new Finder Preferences allow for a lot of new things in OS X now (Show certain items on the Desktop, or Sidebar; Show extensions and/or warnings, etc.), Apple should include on option about “Replace” or “Merge” so that those that are use to doing it the Apple way can continue and PC switchers have the option of doing it to.

    Also, if Apple is concerrned with PC switchers, they should have an intro video .MOV presentation that outlines key features of the OS, differences and similarities between platforms that might be challenging, including this Replace/Merge situation. Not trying to educate the switcher is a mistake.

    Regardless, files shouldn’t be just zapped! The contents of of anything not merged or replaced should be dumped into the trash so that mistakes can be corrected. Also, now with OS X, there is UNDO in the finder for many things. UNDO for setting mistakes right with this situation is a no-brainer.

    ‘topher & ‘thew

    Off-topic: Finally, I also believe “Show TRASH CAN on the Desktop” should finally be an option for us from the “old-school” of 7, 8 & 9 operating systems.

  38. “Propose” is a neat option that proposes a new filename when a naming conflict arises. “Auto-skip” will abort individual actions when conflicts are detected. These options might be daunting at first and they will not appeal to a person who has never used them. I use them on a daily basis though.

  39. There not the most explanatory of ermm… explanations, are they?

    I also believe “Show TRASH CAN on the Desktop” should finally be an option for us from the “old-school” of 7, 8 & 9 operating systems.

    I used some sort of hack to do just that when I started using OSX after OS9, but Ive got rid of it as tbh its pointless. The dock floats over everything so its easier to get to.

  40. In answer to Mike D.’s question above, Windows does do it recursively. As does Linux. For instance, when I am upgrading an installation of weblog software to the latest version, I just drag and drop the folder into the proper place in the SmartFTP window and let the merging begin. I shutter to think about how many people would be constantly wiping out config files if most webservers were running OSX.

  41. Grrrr. This sort of thing just plain gets me mad. If you’re too damned stupid to read a dialogue box, when you’re performing something as potentially damaging as replacing a folder, well that’s just your luck out. Next you’ll be telling us how you got run over by a bus because you didn’t bother to look both ways when crossing the street !

    The Windows way is just plain wrong wrong wrong ! It breaks the ‘direct manipulation’ metaphor, which breaks the consistency of the interface. If I replace something, I expect it to be replaced !! File, folder, application, text clipping – it doesn’t matter – moving and object called ‘X’ into the same place as another object called ‘X’ should replace that object. If you want to merge the contents of two folders, the correct action is to open one of them – select all with Command-A or by dragging – and drag the contents onto the other folder. You know – just like you’d do in real life.

    Now, granted, the Finder should accommodate idiots like you by putting the deleted folder in the trash. That would be a good compromise.

  42. Matthew: Absolutely. That message is FAR from straightforward. It still doesn’t answer my question (and no one has yet) of whether folder merging happens with nested folder as well or just the top level folder you are replacing. According to that message, I would assume only the top level folder gets merged since folders inside that folder “will be replaced”.

    But then again, the depends on what the meaning of the word “replace is”.

    Can someone answer this… just for my own curiosity? When you are drag-replacing a folder in Windows which contains many levels of nested folders inside, does Windows keep drilling into the folder structure and merging when the source structure matches the destination structure?

  43. Yes, if the files went in the trash or even if I could undo the operation, I wouldn’t be as miffed. But after moving the folder they were, at least to my Mac skills, irretrievably gone.

  44. Actually, this would be a problem with copying/modifying/using BSD Unix’s code, wouldn’t it? The Mac OS isn’t based off the Xerox software anymore.

  45. Consistency should win over the arguments in this case. Mac OS X should have remained consistent w.r.t. to other operating systems. The way I see it, Mac is still not Linux. It simply has the nice resource-damanding bells-and-whistles. You can put a pig in a dress and take it out for dinner, but it is still not a girlfriend (Linux).

    …a few more comments and Matt gets 60 comments to compensate for 60 lost photos…

  46. Consistency should win over the arguments in this case. Mac OS X should have remained consistent w.r.t. to other operating systems.

    Surely it should remain consistent with itself? Which it is with

  47. *Damn, trangular brackets!*
    ….Which it is with OS 9 and earlier. Just because a majority do something, doesnt mean its correct.
    FWIW, the Windows/Rest of the OSs way would confuse the hell out of me and Id have many files which I shouldnt have. I just like to be in control of my files, I dont like the OS making decisions like that for me.

  48. matthew:

    I just like to be in control of my files, I dont like the OS making decisions like that for me.

    What decisions? Erasing your photos?

    Wouldn’t you rather have duplicates? Your argument makes no sense to me. “Oh, what the heck… don’t make the decision and copy some files for me, just purge the whole goddamn thing…”

  49. Hmm, what is this “replace” function that everybody is arguing about? I don’t have a “replace” function on my Windows desktop. Never have. I can copy or move, but not replace. When I drag a folder to another location, I clearly have the option of “copy” or “move” (or even the rarely used “create shortcut”). Neither of them explicitly or implicitly declare that similarly named objects at the destination will be replaced/merged/destroyed. Anyone who thinks that the Mac or PC way is the “right” way is just wrong. You can come up with countless analogies to support your way, but they would all be fallible.

    The only thing explicitly defined by these functions is that the object will be copied or moved to the new destination. It is then up to the OS to define who that is accomplished. The dialog box on Windows clearly tells you how it will handle that copy or move and is 100% correct in how it does this. If you view this as inconsistent, you are wrong. That doesn’t make the Mac way any less correct, it just means that there is nothing wrong with the way Windows does it.

    As a bonus to Windows users, it is also far more convenient. Because now you have the option of merging or replacing a folder as all you have to do for the latter is delete the old folder first.

  50. Roy – no, I DONT want the duplicates, thats the point! Call me old fashioned but Id rather manually replace/rename the files rather than have the OS try to second guess me.
    I still dont understand what would happen on Windows if folder A had a file called ‘mystuff’ in it and then you tried to copy a folder called ‘mystuff’ into folder A.

  51. Windows distinguishes between files and dirs IIRC.

    Linux, however:

    roy@BAINE:~> md dir
    roy@BAINE:~> cd dir
    roy@BAINE:~/dir> vi file
    roy@BAINE:~/dir> cd ..
    roy@BAINE:~> md file
    roy@BAINE:~> mv file ./dir/
    mv: cannot overwrite non-directory `./dir/file' with directory `file'

  52. I don’t really get the problem here. It’s windows that’s at fault, not the Mac. Let’s think of a folder as a box. The box has items in it. If I told you to replace the items in the box with some other items, what would you do? You would take the items in the box out, and put the new items in. Replace means to remove what’s there and put in what’s new, not to add or merge two folders.

    “Consistency should win over the arguments in this case. Mac OS X should have remained consistent w.r.t. to other operating systems. The way I see it, Mac is still not Linux. It simply has the nice resource-damanding bells-and-whistles.”

    Roy, the Mac is not trying to be Linux. It never has and it never will. OSX is Unix, Linux is a Unix clone. Apple shouldn’t have to make OSX consistent with other OS’s, especially windows. For one, it would lose consistency with previous versions and it would also cause it to gain all the flaws of windows, of which inconsistency is a major one. If everything was consistent then we would never have innovation 😉

  53. Windows does (I think), Linux doesn’t. But it’s going off-topic because directory-file conflicts are rare. Since Linux is case-sensitive (not always), this is even more unlikely.

  54. Its not _really_ off topic, and I still dont know what exactly Windows does aside from it knows the difference between a folder and a file.

  55. No matter how wrong Windows may be to purists, at least I never lost any photos on it. (For this reason, at least.) I would strongly agree with earlier comments that deleting files without recoverability is horribly bad usability.

  56. Somebody used the analogy of buying a new car to ‘replace’ their old car. A more appropriate analogy, however, in this case might be to think of the contents _within_ the car, since its a folder we’re talking about. Therefore, when you replace your old car with a new one, you may very well keep many of the contents from your old car and put them in your new car… or ‘merge’, but the actual car got replaced. Very interesting discussion.

  57. Matt, I think you jinxed me with your post. Today, for the first time ever and purely by coincidence, I lost 20 photos. My camera had a power shortage and the memory emptied. I am not kidding. First time ever.

  58. So we have some people arguing one “side” and some arguing the other. Nether makes complete sense. OS X’s use of the word “replace” is correct; Windows’ is (if it uses the word, does it? I can’t remember) wrong–as people have mentioned.

    However, the deleted folder! should end up in the trash. I tried something similar to what Matt did. Nothing ended up in the trash, and Undo did not recover the original folder.

    And it would be more useable for the OSs to allow a choice as people have already mentioned.

    And finally, Dave M: As “neat” as it is to fantasize about Apple stealing Xerox’s code, it’s not true. Yes, Gates used that excuse to steal Apple’s code. And Apple (and the idiot Sculley) were stupid enough to let him do it.

    The truth (read Blurg’s stuff and is that some guys from Apple went to observe the Star WITH Xerox’s PERMISSION! They _did not_ observe any code. In fact, the Star didn’t even have overlapping windows. The Apple engineers found out how to make this work _first_.

    So there! 😉


    P.S. Sorry about your pix Matt. I’m glad I read this because I use only Macs now. But I cut my teeth on the mess that is Windows. So I would have been fooled too.

  59. You can’t say that Windows is better because you never lost photo’s on it. It’s what you are used to. Just because Apple decides to use the correct meaning of the word replace as opposed to windows doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. This is a major problem I see with many switchers. With Windows, I find that it always seems to want you to think it’s way. With OSX, it works how common sense says how things should work. It’s the way the mind works, not the way a computer works 😉

  60. matthew,
    In Windows, I have a folder A and a folder B inside of A. Now I have a new version of B, so I copy B into A. Windows prompts you if you’d like to replace all (I’m not looking up the direct wording). Any files in old B will be replaced with versions from new B if there are new versions. If there are files in old B that are not in new B, they will be left alone (not deleted like Matt is explaining the Mac does). This happens recursively throughout the folder structure. So if you had a folder C inside of B (both new and old), this same process applies. Files in C will be replaced with new versions, but files in old C that are not in new C will be left alone.

  61. Chilton and others… “I honestly cannot think of a single instance where I could use the world “˜replace’ when I mean “˜merge’.”

    So, when you buy a new house, you simply leave all of your posessions in your old house and move to the new house replacing all your belongings with new ones? Wow! I really wish I had that kind of money. I personally, move my posessions with me and if their happen to be a few items in the new house that were left by the previous occupiants, I will decide weither I want to keep them or replace them.

    Same with a new car, I move my possession from the old car to the new car. A new fridge, desk, computer, hard drive, briefcase, camera, etc…

  62. Here’s the exact message in Windows, since there seems to be some confusion about this:

    This folder already contains a folder named ‘100PENTX’.

    If the files in the existing folder have the same name as files in the folder you are moving or copying, they will be replaced. Do you still want to move or copy the file?

    [Yes] [Yes to All] [No] [Cancel]

  63. Jay says “Ideally the OS would be smart enough to do a diff on the two and only replace the files that have changed…”

    Well, doing a diff works well for text files (if the line endings match) but for binary files it’s not as easy, and you can’t just check the creation/modification dates, as those can be incorrect, so what you have to do is an md5sum on each file to see if they are really the same file, and for large files (like photos) this is time consuming. Trust me, I know this because I’ve had to write code to do it. 🙁

  64. “Consistency should win over the arguments in this case. Mac OS X should have remained consistent w.r.t. to other operating systems.”

    Consistency w.r.t. to other operating systems… for consistency’s sake ?

    yeah, we’ll really progress that way.

  65. Regardless of the semantics, I think (as an otherwise full proponent of the way the “Classic” Finder worked, which is what Gruber and friends want it to work as) that the method of replacing a folder with another folder and discarding the contents is just flat out wrong because A FOLDER IS NOT A FILE. They’re both entities in the file system, but they’re used for totally different things. It’s not reasonable nor intuitive for the user, even if it’s how it logically should work within the limited and specific rules of conduct – and that’s a big if, and it can result in accidental data loss way more often than being used as a clever shortcut.

    The only case in which this *should* be allowed is where bundles – folders acting or showing up as files to facilitate easier resource management, like folders ending in .app becoming applications (right click and choose show package contents and you’re effectively looking into the folder) – are involved, as this is one of few cases in which it *does* make sense to replace folder a and contents with folder b and contents.

  66. I beg to differ, its FAR from straighforward. No dialog message should be THAT long.

    Just because it’s LONG, doesn’t mean it’s not STRAIGHTFORWARD. The messagebox says exactly what it is going to do. Just because it’s too long for a lazy person to read, doesn’t mean it’s not adequately explained (and I would rather have an adequate explanation of the behaviour, than an assumption that you know what it will do).

  67. I guess I’m a little confused by the whole discussion thing here. Didn’t this all come about because someone who wasn’t extremely familiar with an operating system decided *not* to read a dialogue box? I’ve been using a Mac for, dear God, nearly 20 years. I *always* read the dialogues.

    Perhaps a more perintent suggestion (one I haven’t seen in a while) would be: RTFM.

    And let me make one more suggestion. Don’t have your camera set to erase its memory on download.

  68. Dave M.: In that case, you aren’t “moving” the house however. You aren’t dragging your old house over to the same neighborhood where your new house is. You are dragging the *contents* of your house *into* your new house… which is exactly what we Mac users do to accomplish same. We select the files inside the folder and drag them to the new folder. Makes sense in bitland and in the meatspace.

  69. By my way of thinking, if an OS interprets a user command does something catastrophic–and unexpectedly so–that’s a design flaw.

  70. “And let me make one more suggestion. Don’t have your camera set to erase its memory on download.”

    If Matt and other digital camera users followed that suggestion, we would all run out of memory in the memory cards in next to no time. Matt, didn’t lose the images he was pulling down from the card, he lost the images he had pulled from the card earlier.

    Not that I am changing sides here, but a point to make in Apple’s favor, when copying a on one hard drive to a in on a different hard drive (or folder), the contents of the destination is lost and replaced with the contents of the source This is consistant with the Mac replace vrs. Windows merge.

    If you want to “merge” the contents of the zip files, you need to work with your favoriate zip program. Dragging the source on to the destination will simply add the source into the destination

    As to the house thing, maybe the house is a bad example, but the others mentioned still hold true.

  71. Since the begining of time oses have done it this way try Unix “mv” and it will replace all the files in the folder, DOS, Mac OS 9. Microsoft is the one going out on a limb here doing it the non-standard way. I would argue undoing an unintentional merge of two folders is far more difficult to deal with than just replacing an object with another. Which were the files in the source folder, which were the files that were in the destination?

    It might be nice to do a merge, but that can be accomplished by opening the window and dragging into there. I would be wary of cluttering things up with too many options and ways of doing things. Less is more.

  72. I think it’s funny Matt wrote that in OS X the word “replace” means “delete the folder that’s already there and REPLACE it with the one you’re dragging.” (emphasis mine) Well, yeah, that’s what you just said. … I do agree with commenters who note that the merge / replace / cancel type option would be cool.

  73. It seems to me here, the issue is that winodws has butchered the english language. The Mac OS clearly, and in no uncertain terms says that it will replace the old item with the new item. The definition of the word replace (and the action button which you must click to do this says replace) is “to take the place of”. It seems entirely logical that when I take an object, and replace it with a new object, the contents of the old object will not be merged with the new object without explicitly doing so. That’s how it works in the real world. When I buy a new car, I need to move the contents to the new car before I replace my old one.

    While I agree that the Finder should move the old folder to the trash rather than deleting it, the behavior is appropriate for the question asked, and the real problem is windows should ask about merging not replacing.

  74. Replace means replace, merge means merge. And in the case of replacing folders, the rule remains the same as replacing files. You wouldn’t expect your school paper to be “merged” with the one it’s being replaced with would you?

    This is an assnine discussion … bringing up “replacing” new cars and houses? The bottom line here is that those users who makeup the pro-mergers have been brainwashed (braintrained?) by the operation of the Windows OS. As is true many other such usability rules, Windows does it wrong. The question now remains, do you (Matt) blame Apple’s Finder or Microsoft for your lost photos? You’re the one who was trained to think the wrong way. Blame the teacher.

  75. “This folder already contains a folder named “˜100PENTX’.

    If the files in the existing folder have the same name as files in the folder you are moving or copying, they will be replaced. Do you still want to move or copy the file?

    [Yes] [Yes to All] [No] [Cancel]”

    Gotta love windows dialogues. That is a perfect example of a confusing dialogue. Do you want to move or copy the file? If I choose yes will it move it, or copy it? What about no? Or is it saying that the OS will decide? It’s just confusing like everything else. It just makes more sense that if you want to put files in a folder you select the files and put them in the folder. If you want to replace the folder then you select the new folder and put it in the place of the current one. It’s a simple enough thing to understand. If anyone asked you to replace something with something else, you would discard the first thing and put the second in it’s place

  76. Matt, you said in a comment: “No matter how wrong Windows may be to purists, at least I never lost any photos on it. (For this reason, at least.) I would strongly agree with earlier comments that deleting files without recoverability is horribly bad usability.”

    I would agree with you if it hadn’t explicitly *ASKED* you if you wanted to “replace” the item with the one you were removing. Every conceivable definition of the word _replace_ says you are wrong. When Apple designed the Finder they designed it to the logical and understood definition of the word “replace.” I understand you are frustrated, but taking it out Apple is foolish and misguided. Its not their fault. It asked you to confirm your foolish action and you said “Yes, please do exactly what you are describing.”

    That being said, I think John Gruber’s suggestion over at Daring Fireball about putting the items that you are “replacing” into the Trash is a reasonable way to avoid problems. The Windows way is confusing and can cause just as many problems if you think logically.

    But, please, don’t bitch about Apple when its not their brain thats broken — its yours.

  77. Jonathan, until it does have a way for the file to be recoverable I’ll still consider it braindead. Apple convinced me to switch, I wish they would be a little friendlier now that I’m here.

  78. … nevermind, it just brings the original replacement folder back to the original location. Now, there’s something worth complaining about.

  79. Pete: True, but given how much processor power sits unused in even budget systems these days, one would think that doing an MD5 sum on even a large set of files wouldn’t take long.

    Of course, a really smart OS design would have the MD5 sum of a file automatically stored in a resource fork or some kind of metadata so that the OS would have the information without doing a query for each file. Perhaps we’ll start seeing that when we get the inevitable merger of relational databases and filesystems…

  80. What does a microsoftie’s brain look like when its at home? Replace: how hard is it to understand that idea? I replaced my 15″ CRT with a 19″ LCD. That doesn’t mean that my desk now has two displays. It has one. Microsoft doesn’t replace a folder, it merges two folders. I feel sorry for Matt because he spent years getting used to an idea that was dead wrong. But claiming the Finder’s behavior is wrong is just plain lame.

  81. Wow, this thread has sure gone a long way in convincing me to never ever buy into the Mac cult. Talk about a bunch of zealots. Yeah, it’s everybody else whose brain is broken or has been thinking wrong all these years simply because they do it differently than Apple. Talk about brainwashed.

    A quick question for everybody claiming that all you need to do for a merge is select the contents of the folder – What happens to the contents of subfolders? What about sub-subfolders? How do you handle 30 folders nest up to 5 levels deep that needs to be merged into a similar structure?

    I’m not saying that the Mac way is wrong, but I definitely prefer the Windows way of COPYING and MOVING. And if you can’t understand the wording of that dialogue box, then blame your English teacher.

  82. Okay, here’s a project for somebody then: Design a history palette for the Finder, a la Photoshop. Now THAT’s what I really need. I have a million free gigs on my hard drives these days so why not dedicate some of that space to remembering Finder states… like a scratch disk stores Photoshop history. Basicaly, you could set a limit, like 2 gigs maybe, and it would keep storing states until it reached that limit and then it would be FIFO at that point.

    Too disk-intensive? Maybe… I don’t know.

  83. On a related note, in Mac OS X you can “select all” files in a given folder, then cut and paste said files to a new location. This feature began in Windows, as far as I know.

    At the end of day, and even at the beginning of it, Windows has much more similarity to Mac OS than the Mac OS ever had to anything Xerox made. See:,_Apple_and_Progress.txt&sortOrder=Sort%20by%20Date&detail=medium&search=Xerox

  84. I have used Macs for 20 years and this Finder behavior is the dumbest thing ever. When is Apple going to fix this truly braindead behavior? I went out and bought a third-party sync/merge tool for the many times when I need to control which files go and which files stay in folders that contain one hundred or more items when nested folders are included. I say again – I love the Mac, and vastlt prefer it over Windows, but a truly constructive Mac user must recognize when the OS goes the wrong way.

  85. “Okay, here’s a project for somebody then: Design a history palette for the Finder, a la Photoshop. Now THAT’s what I really need. I have a million free gigs on my hard drives these days so why not dedicate some of that space to remembering Finder states”¦ like a scratch disk stores Photoshop history. Basicaly, you could set a limit, like 2 gigs maybe, and it would keep storing states until it reached that limit and then it would be FIFO at that point.
    Too disk-intensive? Maybe”¦ I don’t know.”

    Hey, you just described a feature much like the Windows System Restore Point feature. Again, while I love love love my Macs, Windows is ahead in this area you are describing.

  86. Just because it’s LONG, doesn’t mean it’s not STRAIGHTFORWARD

    Youre right, I should have said, “I beg to differ, its FAR from straighforward AND no dialog message should be THAT long.”
    The two arent mutually exclusive, I mean its a piece of drivel written by a techy AND its too long.

  87. indieb0i, right on…

    Argue the semantics of the word “replace” in both OSs all you want, but for me, the Windows behavior is a lot more useful, exactly because of the scenario indieb0i described. It’s fairly simple for Windows users to delete an old folder and copy in a new one, but it’s a total pain for Mac users to achieve a recursive folder merge. What’s the point of the current behavior in OS X if it really only spares you from hitting the delete key (at least that moves files to the trash)?

    Oh, and as a new Powerbook owner, I’ve been slapped around by this UI difference a few times as well.

  88. Mack T. Ruck: No, I don’t mean the Windows Restore Point. Those are discrete backup points that are not the least bit useful for ad-hoc mistakes like the one we’re talking about.

  89. To summarize, Windows and Mac OS X (as well as *all* of the other OSs that currently exist) each have their own imperfections. While the respective makers of these OSs should correct those imperfections, you, the user, will have to deal with said imperfections until they are fixed, so… deal with it.

  90. All I really meant was that you were looking for a purgable rolling backup of states, and that’s what the Restore Points are. It may differ from your request in terms of scale and permanence, but not in basic design. I hope this sub-thread doesn’t turn into another raging battle resulting from a tiny, insubstantial difference in understanding! (Which is what some of the more fundamentalist of my fellow Mac users are terrible at handling)

  91. Surely this is about different behavior in files vs folders?

    For files the mac way makes sense, in fact thats how windows does it too. For folders it treats it differently in windows – as a container. You are dumping the contents of one into another – and then it treats the files as it would normally, replacing them if needed, adding anything new, and leaving anything that was already there that doesn’t need touching.

    This makes sense in the realworld too. I dump the files form one folder into another, and I don’t burn the other files. Its all a matter of which metaphor the OS designers chose. I think the windows one makes more sense, especially as that is 99% of the time exactly what I’d want it to do.

    However the sematic point is replace — Macs DO replace the folder, but they treat it the same as a file. Windows has a more logical (from a HCI point of view) but less semantically correct approach.

    Merge isn’t the right term either – because going by the mac model (treating files and folders as basically the same type) you’d actually be merging the files too – much like a diff patch. This probably wouldn’t be what you’d want either. It could be a I guess.. but I doubt it.

    I love macs, I really do, but it is a retarded interface flaw. Especially as it completely nukes the files afterwards. Thats just plain wrong.

  92. We could debate the word “replace” here forever, but why has that turned into an arguing point? I don’t ever recall choosing the Replace option from the menu that appears on Windows when I drag and drop something. The main options are either Move or Copy. If I’m not mistaken, the Mac doesn’t give a Replace option when doing this either.

    So in reality, we never asked the OS to do a replace, that’s simply the word used on the dialog boxes. We either chose to copy or move something to this new location and neither of those options should ever mean that we want to delete what is there first. So when you look at it this way, the Windows way of doing it makes much more sense.

    If you want to copy something, you still have your original, but you don’t remove the stuff that is around the place where you put that new copy. Likewise, if you move something, you no longer have it in the old location, but again, you don’t remove the stuff that is around the place where you move it to.

  93. The main options are either Move or Copy. If I’m not mistaken, the Mac doesn’t give a Replace option when doing this either.

    Actually, in OS X the dialog buttons when attempting to copy a file or folder to a location where the same name exists are “Stop” or “Replace.” Even if one doesn’t read the actual warning dialog, the buttons clearly define the options.

  94. I’m not talking about the dialog box that comes up prompting you when the OS detects a folder/file with the same name.

    Maybe on the Mac you don’t get a menu when you drag something to a new location. In Windows if you right click drag something you get a menu that comes up (not a dialog window) and the options are: Copy Here, Move Here, Create Shortcut Here, and Cancel.

  95. The Finder clearly explains what it is going to do if you tell it to proceed. Having it do anything besides replace the folder would make absolutely no sense.

  96. I’m so confused what the problem is. Apple does exactly what it should do while using the word replace. Windows does what (although it seems mostly PC users) think is more useful. The only problem with Apple’s way is that they don’t offer an undo, which shouldn’t be required since they explicitly ask you, but it would be nice.
    Why don’t we just leave it at different isn’t wrong, Apple’s way is annoying for window’s users because they are used to improper wording, and Apple doesn’t have an undo.

  97. “I have noticed that Apple does a lot of things different from others”

    “Consistency should win over the arguments in this case. Mac OS X should have remained consistent w.r.t. to other operating systems.”

    The Macintosh finder has been “replacing” folders since version 1.0 was released in May of 1984. In fact, the core finder menus and behavior remained virtually unchanged though OS 9 (1999) and still retain much of the top level menu items and functionality OS X.

    Windows, on the other hand, has gone though several redesigns in an attempt to gain the ease of use the Macintosh had from day one. IMHO, Microsoft still hasn’t got it right.


    One problem with allowing inter-directory merge or replacement is that if there is an error reading or writing a file, you can end up with with an aborted or incomplete replacement, which can be a real mess to sort out. (Note: I switched from Win2K to OS X in 2003)

    However, allowing folder replacement to be undone, either by selecting “undo” or by moving the replaced folder hierarchy to the trash, would be a welcome addition for Windows users.

  98. “I’m so confused what the problem is. Apple does exactly what it should do while using the word replace. Windows does what (although it seems mostly PC users) think is more useful. The only problem with Apple’s way is that they don’t offer an undo, which shouldn’t be required since they explicitly ask you, but it would be nice.”

    The problem is that one word is not enough. It flies right past even very advanced computer users, like Matt and myself. I’ve been using computer for 16 years; you’d think I’d be able to read, right? Still I get this wrong.

    It needs to be _much more clear than just a word. It needs to grab you by the collar and say: “HEY! You’re about to delete an entire folder of God knows how many high-school documents, holiday photos and what not. Are you SURE, like absolutely DEAD sure, that you want to do this?”

    Or better yet, start using Windows’ method, which is better. Period. Regardless of what Unix fans might have to say.

    Now someone bring me a hack for this.

  99. Is it even possible to do a merge on OSX? Sure, you can open a folder and select the files… but what if that folder contains another folder? Do you have to dig down through each layer until you find a folder that contains no sub-folders?

    I think people have adequately defended the behavior semantically. Fine. But what about functionally? Merging is a much more useful and common behavior than is replacement of a folder and all its contents. If you wanted to do that, you’d just delete the old folder.

  100. A lot of brain power and aggravation has been used up in the posts above.
    But it is all a matter of experience. Us Mac users may crow and say yes our OS does it more logically but it does not matter a hoot to the poor guy who lost his photos. All I can add to the argument is that I hope that he learned from the experience. It does no good for him to blame the Mac OS for doing something he told it to do, that is “Replace” the contents of his folder. If he has not read and understood the dialogue box then he can hardly blame the OS for that. Whatever he expected to happen did not happen because he chose to ignore the clear warning given him. If he did read the dialogue box then chose to ignore it or did not ask someone with more Mac experience what he should do, it will be part of learning how to switch.

  101. A classic example of the need of a “Merge” option is Poser, the popular 3D app from Curious Labs: many additions come as a hierarchically structured collection of files (3d models here, textures there, poses, props, etc.). Having to move every kind of item from the origin subfolder to the destination one is beyond tedious. Windows’ merge-style is quite convenient there.

    There is an app that provides a similar function for Mac OS X, based on a couple of Unix commands (ditto and rsync), called SyncR ( ). If I am not wrong, the safest way to use it is by selecting the “ditto” function. This app allows for bidirectional merging ( yo could call it a “sync-merge”, probably 🙂

  102. I’m a Windows User. I never know that I could merge the contents of a folder that a want to replace. I never expected to do so. When I want to place a file or folder on a location where a file or folder already exist with that exact same name, I expect it to be replaced. So when I just tested it, I think it’s great! Not very logical, but the system clearly explanes that it found a folder with the same name and asked me what to with the contant. If the Mac enviroment does it a different way but explanes it too, I think its allright.

    I agree with the idea for the mac enviroment to ask for replacement or merging.

  103. Can I get an example of when you’d want to merge something? After you give me that, can you give me an example when you’d merge something with multiple levels of folders inside? I’m not trying to be a jerk, I just never do anything like this, and combined with being a mac user, it seems so strange.
    I’ve been trying to think of a scenario where you’d do that, but I can’t. The only way I see that happening, is if you’d purposely set up that scenario to prove a point, or if you are very vague with how you file files. I can understand not wanting to use iPhoto, but after every picture import do you put them in a folder called ‘pictures’ and then drag that to ~/pictures/? You’d end up with a folder with tons of pictures and no organizational method. Wouldn’t it make much more sense to sort by hierarchy and name each new pictures folder ‘1/2/05’ or ‘beach trip’ and then put that in your ~/pictures/? That way you’d have:
    ~/pictures/beach trip
    I think it’s easier, and faster to find the picture you are looking for if it’s broken up like that…plus in column view in OS X, you can zip along even faster. Getting more specific by hierarchy is the best way for organization…that is until spotlight comes out =)

  104. Here’s an example…

    A new version of WordPress comes out. On my Windows machine I have a folder with all of my WP files. I want to upgrade, so I copy the new WP files to the location of the my current version. In my current version there files and folders I do not want deleted. For instance, in the folder wp-content there are folders plugins and themes and a lot of times this wp-content folder also has a lot of other folders that are created for the use of plugins. I want to keep all of these folders and all of the files inside them.

    On a Windows machine, doing this will keep files/folders that are not in that new version of WP. On the Mac, everything is deleted first and then replaced with the new version. I no longer have all of my plugins and themes.

  105. Nick, I just do that by hand. I trust myself MUCH more than I trust a computer to decide which files need replacing.
    In your example, what Ive altered one of the wp-admin files? Does it keep the 2 files? Overwrite one? or merge the 2 files?

  106. Yes, obviously if you’ve altered the core WP files you don’t want those overwritten. This has nothing to do with merging the contents of two files though. That’s a completely different animal and neither the Mac or Windows provides built-in functionality to do that.

    Don’t trust a computer to decide which files need replacing? In these situations, we want to replace all of the old files with the new ones. If you don’t, then you wouldn’t be using this functionality in the first place and you wouldn’t be copying/moving an entire folder structure to another location. You’d do it by hand.

    I don’t think many of us are saying the Mac way is wrong. It does what the dialog says. But…the Windows way is A LOT more convenient and useful. If you wanted to do it the Mac way on a PC, it’s only one extra action of deleting the folder and it’s contents before copying the new folder. Doing the PC way on a Mac though? You need copy the contents of each folder by hand or get some third party app to do it for you. You tell me which saves time…

  107. I can see how the Windows way would be useful but IMO its best to overwrite the contents by default (with an undo option of course) but make the merge option a key combination maybe.
    I still dont get what would happen though. Youre saying that you wouldnt want to merge in that case, fine, but what youre saying is youd have to remove the offending files, merge then manually replace the aforementioned files?
    Ok, bit long winded and complicated imo, but WHAT WOULD actually happen if you did what I asked in my question?

  108. I explained it earlier in the comments.

    Are you talking about merging one file into another file? This does not happen and would need to be done by hand.

    It’s really pretty simply. Any files with the same name are overwritten with the new file. Any files that do not have a new file are kept (deleted on the Mac). Any files that are new and don’t have an old version are copied/moved.

  109. “Any files with the same name are overwritten with the new file” Does that allow for modification dates? IE, would a newer file overwrite an older file or would you have ‘file 1’ and ‘file 1 copy’?

    This is what I dont understand. If it simply overwrites the original file with the copied file regardless of modification date then thats frankly pants and makes a useful option of merging folders pointless imo.

  110. “Macs’ way is better because of the simplicity and intuitiveness and straightforwardness”

    “If Windows’ functionality isn’t sophisticated enough to do modified-date–based selective file replacement, it’s crap.”

    I really don’t mean to add to the flamewar, but for cryin’ out loud.

  111. matthew,
    I can assure you, it’s not pointless. I (and many others) use it all the time. The Mac doesn’t have the modification date option either.

  112. I have never understood the Windows behavior. All I know is that I am paranoid every time I move a folder from one plact to another on Windows that some kind of bizarre merge thing is going to happen instead of what I want to happen about 100% of the time: the old folder is replaced with the new one. I once worked with a Windows developer who was forever screwing up his build because of this. We had a folder of randomly-named files that needed to be replaced entirely whenever a new build of our software was created. Occassionally he’d need to replace that folder by hand. So he’d copy the old folder over and end up with a combination of the two files. What a nightmare. Half the time even he didn’t know what he had done wrong (and he is both a very smart guy and a very experienced Windows user) and he’d waste something like a half hour trying to figure out why the app was crashing on his machine. If an experienced Windows user can’t figure out how this merge thing works, how is my poor Dad going to figure it out?

  113. Actually, Nautilus on Gnome has this exact same problem (as of 2.8, at least) of replacing the entire folder. And I’m in the crowd that thinks it’s totally lame.

    I like the merging 95% of the time.

  114. No doubt about it.
    Despite its sacred-cow status with MacHeads, Finder is a nice-looking but utterly risible piece of software.

  115. There is no “replace” feature in Windows Explorer – just Cut, Copy, and Paste.

    If you paste one file to the same location as one of the same filename (exactly, including extension) then a dialogue box will pop up asking if you want to replace the existing file with the new one (and it’s nice enough to give you the file sizes and modified dates of each). If you paste a file that you’ve cut, the file in the original location will be deleted. If you copy and then paste, it’ll paste a copy.

    If you copy or cut a folder and paste it onto another tree location that has a folder of the same name, it will pop up a dialogue saying there’s already a folder of this name and do you want to overwrite the files in that folder with files of the same name – yes, no, yes to all, no to all, etc.

    You can alternatively automatically enact one of the dialog box choices by holding in various keys on the keyboard while you’re cutting, copying, or pasting files.

    The behaviour is consistent across operations. However, once you paste a file on top of another and tell it to overwrite there’s no way to undo in Windows either.

  116. Hey Nick, thanks for the example, I see exactly what you mean.
    Your example is excellent, but I think in most cases I’d end up with unnecessary duplicate items which would drive me crazy to weed out. However, I guess it’s just different schools of though, like how a lot of windows users don’t think the application centric style of the OS is intuitive, and many mac people don’t like the window centric ideology of Windows. Neither is really a big deal, it’s just how you go about it.
    Windows wording is wrong, but it has some functionality that Apple should take note. Apple should create a new dialog box that says something like…
    “An item by that name already exists here, what would you like to do?”
    [merge folders] [replace files] {[cancel]}

  117. I saw further up a analogy to a real life file/folder system. Unfortunately, what was said is wrong. If I was asked to replace one folder with another, I would take the old folder out and put the new folder in it’s place. If I was asked to merge the two then I would merge them.

    I also saw something else about and updated version of WP and wanting to keep two folders. It’s simple. Just select all in the new version of WP and command click on the two folders you don’t want to transfer to deselect them, then just drag the others over and replace them.

    I have never had a situation where I’ve had to merge to folders like in the windows method, because it makes more sense and is closer to real life if you move the files from one folder to another.

  118. Agree with ast3r3x – being given the option of Replace or Merge would be very useful – because sometimes I do actually want to merge. Also have to say that the deleted folder in the ‘replace’ option really should go into the trash – it’s inconsistent otherwise. (as suggested at Daring Fireball)

  119. IM: “Despite its sacred-cow status with MacHeads”

    I would like evidence that all “MacHeads” agree 100% with everything the Finder does.

    PS: Use a real name.

  120. There’s a very simple example of where you would want a “merge”-style folder copy, rather than replace.

    Music folders.

    I have iTunes music libraries on multiple computers that are seldom completely in synch. Many times, I will want to listen to music by a particular artist, and realize there are some recently-added albums listed on the computer I’m using at that moment. Let’s take Tori Amos, for instance, because I did this just the other day. One computer, my laptop, has a “Tori Amos” folder with 5 albums in it. My desktop has a “Tori Amos” folder with 8 albums in it, as I usually use that computer to rip CDs, in this case, the most recent 4 CDs. But the laptop DOES have one folder with a unique CD that I ripped while at a friend’s house who had a rare import CD. On Windows, all I do is drop the “Tori Amos” folder from the desktop onto the laptop, and the 4 new CDs are added (merged) into the laptop’s folder, and I do NOT lose the one album that only exists on the laptop. Drag the same folder back to the desktop, and the one unique album gets added to the desktop as well, and now both systems have a complete set.

    Similar things can happen with photo folders. While I agree the Mac way makes sense from a strict semantics point of view, as has been observed, the Windows way is more useful and less likely to cause an inadvertent loss of data. If I ever want to truly replace, as someone observed, simply delete the folder to be overwritten first.

    Seems like the dialog boxes of both could be worded more carefully, and the Mac definitely need to move the folder to the trash rather than nuking it in an unrecoverable fasion. But the I HAVE to give the nod to the Windows way, because it is the way that is less likely to cause a loss of data, and the safety of my data trumps the semantic superiority of the Mac dialog.

    For the record, I have a mixture of Macs and PCs, and use both about the same amount. I support both platforms at work. I’m glad this subject came up, however, because I learned on a PC and I doubt I would have even thought to think about this. I’m just lucky I have never been burned by it, because I probably would have assumed it would work the Windows way I am more accustomed to.

  121. Just so you know, most mac lovers hate the Finder. It’s one of the worst things about OS X. It chokes moving large files, and is not in the least multi threaded.

    People really want a merge option too 😉

  122. From the Fat Mac I used two decades ago, to the PowerBook I’m typing on, the folder metaphor is a consistent kingpin of the Finder and of the Mac.

    For example, applications had almost always been installed as a bunch of stuff in a folder… and removing them was almost always matter of trashing the folder they came in. This is powerfully simple (I know to me and other).

    It seems to me that exceptions (with regard to they’re nature of installation) were apparent– but even they fell in line with Finder-based manipulation (those who know– remember RAM Doubler or any other extension, for example).

    We didn’t edit files in our home directory or anywhere else… we added stuff to folders, replaced folders, deleted folders and pruned folders as needed– and more importantly– as expected. It was honestly simple and it worked very well.

    Sorry to say it, but back-in-the-day copying Photoshop or Freehand or Illustrator was as easy as mounting a SyQuest drive, drag-n-dropping the app folder, and then passing the SyQuest around… even when Adobe and Altus (for example) introduced the ‘detect the same serial running on another appletalk visible computer’ magic, it still was as easy as a folder drop (versus really running the Installer) to dupe.

    When working on customer’s publishing files, for example, re-arming your computer to accommodate a different font set was as easy as dropping the customers included Font folder (from that SyQuest, again) in the right spot. The steps to allow ‘switching back’ should be obvious– less scrupulous folks would simply drag the individual font files into place.

    I do not fault Apple for the behavior choice, nor do I expect a clarifying merge/replace message.

    I do agree that a merge behavior should be added to Finder, however– and it would be accessed in a manner that put intuitive and obvious distance from the dominate replace behavior (it would always be obvious to a casual user that the default behavior of Finder had been altered– or else the default behavior would be always be expected).

    Also, I don’t want to insinuate that ease of piracy is a benchmark for HCI behavior validation, but I do hope that some of you might come to see that it was sensible and helpful to know that coping folders in this manner was very useful, predictable and sensible.

    When in Rome, don’t be surprised by what Romans do to folders.

    Somewhat related: should ‘Press and key to continue’ dialogues include a disclaim about the modifier keys– or valid but not-valid-for-the-situation combinations like ‘ctrl-alt-delete’?

    All poster are hereby challenged, by myself, to read (and maybe take heart, again) the wikipedia article on commonsense. I would have included a link to it, but it should be commonsensical to find it yourself.

    Good luck with your folders, all!

  123. My comment on the “merge” is that it encouradges users (ie non technical) to accumulate stuff. They don’t clean up just, merge data and documents and user folders so that network drives become an un-cleanable mess, any Windows network admin would agree.
    In terms of comparison to reality Finder’s replace makes more sense too, thereby allowing “non-techs” to understand the process better. You don’t merge two filing cabinets, unless you were to do it manually. You take the old cabinet and, if you throw it in the dumpster out the back, all the data/files in it go too.

  124. Off the main topic of your post, I wanted to add a few notes about the virtues of iPhoto, which a few people have mentioned. These refer specifically to iPhoto 5.

    * pops up automatically when a digital camera or memory card is inserted (if you want it to)
    * imports photos directly from digital cameras and memory cards
    * has some basic but useful editing, enhancing, and touch-up tools
    * automatically organizes photos by “film roll” (aka by import), and also organizes photos by date, month, and year
    * can seamlessly upload directly to Gallery using the iPhotoToGallery plugin, which can also remotely create albums

    The key point to take away is that iPhoto does everything for you. There’s better things that you could spend your time on rather than copying, organizing, uploading, etc. For a while (before iPhoto 4) I did stuff myself, and even went to the extent of writing a Perl script called pPhoto, which did the copying, uploading, resizing, etc, and ran locally on my Mac. I finally gave that up because iPhoto 4/5 and iPhotoToGallery made it all so painless.

    And as for the main debate, I think the Mac behavior of folder replacement makes perfect sense. It’s doing what it says it’s going to do – replacing the folder with another folder of the same name. That’s why it’s called replace. If it was supposed to merge them, it would say “Do you want to merge this folder with the existing folder?” I think the Windows behavior is poorly named…

  125. John Gruber nails it once again ( The answer is simple:

    Dump the old stuff in the trash, where it belongs.

    The word “delete” surely implies a more destructive and irreversible action that the word “replace”. Therefore, if deleting something moves it to the trash, then replacing should–at the most–do the same. And should certinaly never truely delete any data without first making it very clear to the user exactly what is going to happen.

  126. Stephen Hendesron, I agree with you.
    This might seem strange to PC people, but to install something on a mac, you should only have to drag it to the hard disk. There is VERY little excuse for a programmer making us user an installer. So replacing files or old applications is as easy as dragging it to that folder, and replacing it. Everything you need to run a program is in the .app bundle, which is why you can just copy stuff back and forth between computers. It was like this in OS 9 as well.
    Of course uninstalling something is just as easy as dragging it to the trash. The only thing left than are maybe some cache files, and the .plist (prefs) which you might want to keep anyways.

  127. I too prefer the Windows way with regards to Replacing/Merging a folder. It’s quite handy (albeit lazy) when managing large websites with deeply nested folder structures.

    However, the Mac way has some advantages too. You are less likely to end up with cruft hidden away in the folder structure, you are less affected by file renames in those folders such as if you use InDesign or Quark, your links folder is not going to be full of unlinked and irrelevant files, so it is better for workflow reasons. Finally you use less disk space, and have less duplicates.

    Putting the replaced files into the trash would be great improvement though.

  128. Perhaps normal for Windows, this behavior is NOT normal for any UNIX OS. Consider:


    The ‘old dir’ will cease to be, replaced by the ‘new dir.’ Exactly as Mac OS behaves. If you want a “merging” option, copy the contents of the folder. IE,


    Everything file in ‘new dir’ will be copies to ‘old dir.’ If a file name conflicts, you would get prompted “do you want to over write file $FOO.” Mac OS will ask you if you want to keep the older or new file, and give you the option to cancel.

  129. How do you handle 30 folders nest up to 5 levels deep that needs to be merged into a similar structure?

    Um. Don’t create folder structures nested five levels deep? That’s insane; nobody can remember where they put stuff in that kind of a hierarchy!

  130. Funny. One of the things I hated most about Windows was that it merged an old folder with a new one, instead of replacing the old with the new.

    I guess it’s all about what you expect, as opposed to what’s “best”, eh?

  131. Um. Don’t create folder structures nested five levels deep? That’s insane; nobody can remember where they put stuff in that kind of a hierarchy!

    You’re kidding, right? I have things nested way deeper than 5 levels, which is how I keep track of it. The whole point of having a heirarchy like that is that it logically defines where everything goes. It’s essential when dealing with submissions for federal agencies.

  132. I totally agree with Tom (post #133), as the fact that Gnome does this is the stupidest thing in the world. I actually erased a good 3 weeks worth of photo organization that I had done (because I started over since I never really had them “organized”) because of this kind of “replace” as opposed to “merge” behavior. So definately feel for anyone who has lost anything because of it…

  133. Beyond the finder, surely there’s a way to do a recursive merge (synchonization?) of folders from the command line. perhaps ‘cp’ (with appropriate options)?

  134. Sorry to hear this has happened.

    However, in the Finder, REPLACE actually IS replace..

    In other words – coming from windows you have learned the wrong way – WHY on earth would what Windows does be called REPLACE ??

    No excuses here, replace means, “put new one where old one was”, it has NOTHING to do with merging

  135. NEVER HEARD OF THIS PROBLEM UNTIL NOW… 155 comments and counting!!! ???

    I’ve been working on Windows 98/2000 Pro for 5 years at my office, however, the OS is locked tight with restrictions. After seeing this string of comments, I now see why restrictions in Windows are likely a very good thing. Therefore, I was never previously exposed to the Windows “definition” of Replace = some kind of merging of files and/or folders.

    In fact, until I ran into John Gruber’s article mentioning this site, I didn’t even know such a “problem” existed. So much for Mac users being “brainwashed”… It seems my brain never got sullied in the first place.

    Therefore, when I bought my very first home computer (iMac running Jaguar OS X 10.2), I had no preconceptions about the meaning of the word Replace when it showed up in the dialogs. I’ve never confused the word Replace to mean anything but “Get rid of the old item and put the new one in its place instead”. Linguistically, it’s Microsoft that has been counter-intuitive. Evidently, in a 1984 newspeak way, Windows has conditioned people to believe that 2 + 2 = 5.

    The idea that Apple should do things in the Windows fashion just because it’s more familiar to millions of Windows users & switchers is just plain ludicrous. Be thankful that Unix is not Windows. Besides, if Apple did everything the Microsoft way, there would BE no point in switching in the first place:

    “Some switchers just want to see how much they can get away with NOT relearning. If you can do everything that you did before, the same way that you did before, then why switch?”
    — “From GUI-Avoider to Mac OS X” by Mary Stamper — Unix geek and CLI enthusiast

    Remember, it’s the differences between Mac OS X/Unix and Windows which make Apple’s OS less liable to the onslaught of viruses, worms, & spyware driving so many to switch to Mac at this point in time. Besides, the Replace = Merge/Copy/Move scenario contributes to so much of Microsoft’s Bloatware.

    That being said, I agree with John Gruber that Apple should break with Unix tradition here, arrange for the deleted files & folders to move to the Trash, then submit the code to the Open Source community. See John Siracusa’s commentary about Apple’s Unix innovations at the bottom of this page:

    Just my 2 cents

  136. Well.. waddaya think ‘replace’ is supposed to mean? I’d say if you look up ‘replace’ in a dictionary it won’t give you a definition that has anything to do with ‘merging’. I don’t see how much more clear a question can be?

    me: ‘Waiter, my soup’s cold’
    waiter: ‘Would you like me to replace it?’
    me: ‘Yes please’
    waiter: ‘OK, let me just pour this other soup in there…’

    See what I mean? What you SHOULD be doing is copying the contents of the folder (open folder, Cmd-A, drag files over the folder on the desktop) at which point it might say something along the lines of ‘some of the contents have the same name, do you want to replace these files?’ if you check the ‘apply to all’ checkbox and click no, it will copy everything but the files with the same names. Simple.

    I can’t believe that you really mistook the word ‘replace’ for the word ‘merge’. Ah well… maybe this will teach you a lesson… don’t take it for granted that the stupidity of Windows vagueness carries across to the rest of the pootering world, such as having to go to ‘start’ to stop! The thing with MacOs is that when it tells you something, it generally means what it says – which seems like a fair idea to me 🙂

  137. Anyway, those of you who say that the Windows way is better because there are far more situations where you’d want to merge a folder’s contents with another are missing he point in OS X. This can be done quite easily via command line in the terminal, or, if a GUI is your preferred method, by attaching a folder action (actionscript) to the relevant folder or indeed another ‘wacthed’ folder which will perform specific tasks to that folder if you drop files onto it… actionscripting is very easy and is almost written in English, so it’s quite feasible to write your own custom script and attach it to a folder on your desktop, which checks contents of the new folder, checks contents of the target folder and rather than replacing it lock stock and barrel, will instead merge the contents in the way you expected it to in the first instance. Once you’ve written a script to do this, you can save it to attach it to any other folder anywhere on your Mac as and when you need a ‘hot’ folder for this kind of thing. It’s not rocket-science, it’s not difficult and it’s a much better way of working.

    Oh, and to correct the post ‘replace doesn’t mean delete’ – I’m afraid you’re right AND wrong. In the real world if you replace, say, your car… the old one isn’t deleted, it’s simply moved, yet in terms of your access to the old car it has been removed and in order to recover it you’d have to go and find it. The same problem would occur on the computer – where to move the files to though? In the Trash? That would be bloated and slow. It makes far more sense to just delete the folder first and replace it with the new one. If I’m overwriting a folder with a newer version, I don’t want to have to go through the process of deleting the old one first and THEN copying the new one, again a very bloated way around. However the poster who mentioned an improved version of the prompt asking whether you want to ‘replace or merge’ is a MUCH better idea and one which Apple would no doubt welcome as a feature suggestion. Perhaps you (or even I) should submit it to them as a GUI improvement for forthcoming OS releases – they do listen to their users because it’s in their interests to do so.

  138. Well for the guy who lost the photos, I’m a Mac user (not first, first was DOS) but for years and for the last 4, I have used both PC and Mac. And, of course, I am the opposite. I have never done a merge in Windows and would have never guessed it would behave that way if I tried to replace a folder with one of the same name.

    For the guy who is a web admin, I use a Mac for some web admin and I find that Dreamweaver has good functionality for keeping track of new/old/and files others are using. It will do nested merges. I bet this is because for an average user this is the only time when you might have so many nested folders.

    Also, I believe it is more difficult for a Mac user to switch to windows and I am still scared to move files around on my PC because I’m afraid if I change the original filing system that was created the applications may not work (they will be lost by more than just the aliases sorry short cuts). But the PC has gotten me back enough make up for the Mac losing your photos. Everytime I try to insert text windows defaults to overwrite instead of insert and I have to manually change it. It happened while writing this post. HOW DO YOU STOP IT FROM DOING THIS!!! So take heart windows is a mean bas*ard. Thats why you switched.


  139. I ran into a very similar problem trying to merge hundreds of directories of *new* Macintosh PostScript font data into thousands of directories of *old* Macintosh PostScript font data without accidentally deleting all the *unchanged* data.

    I tried the “cp -rp Source Destination” solution, but cp doesn’t preserve the resource fork information critical to Mac PostScript files. The only solution I found:
    ditto -rsrcFork Source Destination

  140. Oh, I take it back. Ditto doesn’t preserve the directory structure. Ditto preserves the resource fork data, but not the directory structure. Cp preserves the directory structure, but not the resource fork data.

    Macintosh! Why oh why must you torture me so?!?

  141. Folders are a filing structure. They are NOT valuable data. The valuable data are the files. “Replace” on a folder as implemented in Finder absolutely WRONG. An unrecoverable, destructive replace instead of a merging for folders is an absurdly bad usability and logically “incorrect” for the common use case. It is also different to all other major OSes.

    It is bad and any rational thinking regarding it will lead to that conclusion. I LOVE my mac. But that behaviour is and always has been incorrect.

  142. The windows ”merge ”function is great but has the wrong name.
    It should never be called replacing. Just screws everybody up.
    I agree it should not kill files without recovery but it does what the dialog box says. In the end it’s windows that created this misconception by naming it REPLACING. Windows will copy OSX till the end of time. Just like they did from start. But they copied this one wrong. Windows is like Creative as OSX is the iPod.

    Next to that:

    if you’re not too lazy to rename a folder like holiday 2005 July in the first place this stuff will never happen. START NAMING BEFOREWARDS in stead of AFTERWARDS

    By the way . Last time i saw somebody work with 2 noses and 4 eyes. He was replaced by his boss because he worked to slow. Must have been painful 🙂 Just like losing pictures.


  143. Just lost 8.8 gigs of important data with this REPLACE thing:
    Moving was canceled in 99.99999% cos Finder said the “folder was in use” (I had one Finder-window open from that directory), and it wasnt “IN USE”. Soooo, I moved it again (like in Windows, to ensure the rest of the files to go to right places) and, everything important vanished… now there is about 100 KB of data.

    Well I have backups.. but not from “yesterday”.

    And yes.. Im a new Mac-user.. came from Windows-world. F*ck I hate this Os X, where in the h3ll is “undo”/undelete/recover for this operation? Nowhere.

  144. Yup, I just lost several Gig of videos due to this OS X behavior. Then I read all these comments hoping for a useful suggestion on how to recover my files. Sadly I only found a meaningless debate about the word “replace”.

    My files are gone. They aren’t in the Trash. They are just gone. How can anybody think that makes sense?

    A while back, I ran into a similar problem with Windows. Normally, “deleting” a file merely sends it to the recycling bin. However, if that file is on a remote, shared folder, the file simply vanishes. Can’t recover it. Be very careful when you are trying to choose “rename” from the menu. It’s right next to an irreversible delete option.

  145. no no no. do not use cp -r or mv -r. Here is the proper way to do it.

    If I want to merge /Users/alfred/backup/dirA into /Users/alfred/dirA I open a Terminal and type:

    tar cf – -C /Users/alfred/backup dirA | tar xpf – -C /Users/alfred


  146. I guess I’m not the only Windows user who occasionally thinks it would be nice to move to Macs (especially for people like my mom). Well, I won’t, not for some time from now. Sure, “replace” may mean in most cases “old gone” (it doesn’t when I “replace” my wife’s and my “insurance” folders [paper and cardboard] with one combined “insurance” folder), but this behaviour is just plain dangerous. If moving to a Mac exposes me to loss of data followed by comments such as “ah, a switcher. See, it’s another feature Microsoft copied from Apple and never quite got right” then thank you very much. How many more points are there where purity of philosophy conflicts with real-world ease of use?

    I recently brought together various copies of my digital photos from various computers/hard disks/CDs used at various times either as primary or backup media. In each case there was a folder “Photos” with sub-folders “001 here” “002 there” … “148 that trip” “149 the other activity” … “261 went here” “262 went there” etc. Pulling it all together and ensuring that there was one and only one copy of each and every image at the destination was a piece of cake (note: sometimes the hierarchy was deeper, such as “compressed” or “sent to Tim” or “Jack’s photos of this trip”). With the “Mac” behaviour described here this would have taken orders of magnitude longer and been much more risky. For this (as well as most of my other) use cases, the Windows behaviour is simply more efficient and safer – and that means, in my opinion, it is “right”.

  147. The Windows version of this has always been called merging and not replacing. The wording of the dialog has been improved in Vista though to make it all much more clear what the effect is. It now reads:

    This destination already contains a folder named ‘X’.

    If any files have the same names, you will be asked if you want to replace those files.

    Do you still want to merge this folder …details… with this one …details…

    FWIW, I’ve always thought the Mac implementation here is broken. Whilst it does indeed maintain a certain amount of semantic purity, it does so at the expense of both functionality and the general guideline that you should always take the ‘safe’ action by default.

  148. Numerous have it correct: neither methodology is right.

    Replace means ‘re-place’, you place something somewhere again. You do it again.

    You can replace the files from the source into the destination by moving them there. (Windows behaviour)

    You can also replace the files already at the destination by moving them out. (Mac behaviour)

    This is a good example of fanboyism that causes people to forget logic. The Mac fans and Windows fans are reading the definition that supports them – not both.

    Those arguing against the merge are arguing with the merge which is not even mentioned on Windows.

    You should be arguing what ‘copy’ means: If I drag a folder to another folder and I am using the ‘copy’ action. The Windows action is correct. On the otherhand, if I move a folder onto another then it should be replace that original folder with the new one.

  149. There is a bit of added functionality to the merge menu. When there is a conflict, you are asked to replace the existing file? Yes, Yes to all, no, or cancel. There is no No to all button, but if you shift-click on the no button, it acts like a No to all button.

    IMHO, what OS X does in this case is fucking stupid. Deleting files over the network in the Windows environment is the same way–there’s no way to go back. This should be hard to do, not easy.

  150. “Anyway, those of you who say that the Windows way is better because there are far more situations where you’d want to merge a folder’s contents with another are missing he point in OS X. This can be done quite easily via command line in the terminal, or, if a GUI is your preferred method, by attaching a folder action (actionscript) to the relevant folder or indeed another “˜wacthed’ folder which will perform specific tasks to that folder if you drop files onto it”

    Sweet Jesus save us all from the hard stuff, if this is easy.

  151. It’s simple:

    Windows makes a distinction between files and folders. On Mac everything is just an “object”.

    You Mactards need to read over the dialogs carefully. Without skimming (which I note you’ve been railing against).

    Both the Vista and the XP ones use the word “folder” and “file” to mean specific, different things. XP says “If the files in the existing folder have the same name as files in the folder you are moving or copying, they will be replaced.” Read it again – note the use of the two different words!

    So we can conclude that both Windows and Mac dialogs explain perfectly what is about to happen. And indeed those of you suggesting a “Merge” button on the Mac dialog are making that dialog very vague unless you add wording that covers the difference between files and folders (like Window’s).

    Essentially you cannot have this behaviour on a Mac without breaking its “everything is an object” metaphor. Of course you have to break that at some point anyway to even *have* folders, so my opinion is that the Windows model is slightly more intuitive in this regard.

    Ignoring intuitiveness and system-model-consistency for a moment, we can state as fact (not opinion) that:

    The Windows model is more powerful. You can merge with sub-folders in one action (O(1) instead of Mac’s O(n)) and still do a mac-style replace in two actions.

    Until Mac learns to trash the replaced folder, the Windows method is safer. The Mac’s current behaviour inexcusably unsafe.

  152. Btw, it’d be better if Mac’s default replace action will put the folder to recycle first… At least you’ll be able to recover if you did it wrong…

  153. The Windows dialogue does exactly what it says – it copies or moves replacing all *files* that share names.
    The Mac dialogue does exactly what it says – it replaces everything that shares name. Semantically, a draw.

    Consistency? Well, its fairly self-consistent on a Mac to do a replace, as folders aren’t any different from files. By contrast, on a Windows machine folders are different to files, so actions on the two don’t need to be identical – I get different context menus when i right click a file and a folder, and that isn’t inconsistency for the same reason. Slef-consistency I’m rating as a draw too.

    However, if I want Mac-like behaviour on a Windows machine, I can do that with 1 extra, easy step – delete the folder at the destination before moving the new version across.
    eg I have c:\Photos\, and want to replace it with d:\Photos, I delete c:\photos then copy across d:\photos.

    If I want Windows-like behaviour, for example with photos in different categories that I want to merge from two machines (work machine and home laptop -> backup machine?), then I would find it very tricky – can someone better with Mac OSX explain in detail how I’d go about merging a structure like Photos\\ across two machines? Where can be Work, Home, Holiday and could be names of projects at work, or dates at home, or countries on holiday (possibly with further date subfolders).

    Ease of use for common tasks goes to Windows (unless there is a dead easy method of doing the above that I wasnt aware of, in which case I withdraw this one – and “you just have to enter this one long command with multiple incomprehensible switches at the terminal” doesn’t count, but does remind me of )

    For a further vote in favour of Windows, the worst that can happen to a Mac user moving to Windows is that their folders fill up with cruft (which isn’t usually a problem on modern machines). And you can undo the copy if you notice it. Windows users switching to Macs lose data with no possible recovery – this is A Bad Thing.

  154. That paragraph should read more like:

    If I want Windows-like behaviour, for example with photos in different categories that I want to merge from two machines (work machine and home laptop -> backup machine?), then I would find it very tricky – can someone better with Mac OSX explain in detail how I’d go about merging a structure like Photos\Location\Category across two machines? Where Location can be Work, Home, Holiday and Category could be names of projects at work, or dates at home, or countries on holiday (possibly with further date subfolders).

    Submission automagically removes anything in anglebrackets :p

  155. My 50 cents: this behavior is what allows Mac applications to be updated by drag-and-drop.

    Since applications are specially-arranged folders, it is important to get rid of the old folder when you drop a new one – or you would happen to have a mix between the old version and the new version (also confounding Keychain when you start the new version).

    That may also explain why the folder is deleted (instead of moved to the trash) – data files would probably try to start up the old application from the trash, instead of the new one.

    All guesswork, of course!

  156. Chester: Not really that convenient if the application have some sort of configuration files inside the application folder itself.

    Then again, I guess those files would probably go to /etc instead.

  157. On my K100D I changed the Folder Name setting from Std to Date (in the Set-Up menu). Don’t know about yours, though…

  158. It never fails to amaze me the hoops Mac people will jump through to prove that the Mac way is the right way. In this case, it simply isn’t. The dominant argument seems to be that because a file is replaced in this type of operation, a folder should be too. Why? A folder is not a file. The times when it makes sense to merge to files are exceedingly rare, indeed. However, I often have need to merge two folders together. Doing so on OS X with a nested set of folders is a royal pain in the ass. (Yeah, OS X is my primary operating system since it finally started getting decent in the mid 10.3s.)

    Even if this operation did make sense, why destroy the files? Wouldn’t it make sense to move them to the trash? In particular, Mike D got this exactly wrong. It looks like it was Apple that took the shortcut. What’s easier, performing a recursive merge operation, or lopping off a chunk of the file system?

  159. So if you have two folders marked “X” in real life, you clainm that you can’t put both of them into the filing cabinet?

    Last time I tried it was possible:

    1. To put both “X” folders into the filing cabinet
    2. To take out the contents from one of them and put all into a single “X” folder

    Whatever you have chosen from those two operations it _never_ resulted in losing one of the “X” folders you had.

    So yes, Mac way is broken, PC way is ok, and both could be better if they allowed duplicate names and used some other unique id to differentiate them internally.

    Now, where should I apply for a user interface expert job?

  160. I never even noticed it was called “Replace”, what I want to do is copy the files from one place to another. If this another place happens already exist and is probably not empty, should the program replace it’s overlapping content or not, yes it’s OK to overwrite but why should it remove what is there already and is not overlapping I can not understand in the end a folder is only a container is not actual content, file is content so why would I want to remove the folder altoghether and create a brand new one for the new content (in the end I don’t have so much money to keep buying new folders when I just want to add something to it).

  161. Got bitten by this once. Started a move to a network share, remmembered a couple of ISO files in there and interrupted it to eleted the ISOs, moved the folder again expecting the windows behavior (the one I’m used to) and promptly lost all the previously files. I was annoyed and frustrated, 50% for the implementation, 50% for clicking OK after reading the popup. My fault entirely. What I think the Finder should do is a popup with “Replace/Merge/Cancel”, since merging a whole tree is currently impossible to do on the finder. As to the people that keep complaining that it should do “as the majority of other OSes do”: There is no such thing. All unixes replace by default, as to the desktop environment CDE/Gnome/KDE/etc … some imitate window’s explorer behavior, others remove & replace.

    From a UI POV, I consider the Finder’s behavior stupid, until I get either of:
    “Replace/Merge/Cancel” option.
    “Replace” moves the previous folder to the Trash (where I can go & rescue it) – possibly complemented by an “undo” option (move back & restore folder).

  162. Well, I’m a bit late to this discussion, but I agree that destructive copying is the stupidest idea ever. I too encountered this problem when using ForkLift to upgrade my WP installation on a LAMP server from a Mac (see post linked from my name). Argh. Still no workaround?

  163. it’s a shame the dialogue hasnt improved in leopard. especially since its orientated at backup and recovery with time machine. i havent set up time machine yet though… and also i moved two folders of external firewire hdd 2 to firewire hdd 1 and its really a shame … i have now run hours of scans with data reescue II and i have to admit … that i dont see the advantage of the journaled file systems anymore.

  164. I can’t believe people actually argue about this.

    Copies should always be non-destructive. Period. That is simply the way it should be, is expected to be, is safest, causes least confusion, least data loss, and is the least common denominator.

    If the user wants destruction, there is one and only one command they will give, and that is Delete.

    This should not be an argument – if you think that just because a dialog is clear and says what it will do, it’s still okay to DELETE files on a COPY operation, you are out of your mind. No apologies.

  165. Yes, it is obvious that “replace” means “replace”, but the annoying thing is that there are no other options. I love OSX, but my most HATED thing for years has been the total uselessness and LACK OF OPTIONS of the file transfer dialog box.
    The same kind of file management I can do on windows 7 in less than an hour, will literally take me DAYS on a mac.

    Seriously mac people [of which I am one],
    try making 2 huge folders filled with tons of sub-folders with their own subfolders, all filled with files,
    all with the same names in the 2 main folders, but with some differences, different files, or files with the same names that are different files.

    Then “Copy” and “Paste” the contents of one of the main folders into the other,
    and see how many excellent options you get to deal with this move in Windows 7.
    SO much better.

    Come on Apple, you kill me with this stupid Dinosaur application.
    It is a nightmare to do file management with. It is stuck in the 90’s.