Mac OS X uses Enter key to rename

Problem

Note: This post is part of a serie about top Mac OS X usability issues.

If you have worked with personal computers for more than a few hours, you know the Enter key is an important key on the keyboard.

The Enter key on a MacBook Pro 15″ mid 2012 Swedish keyboard

In almost all cases, this key is used to execute or go into something for example:

  • In Calculator, pressing the Enter key executes the last mathematical operator and shows the result on screen.
  • Safari (or any other web browser) loads the page when Enter is pressed in the Address bar.
  • Spotlight search opens the file when Enter is pressed on any of its results.

So the user get a feeling that the Enter key is all about execution, running and opening, right? Wrong! Finder is a core part of Mac OS X that is used to browse files and directories in the computer. Something equivalent to Windows Explorer in Windows:

Finder in Mac OS X Mountain Lion

In Finder unlike other applications, if you press Enter on a file or folder, it doesn’t open. It may sound ridiculous to Windows or Ubuntu[1] users, but that’s how Mac OS X works. That’s how it has always worked. Mac users probably look at it as natural or may not remember when they got used to it. But let’s think “outside of the box”[2] wouldn’t it be cooler if you could just press Enter on any item in the finder and open it? And let’s face it, renaming a file or folder is not the most important action to be assigned to such an important button on the keyboard. Fortunately the mouse works as expected and double clicking the files or folders actually opens them. So when I’m browsing directories specially in big lists, I type the first letters of the file or directory to select the item, then switch from keyboard to mouse (a big “no, no, no” from usability perspective) and double click to open it, then if it was a folder usually do the same to browse to the next level.

That’s how I have worked with Mac since a few months ago. But before writing this posts I had to do a little research to see if there is a memorable keyboard shortcut for it. And here is the glorious CMD+Down Arrow (open folder) or CMD+O (open).

[1] I had to confirm this with an Ubuntu user so I asked my friend if Ubuntu opens a folder when you click on it and after trying it he said yes. I told him “you know what Mac does? It renames the file or folder when you press Enter on it!” And he shouted “WHAT?” with great surprise and continued “and people say Apple is all about usability” with irony!

[2] I don’t think it is really thinking outside of the box! It is about thinking how everything else in the box works!

Solution

This is a simple consistency issue. Mac OS X should use Enter for opening the item and something like CMD+R for renaming it. Simple as that!

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