By Collin Allen

Tiger Tweaks Won't Kill Folders

June 13, 2005

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:

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.