Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 28th Apr 2008 21:38 UTC, submitted by kiddo
Graphics, User Interfaces The trash can metaphor in computing is as old as the desktop metaphor itself. It was first introduced with the Apple Lisa user interface, and found its way to the Macintosh. Apple patented the whole idea, and sued anyone who tried to use the same name, resulting in other user interfaces implementing the exact same principle but just named differently. Despite its old age, and the fact it barely changed over the decades, many people have issues with the traditional concept.
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I am not sure about how the trash can worked in the Apple Lisa, but there was a change to the way the trash can worked in the Macintosh in the late '80s. That changed behavior was in some aspects for the worse, and most other systems copy the newer behavior.

In the original Macintosh desktop, the trash emptied automatically at the launch of the next application. If you wanted to delete a file you dragged it into the trash. It was available for undelete for a certain amount of time, but then eventually the system deleted the file for real. Its was similar to the trash can in my real life office desk. If I throw something out by accident I can pull it back out for some period of time (unless the cold, half empty coffee cup tips over and spills over it, but lets ignore that issue.) but eventually the cleaning crew comes by and empties the trash and its gone for good.

When Apple introduced MultiFinder's co-operative multitasking to their system, the concept of "at the next application launch" became a little fuzzier, and they fixed ambiguity by removing the auto-emptying feature entirely.

The user used to have to start doing something that the system used to take care of on its own, and that usually isn't the direction things should go. (again in a real life analogy; one time when I was working at a startup, money started to run short. One of the cost saving measures was to fire the cleaning crew. I should have known then that things were heading in the wrong direction.)

Maybe a roughly analogous method for modern systems would be to have the trash emptied at log out, at wake from sleep, and at screen unlock time.

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