Tiger Tweaks Won’t Kill Folders

This story made me laugh. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out how it got onto Wired’s website. The article claims that the “experts” at Silicon Valley’s Frog Design say that the Mac OS X Finder is dying and will be removed from the system altogether in the wake of new search technologies like Spotlight.

“Spotlight changes the landscape fundamentally — how people manage and organize things on their computers,” added Mark Ligameri, also a frog creative director, who formerly worked at Microsoft on the user interface of Windows XP and the forthcoming Longhorn. “Spotlight is a good alternative to the hierarchical organization of information.”

I can’t speak for everyone, but since the introduction of Spotlight, absolutely nothing has changed in the way I organize my files. I still use categorized folders as well as the appropriate places in my user’s home folder. I really can’t see Spotlight being an alternative to a good hierarchical layout. It’s certainly great addition to good organization, but replacing it entirely is extreme. Can you imagine having 10,000 files all in one place on your computer and simply letting Spotlight manage them? What if you just want to browse? That would just be hideous.

Another sign of the Finder’s decreasing relevance: the increasing incorporation of file-management functions into applications. “iTunes and iPhoto provide immersive environments to allow users to better manage their music and photo files,” Ratzlaff added. “Both of these developments are indications that the Finder is not meeting people’s needs. I think and hope that the Finder as we know it will go away in the next two years, likely with Mac OS 11.”

I think the arrival of iTunes and iPhoto simply arise out of the need for applications that fit specific media management purposes. One can’t expect the Finder (or any single program) to handle all the duties of media management programs like those mentioned because there are too many different functions associated with each file type. Some file types have a distinct separation, as well. Aside from music in slideshows, I want my tunes to have nothing to do with my image files.

Secondly, the time frame described is way off. Ratzlaff talks about the next two years and Mac OS X 11 as if they will coincide in some way. Mac OS X 11 (or whatever Apple decides to call it) is way ahead in the future. In two years, we’ll likely have Mac OS X 10.6.

Wired notes, “Apple begs to differ. ‘The Finder is far from dead,’ said Wiley Hodges, a senior product line manager for the Mac operating system. ‘It is still an extremely familiar metaphor that’s logical, putting related and relevant data into folders. Spotlight extends the Finder with queries for frequently used folders.'” Search and organization go hand in hand, not against each other. A good organizational layout combined with desktop search is what the Mac OS X Finder is all about. Folders are a standard that have been around since the very early days of computing and will be here for a very long time, even if only for backward compatibility with the rest of the non-Mac world.

The problem, he says, is that “we tend to organize data by hierarchical folder. But we may want to view the data many different ways, organized by different criteria, often through ad-hoc searches…. These new search tools offer multiple ways to find things according to changing context.”

I tend to keep my files separated by type — movies, music, pictures, etc. When I want to view them in a different way, I let the files’ metadata and some simple search algorithms do the work. iTunes organizes my music using embedded data, and iPhoto using my own photo album structure. When I want to work with the files directly, I use the Finder. Spotlight is a great new technology, but it in no way endangers folders or heirarchical layouts. It’s main purpose is, as Apple puts it, to “Find stuff.” If the Finder had such a slogan, it would be “Manage stuff.” While the Finder isn’t my choice for Mac OS X “app of the year,” claiming that it and folders themselves are on their way out is simply ridiculous. What do you think?

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Tiger Tweaks Won’t Kill Folders

5 thoughts on “Tiger Tweaks Won’t Kill Folders

  1. I tend to agree with you about Finder not being on its way out. Sometimes, especially creative people, tend to not know exactly what they are looking for. Like when I need a stock image, I am not going to always know the name or metadata for a specific picture on my harddrive that I want to find. Why? Because I normally, have no idea what I really want to find. That is where Finder will still be useful.

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  2. It goes even beyond what Josh says, its orgnaization that makes Spotlight worth it IMO. I like to know where all my things are, Spotlight just makes it faster to get there.

    Programs like iPhoto or iTunes are so successful because people wanted to be more organized. They want to be able to have all their photos or all their music in one place, and be able to see it all at once.

    It’s really organization that drives Spotlight, but its lazieness that makes it worth while. You know where the file is, but dont wanna go to it. Although, I have saved an essay or two in the wrong spot and been lost outta my mind, but thats not because of inorganization, thats because i had no clue where it was, lol.

    Just my $0.02

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  3. J Scott Anderson says:

    I disagree. First, the idea of just dropping everything into one folder is the picture that comes up in the minds of people who like to organize things by folder. That is just not what it is like. Take iPhoto or iTunes as an examples. On the surface, when you add a file to either of these applications, it appears that you are just piling them all into one “place”. In truth, the application is handling the physical file management. It handles the details of separating out the files into folders and hierarchies that are best for performance of the hardware. This is very similar to what we would do for the document imaging applications in the early 90’s. If you drop a half million pages into a single directory, your system comes to a halt. So, our application handled organizing the files and directories (folders) into the best form for the machine.

    Second, what I think is meant by the Finder, as we know it, going away is that direct file manipulation by physical location (actually, one step above real world physical location since we are not dealing with the start and stop blocks in defining a user’s file’s location). Hierarchical location is still nothing more than metadata. A tree structure that the user defines can still be one of the views for those people who decide that they want it. But I believe that it will just be one of the many possible views.

    BTW…in my opinion, using SpotLight’s capabilities today to base your opinion on is very short-sighted. I do not believe that it is anywhere near ready for replacing the Finder…yet. But I do believe that the traditional hierarchical menu structure where the user places a file in a specific “place” is going away. There is no need. For example, if you could use a Star Trek Transporter to instantly move from New York to Los Angeles, there would be no need to physically traverse all the miles in between. There may be the “want to” facilitating sight seeing-but there would be no need. There will still be ways to “sight see”, but it will be more abstracted. In any case, I don’t see SpotLight getting rid of Finder tomorrow.

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  4. In addition to the previous comments, HERE’s why you can’t do that yet:

    When saving a file from an application, there is no field to add metadata as you are saving the file. It seems the only way is to go find the file, open up “get info” and then type in your description. Not conducive to a “one big pile” organization.

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  5. Andrew Lister says:

    The automator actions ‘Get Folder Contents’ and ‘Add Spotlight Comments’ together allow for fairly rapid keywording of large numbers of documents, though it would be nice to have this built in to the ‘save-file’ function – with menus of possible keywords set up in advance!

    The issue, as I see it, is not getting rid of hierarchical file classifications, but allowing mulitple such classifications of the same set of documents, simultaneously.

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