F the File System

Enough with the file system.

Whenever I want to do some work on my computer one of the first things any application makes me do is go through the hassle of tracking down and opening the file I want to work on. The other side includes having to telling the application where on my computer I want to save the file after I’m doing with it. This is easy to do with a new computer, but after even a few months, files become a chore to keep organized with deep folder structures and a single file system that groups together all of our documents, music, downloads, videos, and applications.

Why do we still save and load files through a complex file system that spans our entire operating system?

This problem is the case with all programs on all operating systems.

Why can’t we find the information we want to work on through search?

Google’s proved that people are comfortable with getting information through search. Whether you want to look up information on the web,
find contacts in your address book, search through email archives, or find a document, search is natural. Meanwhile, there’s been no change on the desktop in the past ten years to how we work with information.

When you can get to everything through search, it reduces complexity.
And when users have this option, the requirements change:

  1. Users need to be able to search only the appropriate types of files given what application they’re using.
  2. The system should support be full text search, letting users search entire document text, and they should be able to search on the
    meta-data. Such as “files created within the last week”.
  3. Present to the user the information they’ll most likely want. Do things like sort files by the order of when they were last modified,
    auto load the last open file into the application.
  4. Show them a single window to view all their data (think Simplenote, or Evernote) so they can skim their files. Hide the file system from them.

These ideas are already used in mobile and in online apps, but no desktop applications use them.

The only desktop application I know of that doesn’t use files in the traditional way is Notational Velocity. Most people use Notational
Velocity to integrate with their Simplenote account. The reason people love Simplenote so much is because their work is all saved automatically, it’s automatically synced on every device they used, and they can access all of their work through search.

The fact that there’s only one application that works like this, to me, tells me that there’s a lot of opportunity for other applications
to change.

Notational Velocity

(I’ve dealt with helping my mom track down photos she saved to her computer but couldn’t find a bunch of time. On Windows, I’ve had a hell of a time trying to track down my Downloads folder and figuring out how things I didn’t know I saved ended up there)

2 thoughts on “F the File System

  1. This is a great post, Malcolm. We’re seeing a lot more of these now – Quicksilver, for example, and Windows 7 makes the Start Menu search function more prominent (like with Mac OS). The search you’re talking about sounds a lot like search in gmail (metadata labels, etc.). Throw some version control in there, and search would become more powerful – fewer duplicates to sort through.

  2. There are some interesting tools to deal with this in Windows Explorer within Windows 7. Remind me to show you when

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