I am, shall we say, prone to a lack of organization. As a child it reached such an extreme level that when my sister took over my room after I departed for college she commented to our mother that she had absolutely no previous memory of seeing the color of my carpet. This was only after the two of them shoveled my remaining belongings into a bunch of boxes that still sit in a storage unit someplace that I've never visited.
Needless to say such a profound lack of placement skills is clearly not limited to the physical world. Some people file every email and document into hierarchical folder structures for rapid recall at a moment's notice. Me? It's a good thing I see my wife every night since her face in the photo on my Mac desktop is often covered with various downloads and documents in progress.
That's why I was looking forward to Stacks in Leopard. Combined with Spotlight, it seemed an interesting way to help organize my desktop and keep my needed files at my fingertips. Spotlight, now that it works (see "Spotlight Strikes Back: In Leopard, It Works Great," 2007-11-01), will allow me to sort through my fairly massive repository of old research, documents, and presentations without having to worry about sorting things into highly organized folders. Stacks, on the other hand, seemed ideal for organizing my current projects and keeping them on my Desktop while deceiving any shoulder surfers into thinking I was some zen master of file management.
When I first installed Leopard I was pleased with the two new stacks on my Dock; one for my Documents folder, and one for a new Downloads folder where all downloads were automatically placed. Sure, some of the features Steve Jobs demonstrated in his Leopard preview keynote seemed missing (dynamic stacks), but I was happy enough with being able to put a few small folders on the toolbar and getting one-click access to my current projects.
But Stacks quickly disappointed. Rather than keeping the clean folder icons I saw immediately after installing Leopard, Stacks defaults to the icon of the last file added. This instantly destroyed the zen balance of my Dock and I was surprised that something so simple could be so darn annoying. Suddenly I couldn't tell stacks apart, and the fact that their icons kept changing made a bad thing even worse. Then, thanks to TUAW, I found an easy solution to make Stacks much more useful.
A Mac user in Japan created a series of beautiful drawer icons. Instead of just displaying the latest icon in the Dock, it turns out that Stacks really displays an overlaying stack of the icons for the files in the folder. By simply dropping the semi-translucent drawer icon into the folder the stack is based on, it appears as a drawer holding the icons for the files in the stack.
Installation is simple. First, download the icon sets. Then, drop the icon you want to represent the stack into the stack. Next, right click the stack and choose Sort By: Date Modified. The stack icons are pre-modified with a date out in 2010 so they'll always appear as the first icon in your stack, at least until 2010. (When this hack was first posted you had to adjust the date yourself from the command line, but the icon author updated the files so they are already configured for you).
Zen balance is now restored to my Desktop and Dock, and I find myself once again using Stacks to organize my current projects. For smaller folders the single-click access to the stack is surprisingly more convenient than right-clicking was under Tiger. And sorting by date modified makes even large directories useful as stacks, since I usually want to access the most recent files anyway.
Stacks still needs some work, and I'm looking forward to some of the dynamic features Steve Jobs demonstrated before Leopard was released, but this simple hack turned a disappointment into a useful feature. Now I might have to try the Mac OS X Hints trick for making a Recent Applications stack too...