11 Ways Nautilus Could be Improved

Yep, okay, I admit it – this was originally called “11 Things I Hate About Nautilus”. But when I think about it a little longer, so that the adrenaline fueled red-mist dies down a little, I don’t actually hate Nautilus. In fact, I really, really like it. It’s because I like it so much that the little (and not so little) things in this list fill me with so much teeth grinding frustration. It could be almost PERFECT! It’s soooo close!

But I’m a perfectionist – if I ever got involved with developing software (those days are decades ago now), I’d never actually release anything. It would be in private BETA for years on end while I find yet another little way to make it better.

So. Technical details, in case I never update this article. I’m using the Nautilus on Ubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fawn), which runs Gnome 2.18.1.

  1. Multi-file permission changes are possible, but not multi-file ownership changes. Eh? But you heard me right. Select a bunch of files, and choose properties – you can change the permissions, but NOT the owner, or group ownership attributes. Ah well, time to learn some command line, I suppose. Luckily, chown isn’t a great difficulty to master, but it niggles: if they’ve incorporated the chmod command into Nautilus, why the hell is chown not in there?
  2. In Edit/Preferences/Icon View Defaults, the default size of icons affects the desktop icons. Why? Why on earth would someone want their desktop icons to change when all they’re doing is changing the default size of icons in new folders? Why? Seriously, at the risk of sounding like a broken record… WHY?
  3. Thumbnails are either on, off, or “on for local only” and this is system-wide… you can’t exclude certain folders explicity (like .thumbnails).
  4. Listing columns is fully dependant on the few ticks boxes you specify in the preferences. There’s no options to show bitrate, exif, or document information – even though all this data is present if you right click on the file and choose the audio/video tab (for movies for example). Oh, and I’ll sneak in a “4.5” : you have to enter the edit/preferences/list columns view to change these – for some reason I can’t just right click on the columns and choose, say “customise”, like in every other operating system in existence!
  5. Movie preview tries to preview, while the movie is still downloading from the camera. This is a waste, since it just chews up your CPU while the thumbnailer reads the file mid-copy and shows you a preview… then again… and again. Presumably this is also slowing down the copy. This ties into number 3, where I’d like my per-folder thumbnail views – I tend to dump my files into a central area before copying them into the right folders afterwards.
  6. Changing the icon of an item presents a file chooser with a file-by-file preview, instead of a thumbnail view of the folder. Which, of course, means that it’s unbelievably tedious to find any decent icons. I ended up downloading a bunch of free clipart and browsing to the file, whose name I already knew because I’d browsed to it in another windows and used thumbnail view to see the icon. Which is a waste of effort really. The lengths we go to for really nice desktop icons, eh?
  7. You can’t rename USB attached drives, even though it looks like you can. Shame – the Mac can do this seamlessly. You just “Get Info” on the drive and type the new name. I think there’s a wee tool out there called USB-Label or something like that. I’ll research it and add it here.
    • Update: This is disappointing – you need different command line tools depending on the filesystem. And yep, you heard right – they’re command line tools. As in, plug-in your drive so that it appears, then open a terminal and type (if it’s FAT based) mtools /dev/sdx ::LabelHere. Or use the e2label command if it’s an EXT based filesystem (there’s another tool for NTFS, but of course, I wouldn’t advise modifying NTFS drives in Ubuntu anyway). Of course, most people won’t know which to use, won’t know what the /dev/ point is for their drive and certainly won’t research it enough to care about using command line tools anyway. At least it’s possible though – so point 7 still stands.
  8. Nautilus doesn’t appear to remember your preference for showing address-bar icons or address-bar text. It seems to default back to address-bar buttons all the time. Oh, and number 8.5 would have to be: you can’t drag and drop files onto the buttons in the address-bar.
  9. Want to search for something in a folder? No worries – hit the search button and type it in. Found it? Good. Want to show that folder’s contents again now that you’ve found it? Tough luck, buddy, you can’t. Try hitting the search button again, and you just clear the current search and you’re still there, with your search results still staring at you. It sounds trivial, I suppose, but the only way you can view that folder normally again, that I’ve found, is to click on another folder, then click back to your first folder again.
  10. When you mount a drive via smb:// mime-types appear to go out of the window. To explain by example, if I mount a drive to a Windows or Mac volume in nautilus,either by using Places/”Connect to Server”, or just typing in an smb:// URL, then if I double click on a movie file to play it, Totem complains that the file can’t be played over smb://. However, if I use my windows laptop to that same Mac share, or use my Mac to a share on my Ubuntu box, they’ll play the videos quite happily.
    • Update: If you install SMBtools via Synaptic, you can write a one line script which mounts the drives in question under your media directory, perhaps in /media/network/server1 for example.  Then, nautilus is quite happy to play the files because it sees them as “local” to your file system.  It’s a shame that a kludge like this is needed though.
    • FuseSMB is another take on the same idea, except that you don’t specify the individual shares, but instead just the server name and (I think) Fuse creates a media/network/server1 share automatically with every available share for that server as a subfolder.  Quite a nice way of doing it, but you still need that one line script and that script will have to be added /etc/rc.local if you want it to run everytime you start your PC.
  11. When the right-hand pane is full of file in list mode, there’s no way to right click and choose “New Folder”. Why? Because there’s no white-space. I suppose that there’s a gnome developer out there somewhere is sleeping, snuggled up to their copy of the HIG, content in the knowledge that they’ve created uniformity across the gnome gui. Insane reasoning of course, but then these are the guys whocreated a screensaver for their desktop that doesn’t allow you to make basic customisations to the screensavers in question. Did you open that link just there? How can you argue with a guy who sees the world like that??? How can you say, “Listen man, I just want more flying toast on my desktop”. You can’t. You just can’t, because they’re “taking a new approach”, “haven’t heard any compelling arguments against it” and yet still “keeping an open mind”. Sheesh.

So that’s it. Nautilus – so nearly perfect. And yet…

C’mon gnome developers. You live in a bizarre, eccentric, elitist bubble of a planet and in so many ways resemble the Apple crew (and not in a good way sometimes – dumb this desktop down any further and we’re gonna start calling it “My First Dekstop” for ages 3 up), but when you hit the high notes, you guys rock. Roll on gnome 2.19 and 2.20!

I’ve got to say, I’ve spent a bit of time on YouTube after writing this, and KDE4 looks very, VERY nice indeed. If they get rid of the multiple, useless menus, and make Konqueror something more usable as a file browser (like Nautilus), I could be making the jump. Time will tell.

Edit : I’ll get round to researching these bugs on bugzilla and provide the references where applicable. If they’re not there, I’ll create entries for them and note them here in this article. I’m nice that way (not really, but I do have a conscience).