Defiled in Cupertino

No, this isn’t the title of some steamy romance novel set in silicon valley.

What I am talking about is the notion of literally De-Filing the Mac operating system. Doing away with the File System, the familiar folders and sub folders and Finder that are the users window into the Hierarchical File System that Apple developed and introduced with the Mac.

Take this quote from Steve Jobs at the Apple Word Wide Developers Conference June 6, 2011.

“A lot of us have been working for ten years to get rid of the file system. So the user didn’t have to worry about it. When you try to teach, … teach somebody how to use a Mac, the easiest of all computers to use, everything is going along fine until you hit the file system and then the difficulty is staggering for most people.”

The solution to which Apple is apparently headed is Documents in the Cloud, specifically Apple’s new iCloud which will be rolled out this fall, combined with file handling the way the mobile device iOS does it.

… everything in the cloud downloads and appears on the device. Even remembers position in document. No effort required to get the files. You’re in and out of documents in a flash.”

“On iOS, you don’t have to think about it. It solves how you move documents between devices. Apps can store documents in the iCloud and get them pushed to all devices, update on all when changed on any.”

A brief aside: As a frustrated MobileMe user, I liked this candid little admission from Steve Jobs while he is extolling the features of iCloud: “It just works! (long pause) Now, you might ask, ‘Why should I believe them? They’re the ones that brought me MobileMe.’ (laughter).”

This revolution is already well underway. Look at the iOS operating system that powers the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Files and documents are stored in the applications themselves. There are a a lot of things I like about the cloud concept, especially how it solves those annoying and time consuming syncing problems, but, I’ve been down this “store the documents in the application” path far enough with my iPad to know it just doesn’t work well for me on something which I want to use or need to use as my main or only device. Moreover, the file system isn’t really gone, it has been defiled (pun intended). You’ve just dumped all the documents for each application into a single “folder”, the application itself.

Here is the big problem I see if the hierarchical file system goes away and documents are stored by application á la iOS. What will replace the really valuable ability to collect together all documents relating to the same subject from whatever source or application, for use for a particular project or problem? Here is a real-world example:

In the Irrigation system folder are documents created by Text Edit, Pages, Numbers, even old Appleworks, and .pdf, .jpg and .webarchive documents. They are all related to one another, and all necessary for the continuing maintenance and operation of the irrigation system for our yard and garden. Same thing with folders of files related to our automobiles, finances, taxes, home maintenance and on and on.

So if related files are no longer kept together, but accessible only through their applications how do you find the related ones? Search? Well those of you who use this function often are probably either crying or laughing right now. First of all you have to remember the appropriate text to search for, and a single search invariably will miss many related items and find many unrelated ones, so you usually have to modify your search and re-run it. And searching for a specific image file? Good luck, unless you are a bona-fide obsessive compulsive and have named and commented and keyworded all your pictures in great detail.

When you do finally find all the pertinent files from various apps where do you collect and store them for the duration of the project or problem you need them for? Maybe you could use tags and subtags for each file plus a search function. Oh wait.  Then you would have to remember what the tags were, or refer to a list of them to search for the appropriate ones.

OK, I’ve got it! How about a system of folders and subfolders? They could have fairly descriptive names, and it would be relatively easy to see or remember where they are. Even if you didn’t know, you could do a search for the folder and find all the related files all at once. You could even find the folder by searching for anything you remember that’s in it. And they’ll be there the next time you want them and you won’t have to gather them all together again. Sound vaguely familiar? Maybe I should remind Apple of what they may be losing. They probably won’t listen to me though. They seem to have their head in the Clouds.