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Safari Wars IV : A New Hope
The Finder has ruled Mac applications for the last twenty years. It's always there, right in front or lurking in the back waiting to help. What new features does the Finder dream of when a Mac goes to sleep? What does it have to do with Safari? Answers await!
Quick: What's the difference between Safari and the Finder?

If you said: "Safari is just for the internet, and the Finder is for local files," you'd be wrong. In Safari, you can view any local file, such as your own personal web sharing folder, like this:

In the Finder, you can open and browse through files on the Internet using FTP, AppleShare, Windows File Sharing (SMB) or WebDAV. Use the Go : Connect to Server menu with an internet URL such as:
If you were thinking: "Safari is for web pages, and the Finder is for data files," well, that's wrong too! Safari goes beyond HTML web pages. With the right plugin, Safari could view any document or directory listing. You can already view PostScript and PDF files and even Word documents in Safari using a free plug in, just as you can view text and RTF files, anything based in QuickTime, a variety of graphics formats, Flash, Java apps and more.

While their interfaces differ, both can browse an iDisk for example. And since Panther introduced the brushed metal Finder, it has become easy to confuse Safari and Finder windows. At the same time, the difference between the two is seeming increasingly artificial.

Return to that previous example in Safari. At file:///Users/username/Sites/index.html you'll see your local web page. But if you step back to view the directory: file:///Users/username/Sites , Safari falls into the background, and the Finder pops up showing your Sites directory.

The behavior is different if you view the same thing via http://localhost/index.html (the same file), and then jump to another directory. Here, Safari lets you browse around through directories (if you have access) or defaults to displaying index pages, but never opens the Finder to display a folder. The reason behaviors in the Finder and in Safari are inconsistent and confusing is because both spring from very different pasts, despite their present convergence and overlap.

Where the Finder came from
The Finder was the Mac's first application. It helped users find files, which in 1984 only existed on 400K floppies; not much to worry about. As the Mac's abilities grew, so did the Finder.
Originally, the Finder's file folders were simply an illusion. The "Macintosh Filing System" wrote all your files to the root directory of your floppy, and the Finder pretended to give you folders to organize them. If you rebuilt the desktop, or looked at your disk from an application's open file dialog, all your folders disappeared and you found all your files were really in a single pile.

The upgrade to hard drives necessitated a real file system that supported real folders. HFS, the Hierarchal Filing System, was released in 1986 as part of System 3 / Finder 5 to support folders as real directories. It also supported the Mac's 'file meta data,' or information about the files, to allow for unique icons, invisible creator and file type management and other features unique to the Mac.

In System 4 / Finder 6, Apple added on the idea of networking printers and file servers with the new Chooser, and mercifully named the combination of Mac system related files (each of which had its own version number) to simply System Software 5. From then on, the Finder changed and expanded to allow other features, but retained its basic interface for dealing with local and remote files.

Local files were displayed as windows that spawned new windows as the user looked around, and servers were accessed like printers as network resources. Open the Chooser, pick a server and then a volume, and your chosen volume appears on the desktop like another local disk.

While the Finder presented files in an intuitive fashion with documents organized in folders, outside the Mac ecosystem, files were just generic blobs of data on storage devices, accessed by typing in pathnames. They lacked the cute icons and the automatic understanding of which application created which document.

The Mac faithful loved to look with scorn upon command line Unix and DOS systems. Mac users were protected by Apple's tireless engineers’ thinking out the technology for them, and making computers as simple as any household appliance.
The Finder finds foreign file formats frustrating
Other systems started copying Apple's desktop metaphor. Referring to a 'directory path' as a 'folder' and 'files' as 'documents' became commonplace. In hindsight, the ideas that Apple invented, along with borrowed concepts they fleshed out into an easy to understand and consistent interface, seem obvious. They really weren't before Apple introduced them though. Twenty years later, no one has successfully introduced a better model for visualizing and working with data that makes sense for both technical and entry level users.

As mainstream operating systems absorbed Apple's basic technologies, the differences between how Windows users and Mac users worked became less obvious. Apple attempted to invent a variety of new interfaces to improve and refine how computer users worked with their systems, but simply could not maintain the resources necessary to develop such an extensive system of closed and proprietary software.

As networks proliferated, Mac users needed to deal with files from the outside, which lacked much of the simplified abstraction from technical details they enjoyed. PC files showed up as generic icons with no knowledge of which application could open them. Mac files sent over non-Apple networks lost the benefits of HFS' meta data. Another unique enabling Mac feature was resource forks, which were likewise either stripped or ignored by outside users.

Apple patched the Finder to interpret and open PC and Unix files, and various products to read and write foreign disks and access foreign networks became available. But the benefits of being inside Apple's protective bubble of technology abstraction started to wane. Not understanding why files were getting messed up when sent as email attachments or saved on a Windows server meant more fumbling around, not less.

Some Mac users started seeing the benefits of keyboard shortcuts on the desktop and realized they were also missing a command line interface, an easy way to pragmatically handle files and directories that would be clumsy and time consuming in the graphical Finder.
The Mac had no command line available locally as part of the Finder. Separate terminal applications were required to access text based network services, such as bulletin board systems and some file servers hosted on foreign computer systems.

Additionally, by the early 1990's, the Internet was becoming increasingly available to users outside of academia and government. The Unix roots of the internet meant that FTP and Gopher servers were largely text based, command line operations. Servers weren't icons in the Chooser, they were characters with a colon and dashes and a trailing pathname. While graphic front ends to Internet services were eventually developed, the addressing system remains set in a command line interface of text-based pathnames.

With the arrival of the Internet, where is the Finder headed? How does it fit into OS X? How does it relate to Safari? Read "Safari Wars: Episode V: The Internet Strikes Back"

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