[Surfacing an old post that got lost. Some of the details are no longer current—there have been 6 major versions of OS X since Snow Leopard. In particular, it is now possible to set the owner for a single file, as well as for all files of that type. So it basically works exactly the way I (and others) said it should, 8 years ago. But this discussion is still relevant, even if it is no longer a complaint against OS X, as a discussion of different needs and best practices.]
I seriously contemplated not upgrading to Snow Leopard when I discovered that they’ve changed the behavior so that the Creator Codes associated with files are now overridden by other mechanisms. For those who aren’t familiar, up until Snow Leopard, Mac OS has always kept track of not only what kind of file something is, but what application it was associated with. I’ve always considered that to be a major boon: I can have this html file open with my text editor, so that I can make some more edits, but that html file open up in Safari, because it’s a saved webpage i downloaded. And a few other cases that are really common and fairly important [to me]. There are also lots of other cases that have come up over the years, but at least some of those are probably due to my idiosyncrasies, as much as to genuine efficiencies.
Now, this is not to say that the old way was perfect. In classic Mac OS, it was comparatively difficult to access, much less change, this information—if you knew what you were doing, you could use various tools to get at the otherwise-hidden information, and you could learn what the often-obscure 4-character codes were, but for most people, it was set by applications, and that was it. On the downside, this meant that some applications were excessively possessive about files: just opening a file with that application would change it’s ownership to that application, so that the next time you went to open it, it would launch that program again.
On the upside, every application would automagically tag any file that was actually newly-created with it (as opposed to just opened or edited) as belonging to it. This was particularly a boon for dealing with common filetypes, because sometimes one app would be better for what I wanted, sometimes another. Frex, when writing a PERL script, I might put up with a slightly poorer text editor because it had syntax coloring (while my usual text editor didn’t). But I wouldn’t want to use that for everything. I found myself going back and forth between multiple apps for images, too. And, in particular, I certainly wouldn’t want to have an image I was working on associated with the viewer—or webbrowser—I was using to double-check my work. Mac OS X didn’t make it any easier to access the Creator Codes, but it did provide a functionality to override them. Which, IMHO, was the best of both worlds: by default, you had the associations. If you wanted to change a few files, you could do it. If you wanted to change all your files of a given type to open with a particular app, you could do that, even more easily.
Which, now that I’ve gotten some context out of the way, gets to my point: I can understand why some people prefer the new method, whereby all files of a given type open with one, chosen, application. What I don’t understand is why they are happy that the old method, where some files could be automatically owned by an application, is so reviled. Previously, both possibilities were there: those who wanted to always have a given type of file open with the same app could set it that way. Those who wanted to respect app ownership could set it that way. So it’s not just a case of switching from behavior A to behavior B. We’ve gone from default-A with optional-B, to always-B. Which really irks those who prefer behavior A. And I’m a little lost as to why those who prefer B are so happy, since it didn’t take much effort to get that behavior in the past.
The other, more significant, observation I’ve made comes from reading many blogs, editorials, and attendant comments on the topic. And noting an interesting trend in who prefers what. It seems that it’s not just a matter of whim, but there is a definite situational difference. To whit: those who prefer the all-files-of-one-type-for-one-app are consumers of data. Those who prefer the each-file-to-its-app are creators of data. Now, this is just a generalization, so don’t bother “proving me wrong” by showing that you, personally, defy the categories. Of course you do—lots of people do. For that matter, I don’t think they’re black-and-white categories; most people probably are somewhere between the two poles, so, in that sense, everybody defies the categories. Nonetheless, over and over, those who prefer the new method gave receiving files with undesired Creator Codes as their reason. Those who prefer the old method usually gave creating files [in multiple apps] as their reason. And that certainly matches my preferences. I also think that those who claim that for the vast majority of users, defaulting to a single app is the preferred behavior, are correct. Most people I know don’t even use multiple webbrowsers, something that doesn’t involve associating files or most of the other costs of switching apps [though, admittedly, there is the bookmarks issue—but that’s something that can be solved, if you want to switch between webbrowsers for other reasons].
So, I suggest that there is a fairly easy solution that would make everyone happy: provide some sort of Creator-Code-like functionality that not only makes it possible to associate files in a less fragile way than the current mechanism, but make it possible to make that the default behavior when creating a file.
Then, ignore those associations when transferring files. I’m no programmer, so I couldn’t tell you how to do that. Maybe store them somewhere that isn’t preserved when using http or ftp or MIME encoding, or other file transfer protocals. Maybe specifically put a tag in that the Mac recognizes as itself—so when the OS sees an ownership tag that it didn’t put there, it knows to then ignore any creator codes it does find—maybe even strip them out.
From what I’ve been hearing, that would actually provide the functionality that just about everyone wants, even if it wouldn’t match some of the absolutist—and vitriolic—statements that some have been spouting.