Even Apple sometimes screws up UI

Based on yesterday’s episode, I decided to try Buzzword. In order to do that, I needed to install the latest Flash Player.

The installation failed with the cryptic message “The file flashplayer.xpt could not be written.” This message could have been more helpful, but that’s really Adobe’s fault, not Apple’s.

I tracked down the problem to the fact that Firefox was installed using the “skuwamoto” account. Meanwhile, I was trying to install Flash Player using the “household” account.

So I decided to change the owner of Firefox to “household”. Easy, right? Guess again. Changing the owner of an application turns out to be kind of difficult.


I started by changing the owner of the file using the info dialog like so:

Info dialog for Firefox

The install still failed. Take 30 seconds and try to guess why.

Ok. Being a software developer, I knew that applications were really “packages” which are a special kind of Unix folder. If you do a “show package contents”, you find that the Firefox package only contains one folder:

Firefox package contents

And after doing a “get info” on the folder, I found that the package contents still had “skuwamoto” as the owner. ARRGGGHHH!!!

Permissions for package contents

Why on earth would you want to set the owner of an application without setting the owner of the enclosed folders?? Also note that the original info dialog had no option to “Apply to enclosed items”, so even if you knew that this was something to watch out for, there is no way to fix this without manually opening the package and inspecting the contents.

I mean… I had trouble figuring out what was going on, and I write software for a living.

12 Responses to “Even Apple sometimes screws up UI”

  1. Eunix

    So… why not install the Flash player update under the same account with which you installed it the first time? This just seems unnecessarily complex.

    Apple (and every other *nix-based OS distributor) advises people to install apps under an administrative account for a reason, and this is it: Changing file ownership and permissions like this will only cause problems later when you try to update something else under the other account. Was Firefox installed for all users? Or do both accounts have administrative access?

  2. Sho

    Both accounts have admin access. The problem is that since the time I initially set up my machine, I changed my mind about which account was going to be the admin account.

    In any case, I maintain that allowing users to set the owner on applications without setting the owner of the package contents or at least giving some visibility to what is going on qualifies as a usability bug.

  3. JulesLt

    I think you’re right, in that for an app bundle you almost certainly want to cascade the change of owner – I’m wagering it’s just one of those edge cases that no one actually thought of – the guys doing Get Info obviously recognised you might want to cascade changes on a Folder. but it’s not recognising that an app bundle really contains a folder.

    Wonder if it’s been logged as a bug / fixed in Leopard?

  4. sharon

    I tried to run Buzzword in Firefox in WinXP, and it told me I didn’t have the latest version of Flash. It prompted me to download and install a newer version, and when I said “yes,” it told me I had to close Firefox first. HUH? ;-)

    Of course I realized that what it really meant was “I want to run in Internet Explorer, not Firefox.” That was a little disappointing. But it really is a slick interface, so I’ll probably take the risk.

    Do you know if there are plans to add other office applications? I would expect so.

  5. Josh

    I’m not sure what sharon means by “I want to run in IE, not Firefox”. Buzzword runs fine in Firefox.

  6. Eunix

    True enough. Come to think of it, I guess I’ve done the same thing in the past — but using chown +R from a terminal, I never noticed the discrepancy. I’ve never been a big fan of the Finder itself, and while the “Application package” idea is nifty for installation/simplicity, it does seem like things would be simpler if Apple just admitted that an “app” is little more than a directory — and treated it as such.

  7. Abdul Qabiz

    Good catch, no one is perfect… :)


  8. Jojo

    The Mac OS system has the Safari brswoer. I wouldn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work. Safari is supposed to be the best brswoer available’, so I would see no reason to say no.Also- yes, you can use Firefox. Probably any brswoer would work. (Okay, maybe not Netscape)

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