2012-01-17

File Systems

I, for one, welcome the death of the File System. Or I would, at least, if it ever died. I've been hoping and praying for years, and every time we make a little bit of progress, we step backwards.

Am I crazy? Everyone first year Computer Science major knows that the file system is an important part of the way any computer works. Every program, every assembly, every document, every picture sits out on a file system somewhere. If you're browsing a web server, you're hitting a file system of some sort. If you're using iTunes, file system. Explorer, file system. I must be crazy! Alright, the file system will never die.

But! I don't want to look at the file system. Never. Not once. Not as a computer programmer. Not as a power user. Not as an end user. I've been doing it for 28 years, and I've only ever been frustrated by it! Yeah, I can manage it. Yeah, I can move documents here or there. I can nest files into folders upon folders upon folders. And it's no fun. It never has been. I don't want to manage that. I want my computer to manage that for me.

What's that you say? You say I really am crazy? Do you play the help desk role for your family? Despite my better efforts, I do. Grandma wants to know where her pictures are. Mom wants to know where she put her recipes. Dad wants to know how to find his pr0n. It's the same question, a different day.

I hear the naysayers out there chastising me for my heresy, but hear me out! I spent a lot of good money on this computer, and you're telling me that it can't search the file system on my computer for me? You're telling me that I have to remember a hierarchical structure to find my data? Why don't I get a fancy search box on my desktop that lets me find what sparks my interest?

I know. I know. You say, but both Windows and OS X offer search boxes! I can do just that! Wooptifriggin'do! Let's say I'm a reptile enthusiast, and I want to find an article about bearded dragons. Sure, I can open up Finder, and type in that little text box in the top right "bearded dragons".

And sure enough, after several painful moments of hard drive seeking, I have a handful of documents that have a handful of results that have the keyword "bearded dragons" in it. But where are the emails that I've sent and received from my the "Beardies by Email" group that I'm on. Or the IM conversations I've had about the diets of pet lizards. Or the Tweets from @DragonsInfo, whom I follow on Twitter. Or posts from Bearded Dragons on Facebook.

And that's kind of my point. My hard drive (or SSD) is just one piece of the puzzle. My digital life doesn't exist in a hierarchical file system. And neither does yours. Windows' Explorer and Mac's Finder have essentially remain unchanged since 1995. They were great at the time, but I've grown. The web has grown. Our data has grown. Why am I still browsing files like it's 1995?

Developers: this is a call to action. We can fix this. We can aggregate this data, and we can integrate it into one place. We all live in the cloud to some extent today, and collectively it's our file system. And we can build tools that search smarter than we've ever searched before.

Things like this have been tried before, and I've yet to see a proper, thorough solution. Some of the better contenders? Probably Windows Live Desktop Search and Google Desktop Search. But those were so incomplete. And abandoned. Kind of like the rest of this thought. Zoidberg away.

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