Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 25th Jul 2012 22:18 UTC
OSNews, Generic OSes The article I'm about to link to, by Oliver Reichenstein, is pretty terrible, but it's a good way for me to bring up something I've been meaning to talk about. First, the article: "Apple has been working on its file system and with iOS it had almost killed the concept of folders - before reintroducing them with a peculiar restriction: only one level! With Mountain Lion it brings its one folder level logic to OSX. What could be the reason for such a restrictive measure?" So, where does this crusade against directory structures (not file systems, as the article aggravatingly keeps stating) come from?
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The problem is not that users use directories to organize files. The problem is that users organize files. It is totally pointless... It serves absolutely no real purpose. It is a distraction. It is stupid. It is nonsensical.

The phrase you want is "make-work". Like recompiling a kernel to add a new driver; itself an exercise that has only recently fallen out of the category of "positive ways to spend one's life" (and even so this probably only applies to the mainstream distros).

A simpler way to put your argument might be: "I am not my computer's secretary".

The problem is, the typical computer nerd/geek is a pathological hoarder: always happy to absorb shiny new toys, but never, ever throws away what they already own, no matter how clapped out or broken down it might be.

I suspect a lot of folks here, while enthusiastic about computers, just don't know much history beyond their own direct experience, so don't appreciate just why the proto-greybeards invented the terms 'primary storage' and 'secondary storage' in the first place. Disk drives - and, by extension, files and folders and whatever other related abstractions you care to mention - are just a workaround for the historical limitations of primary (currently RAM) storage: i.e. severely restricted capacity and limited persistence. As a workaround, those early 'users' invented mechanisms for serialising live program data so it could stored away in a more capacious and durable (but too slow for live use) system, and transferred back to main memory the next time it was needed. I daresay if those old valve-based guys had invented high-speed, high-capacity holographic memory instead, such a split would never have occurred. All data would spend its entire lifetime as live objects within permanently running processes, with any cross-process data exchange conducted via IPC, and we wouldn't even be having this argument today.

Folks are now so used to the myriad kludges and abstractions layered on over 60-odd years of ad-hoc evolution, they just assume it's how things ought to be and never think to doubt or challenge those assumptions. Don't get me wrong: organising data hierarchically is a mighty fine tool for certain types of problems (e.g. it makes a lot of sense for stuff like OS and application files), but for user data it is an absolute tyranny.

Straight off the top of my head: consider backups. Backups are an evil, brain-damaged solution to a very real problem: how to ensure the safety of the user's data? There was a time, way back when, that the traditional 'copy to external media/server/whatever' strategy was unavoidable: the technology of the time was too limited to permit anything better. Yet the problem still exists today, at least a decade after that is no longer a hard limitation. Recast the problem in modern terms that better reflect users' actual needs and expectations - redundancy, replication, historical timeline, easy access from more than one hardware device - and you start to see what the real problem is: data being bound to a single point in space and time. And the only way to break that bind is by decoupling the user from the physical storage process and location.

Suddenly, all sorts of ghastly convoluted crap collapses into a far simpler and elegant conceptual model. Not that there aren't all sorts of practical problems still to be solved, but at least now you know where you want to be in the near future, not merely fighting to stay where you were 20 years ago.

(Incidentally, once user data storage and presentation is fully decoupled, you can provide any view onto that data you like, even old-skool hierarchical if that's what tickles your fancy. Ah, the joys of good abstraction. And anyone here who isn't aware that a file system is itself a thick abstraction over a bunch of other thick abstractions - half of which don't even have anything to do with actual files if you're on the likes of Unix or Plan9 - needs a healthy clout from the LART stick; and I do mean that.)

Good luck with effecting any sort of change though. There are all too many folks who'll fight to the death to maintain a nasty, ugly, crippled status-quo where they are the undisputed kings than sweep it away to stand shoulder-to-shoulder all the little folk in a brave new world. OSS/*nix folks should be taking the lead in shaping the future to everyone's best interests. Instead they bicker and whine and refuse to let go of what they already know and step into the unknown, allowing the big self-serving vendors like Apple and MS all the time they need to shape it primarily to suit themselves.

It's a bit frustrating.

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