Comparing file/folder properties in Nautilus

Firstly, apologies for the split topic. There are some rather annoying limits on how many links and media new users can have in posts…

I’ve created this topic after a brief discussion with @antoniof on GitLab issue #1714. You can view the specific disussion comments here.

As raised in GitLab, Nautilus makes it very awkward to compare the properties of files or folders. Forcing the user to use the details/list view (for certain file attributes) or to open multiple new windows. All making the UX a bit naff.

An example use case to demonstrate where the current Nautilus UX causes some frustration could be comparing the sizes of 3 or 4 folders within a single folder.
To demonstrate what this looks like in, arguably, the platforms our users are most likely to come from:

In Windows Explorer, this might look something like this:

In macOS Finder:

And in Nautilus, this could look like this…

One thing Finder & Explorer had in common in this particular scenario was that they did not require the user to repeatedly find their folder, in multiple separate windows. The user flow was essentially:

  • Right-click file/folder.
  • Click ‘Properties’/‘Get Info’.
  • Repeat for file/folders within current folder (same window).

In Nautilus, the user is expected to:

  • Right-click file/folder.
  • Click ‘Properties’.
  • Open a new nautilus window.
  • Navigate to the folder opened in the first window.
  • Right-click file/folder.
  • Click ‘Properties’.
  • Repeat for file/folders for comparison.

As you might imagine, a user coming primarily from Windows or macOS may find this workflow a little odd and frustrating.

A while ago (I believe the Ubuntu 18.04 era), Nautilus used to support similar functionality to Explorer and Finder. File/folder properties windows were not modal and were not attached to their parent window. This meant users could get the properties of files/folders within a single window. Which was (personally) much easier, much faster and in a manner that was consistent with the other platforms.

I’m aware that the gnome-tweaks tool allows you to toggle the ‘attached modal’ thing. But that only really just lets you move the properties dialog around. User input on the parent window is disabled (because the dialog is still modal).

Problems

So to summarise the UX issues I’ve mentioned above for discussion:

  • Users cannot compare the properties of files/folders within a single window. Something that has become, somewhat, the norm and expected.
  • Users with small screen realestate struggle to view multiple properties dialogs at the same time (unless they resize the parent windows first or strategicly place the dialogs after disabling attachment to parent window in gnome-tweaks).
    • When the property dialog is focused, the parent window is brought foward on top of other windows. On a screen running at 1920x1080, you can only really comfortably get 3, maybe 4 visible at the same time with the default window size (see Nautilus screenshot above).

Solutions?

What could we do to improve the UX for users wanting to compare multiple files/folders within the same folder and/or window?

  • Change nautilus properties dialog so that it isn’t modal and make this the default behaviour.
    • Properties dialogs could be placed centered to the parent window (if not already).
  • Leave it as is but allow users to disable modal dialogs in gnome-tweaks (put changes required for first point behind a feature toggle).
  • (Somehow) prevent parent windows from being brought forward when their properties modal is focused in order to stop them hiding other Nautilus properties windows.
  • Something else I’ve not thought of.

I’m keen to hear what people’s thoughts are on this. Are there other UX quirks with the way Nautilus currenty behaves with file/folder properties that I’ve not mentioned that would be worth discussing as well?

@tbernard - mentioning you here as I spotted you had posted here about wanting to redesign this UI 2 years ago. I’m not sure how much or if any progress has been made there since then?

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