Since installing MacOS 10.7 (Lion) my workflow has been seriously disrupted by an increasing number of instances in which my folder window view settings and icon placements are modified or reset to the apparent default, which seems to be icon view, alpha-sort, even-spaced rectangular arrangement. Like many other users, I depend heavily on using icon view and workflow-specific icon arrangements in my folders.

The only trigger reported so far: Apparently, to start disrupting view settings it is sufficient to navigate in a standard Open or Save (or similar) dialog. The likelihood of a complete reset seems to increase if you actually complete the dialog, i.e., save a file. Are the disruptions occurring just in the folders traversed or the final folder in which a file is saved? Maybe.

There are at least three relevant threads in Apple forums:

  1. How do keep folder icons from rearranging

  2. Lion Keeps Re-arranging my Folders

  3. Roaming desktop icons

(The third shows that this issue, or something like it, was observed by some users of 10.6.x.)

It seems generally agreed that icon positions and, generally, view settings are stored in each folder in an invisible file, .DS_Store. Posters speculate how .DS_Store affected: Some say it is simply deleted (mechanism unknown) and then replaced with the default. The only sort-of practical solution offered so far is saving a copy of .DS_Store when the window is correct, and then restoring that copy after disruption occurs.

While it is clear some users are affected, judging from the proportion of total postings on the Apple Lion forum and elsewhere, the number is relatively small. (Why? The answer might be helpful in diagnosis.)

What's largely missing from the discussions I've seen so far are systematic observations, technical analyses, ideas for instrumenting the issue, technically-plausible theories, and emphasis on finding workarounds until the problem is fixed. That's why I'm posting here.

I'm concerned that with the small number of users discussing this issue in forums and the lack of useful detail in the postings, Apple will give the problem a low priority. While we tekkie users probably can't produce a fix, we ought to be able to characterize the issue and there's a decent chance of finding some kind of work-around. There's even a hope that that us "lucky" ones affected can fix the problem by de-installing some old, incompatible s/w that survived 10.7 installation, or even with a simple parameter adjustment.

This is clearly a complex issue. I find it difficult to understand how Open or Save dialog would affect folder view settings and icon arrangements. (Unless: because you can switch folder views while navigating in these dialogs, perhaps the mechanism is an incomplete or unintentional linking of those settings to the non-dialog views.) I don't accept the "something deletes .DS_Store" theory because I've seen partial disruptions, e.g. one icon displaced from here (say, upper left) to there (upper right), and only partial rearrangement in alpha-sort order. I've seen cases in which a hopelessly rearranged view was miraculously restored. (Theory: Lion keeps .DS_Store backups, monitors the current file for inconsistencies, and --in certain cases-- restores scrambled .DS_Store files from the most recent consistence version.)


  • I can't help you because I don't have Lion yet. However if you don't get any feedback within a few days, you can ask a moderator to migrate your question to Ask Different. Use the "flag" link and drop them a notice.
    – slhck
    Aug 16, 2011 at 18:11
  • Thanks, will do! (You might want to wait on installing Lion <sad grin>)
    – hen3ry
    Aug 17, 2011 at 0:53
  • It's inconceivable to me that anyone would not use the "Keep files arranged by name" option :)
    – jtbandes
    Aug 18, 2011 at 3:12
  • It's inconceivable to me that anyone besides people compiling encyclopedias would use "arranged by name" :) Since this bug scrambles settings, it seems possible that such people would find their folders messed up, too. But I can't say I've checked it.
    – hen3ry
    Aug 18, 2011 at 4:44
  • Inconceivable? - You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
    – bmike
    Aug 19, 2011 at 0:49

6 Answers 6


Snow Leopard had a funny way of arranging and organizing Finder views. But we got used to them; however, that doesn't mean they were even remotely intuitive. Lion builds on this confusing and awkward system, changing things up again.

enter image description here

You can see in the image above that there are now two separate options that pertain to the Finder view settings:

  1. Always open in icon view
  2. Browse in icon view

The first applies to the current directory (in this case my Downloads folder will always present my icons in Icon View, at a size of 48x48, etc.), while the second applies to all child (or sub-) folders. However, and this is what most people are stumbling over, the "Browse in ... view" is overridden by that folders "Always open in ... view."

Let's run through an example:

You have a folder called Downloads. And in that folder you have another folder called PDFs. You apply both of the above settings to Downloads folder. Now you open the PDFs folder and apple "Always open in list view." You close Finder and open a new window. Navigating to your Downloads folder, will show all its contents as icons, while navigating to the PDFs folder, will show a list view. So now you have the parent folder (Downloads) with both settings enabled, but when you open the child folder (PDFs), it opens in list view.

If you understand the behaviour, it makes sense, but if it's lost on you (trust me, it is on a lot of users as it is far from being an intuitive system), then you'd be scratching your head why both the options are checked, but PDFs opens in list view.

  • Hmmm, that's the best explanation I've seen of those two options, makes sense as intended behavior, but that's not what I observe. For a given folder, with both options checked, if I close the folder and return "later", I frequently find them unchecked and my icons alpha-sorted. Seems like there's a bug that scrambles view settings for folders.
    – hen3ry
    Sep 27, 2011 at 0:43

Starting in Lion Apple added some new terminology to the way windows arrange icons.

In the view options palette there is the Arrange By: pull down menu which we have all used since time immemorial.

There is also now a Sort By: pull down menu.

If you want your icons sorted by name, use the "Sort By:" menu.

The "Arrange By:" menu now applies to that ridiculous view you get when you go to "All My Files" and other such views.


I had the same annoying problem for 2 days in 10.7.1 but just solved it by copying a .DS_Store file from another disk using @BinaryNights Forklift.

I use SuperDuper to mirror my disk once a week, so that procedure came to my rescue !

btw it is the .DS_Store file from my root folder


I stopped syncing iDisk in Mobile Me and that fixed the problem.

  • Thanks for your response. Since I posted there has been a lot of activity on this issue on Apple 10.7 discussions. The most common trigger for disruption is simply using an "open" or "save" dialog in any app. There's hope that the forthcoming 10.7.2 update will provide a fix. I hope so!
    – hen3ry
    Oct 2, 2011 at 17:51
  • 10.7.2 fixed this for most users
    – hen3ry
    Oct 19, 2011 at 1:34
  • The shutdown of MobileMe should have solved this for everybody by now :-)
    – nohillside
    Dec 1, 2012 at 9:14

As far I can see this was an Apple problem, nothing a user could do about it. Seems to be fixed for most users in 10.7.2

BUT, some users report problems with Finder retaining View Options settings. That's a matter for a new thread.


I've had this problem intermittently since Lion and it is still happening in 10.7.3

It seem to be triggered by restarts (I have not seen it otherwise). And it doesn't seem to happen every restart. But maybe half of my restarts totally resort my desktop icons which doesn't help since I put them in my own locations for a reason.

I keep hoping that the next update will sort the behaviour, but it hasn't happened.

  • Sorry you are still having problems. Most of mine in this respect are fixed, so I can't explore my suspicion the problem, for some people, is due to improper permissions settings preventing the Finder from updating .DS_Store in particular folders. (The Finder has only user-level privileges, it seems.) This means ordinary permissions and maybe ACLs (about which I'm baffled).
    – hen3ry
    Mar 22, 2012 at 0:23

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