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On the current version of OS X Snow Leopard (10.6.8), I have an icon sideways on my desktop:


Any idea why or what it signifies?

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Googled sideways icon osx to no avail. – msh210 Jan 31 '12 at 23:09
+1 Interesting question. Never thought about it. – daviesgeek Jan 31 '12 at 23:11
up vote 18 down vote accepted

It's not that the icon is sideways, it's that the small thumbnail for the file that's used as the icon needs to be wide because the CSV file has at least one really long line of data in it. The thumbnail you're seeing is a dynamic preview of the contents of the file and in the case of the file on the top of the image, the data contents demand a lot of horizontal space to show you the preview.

Here's an example: I've created two CSV files on my desktop. One file has ~500 columns of data on one row. The other has 10 columns of data on one row. The thumbnail for the 500 column file is wide because that's what previewing the data demands.

Sample thumbnails

Pretty smart of OS X really.

Edit: Someone asked where the threshold for change was in the thumbnails. I did some quick experiments. I saw changes in the thumbnail dimensions at 61, 81, 101 and 121 characters of text on the one line. Note: that is characters, not columns of data. So it includes the data and the separating comma. Here is how the thumbnail icon evolved as the file contents changed:

61 characters

81 characters

101 characters

121 characters

For all of these snaps I just changed the length of the text on the one line in the file via TextMate and save the file, viewed my desktop and there was an updated thumbnail.

share|improve this answer
+1, sounds reasonable; thanks. (And yes, that is smart of OS X.) I'd checkmark it if I knew that you were right that that's the reason. (I suppose I can experiment with varying CSV files....) – msh210 Jan 31 '12 at 23:25
Hm, I saved an OpenOffice text (.odt) file in landscape mode with text all the way across the page (but only two lines of text) and the icon is still upright. Perhaps the OS doesn't read .odt files for orientation information in rendering icons. – msh210 Jan 31 '12 at 23:28
@msh210 not all files can be thumbnail-ed dynamically by OS X. But CSV files can and are. Others files that get dynamic thumbnails for icons: image files (png, jpg, etc.), PDF files, Pages files, Keynote files -- things that are supported by Apple products and/or stock software that ships with OS X. – Ian C. Feb 1 '12 at 0:33
That's a great answer. So, what's the width threshold to turn portrait into landscape? And, how would page setup and the chosen printer alter that? – Richard Feb 1 '12 at 3:37
@Richard I did some experiments. Results above. – Ian C. Feb 1 '12 at 14:30

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