JCL Blog

File System Up for Grabs

After years of ever increasing complexity, sometimes even brought to us disguised as simplicity, some personal computers may actually be getting easier to use.  I am not talking about the Mac. I have tried to find ease of use in Macs over the years and just don’t see it.  Steve Jobs finds it easier – but long time Mac users are so deep in their own perspective they cannot see simplicity any more.

I am however, talking about the iPad and phones.  This could also go for anything running Andriod, but I don’t have first-hand experience with that yet.

The iPad is very easy to use.  You can just hand it to someone and they figure it out.  Ease of use is almost always accomplished through a reduction in functionality.  This is true with the iPad in several areas and most notably the lack of access to a file system.  We know there is a methodology of storing files on the machine, but the user never sees it.  I suspect this trend will continue because the file system is a very complicated thing and the source of endless user frustration.  I never have gotten used to the different views of the file system through Finder on Macs.  Thank goodness the search works well. 

Keeping files all in one place on a Windows machine is no easier and the lack of search that actually works amplifies the problem.   This is where the fan boys from either side blast me with evidence that the Mac presents the file tree well and that Windows 7 has great file search.  I don’t buy either argument.  If I can’t make the search work on Windows 7 – there is certainly going to be a very large population of people with the same experience (everyone less willing or able than me to monkey with the thing and make it work).  And whoever invented the virtual folders should just be shot.  I want my files to be in real folders.

The Microsoft site says this about search on Windows 7: Start typing into the Start menu search box, and you'll instantly see a list of relevant documents, pictures, music, and e-mail on your PC.

Sounds great, but this has not been my experience.  For me it takes forever and  usually returns with nothing.  Yes my indexing is on, and I have even reinstalled Windows Search per instructions from MS.  

Here is what I get when I search for excel files on my fully indexed B drive:

OK.  So neither Apple or Microsoft has a good way to manage files, and Apple has addressed the problem in the iPhone OS by hiding the files all together.  The need for file management is not going away.  Ever since the first written business record was generated – a method to store and recover files has been a central part of administrating a business.  No one in business is going to accept a system where all of the files are just thrown behind a curtain and magically retrieved just when needed.

With Apple going the other direction, Microsoft has an opportunity to capitalize.  Here are the main elements I would like to see:

  1. Search that works.  I have been using X1 on my Windows 7 machine and it is incredible.  Fast and I am confident it is searching everything. Maybe Microsoft should buy these guys.
  2. Don’t bury files all over.  I want all of my files close to the surface and segregated from program files.  I want to be able to back up just my files.
  3. Don’t hide or translate names.  Get rid of virtual folders that include other folders but don’t really exist.  This is more than my small brain can handle.  Don’t hide part of the file name (like the extension), don’t have hidden files, if access to files or folders is restricted, grey it out or something.  Not showing it just causes me to keep looking and looking.
  4. Don’t mix metaphors:  Why do mapped network drives show up under “Computer” and not “Network”? 
  5. A new name.  Every time I try to explain Windows Explorer to my wife she only hears Explorer and thinks I am talking about IE.  I can just hear the internal debate about someday merging Windows Explorer with the browser – if only the EU would not block them…bla, bla, bla… a good way to view the file system should be separate from the browser.

Somebody is going to figure this out and it will be one of those revolutionary things that no one notices at first, but builds a technology foundation for long term customer satisfaction and retention.