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Rethinking the Finder...

I just stumbled across Desk - Rethinking the Finder, a little mock-up-picture and movie illustrating how one could implement a new Finder. The general idea is like PathFinder or FileRun, but it gave me some nice ideas. They're just off-the-wall ideas, not thought through in any way, but sometimes a little brainstorming can be really helpful:

What's the biggest problems the Finder has right now? Well, the top spots are held by speed and responsibility. Everyone is looking for a lean, mean file-browsing machine. So maybe a single-window approach with a Shelf where one can keep "aliases" of an item is a workable approach after all. I personally like the spatial metaphor a lot, but I understand not everyone has such a visual mind as I do. Heck, at school I had no problem memorizing the individual spots where the words I had learned were... but their actual meaning?

So, lets drop the purely spatial Finder for a moment and go with the UI flavor du jour, a multi-pane single-window interface. Sidebar, a shelf below it, and to the right a file browsing area. Single window means that it won't remember the window size, but on the other hand you don't have to move windows out of the way. Also, it could be smart enough to display your files in a smart way, without you having to manually arrange them.

For one thing, it could automatically pick the richest view, depending on how many files there are. If you're viewing a few files, you get a spatial icon view, with related files grouped together. If you're viewing more, older files get shown below the icon view as a list (not unlike the iTunes Music store with albums at the top and a file list below). It could also attempt to be smart and notice if a folder is mainly an archive, and in that case show only a small list, or if you often go back to old files, it would have a bigger list and only show a few recent files as icons, if at all.

The second thing that annoys people are folder hierarchies. Really, hierarchies are something computers cope with much better than humans. So why not flatten everything, and just go for a search engine interface, like Spotlight is trying to do it not very successfully. So, what about folders? Well, essentially, folders wouldn't be like folders today: Folders would simply be groups of references to files, "aliases". They could be just tags on files, internally, or actual folders containing aliases, or whatever. The latter would have the advantage that it could be browsed from the "Open..." dialog...

Also, I'd add network access in an asynchronous fashion. I.e. implement a custom file system plugin that represents an FTP server, and which just returns immediately telling Finder that it is empty. In the background, it would asynchronously request a directory listing of the FTP server, and whenever new results come in, it would pretend someone had just added a new file. That way, you wouldn't have to wait for a complete file listing to come in over the net before you start browsing a network drive. No spinning beach ball. Write and read accesses to files would be cached, and maybe it'd even smartly download certain files and cache them locally (like .DS_Store), or create fake "sparse" versions of some file that contain *some* of the requested information so we can start accessing them while they're still downloading.

Opening a file from a network volume could download it to the local drive before launching it, making it seem as if the file took a while to launch, but leaving the user free to keep using the system in the meantime. Thus, where we can't be fast, we'd choose to stay responsive.

The app could even have different algorithms for different file formts: i.e. for streaming file formats like movies, we would start at the beginning, while for other file formats we might load the table of contents and a few other parts into a "sparse" file, send off the "open" request and then continue downloading in the background, at least for large files, and thus hopefully avoid blocking. I.e. we'd load the first couple pages of a PDF and open it while we download the rest, hoping the user is trying to read it sequentially, or whatever.

And if I could, I'd give it that Finder voodoo doll as an icon :-)

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Created: 2007-04-13 @030 Last change: 2007-04-14 @023 | Home | Admin | Edit
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