Finder's end?

by Giles Turnbull

I've just come back from a special Apple presentation in London, a "sneak preview" of the new features in Tiger.

Apple's Brian Croll had made the trip from the States to make a short presentation to a bunch of typically skeptical British journalists in a plush hotel suite in the centre of Soho, and he did a great job of whizzing rapidly over all the new, exciting stuff.

A lot of which most of the journalists knew about already, of course. We've been following the weblogs and the news coverage and the preview material too, so we've already heard about Dashboard and Spotlight and Automator.

Still, it was fun to see them in action, and to have a chance to (very briefly) grill Brian on some details afterwards.

Brian made a great show of Spotlight, the search tool that lets Tiger users find anything on their computer. He demonstrated how it employs filenames, metadata, and file content to find search results. It's fast and it updates changes to the file system in real time (at least, it does on a PowerMac G5, which was the demo machine being used).

I thought the most interesting quote came in the informal chat session after the presentation. We were all hanging round drinking good quality tea, munching those delicious biscuits you only get in hotel hospitality suites, when I heard Brian talking to another journalist:

"The first thing you start doing is cease using hierarchy as a means of storing stuff. I know this, because I've been using this for a few months and I don't bother to file things anymore. I don't give a rat's ass where my files are, because Spotlight finds everything for me."

That's the crucial, boiled-to-the-bone reality of something like Spotlight. If it really is capable of finding what you need, why bother keeping your stuff in any kind of order?

Another journalist at the same event, an old pal from the 1990s dotcom bubble days, told me how his computer desktop is a complete mess because he saves everything to it, and rarely gets round to sorting it out.

"I might have a folder called 'January-March' and I'll throw everything into it, but it's still a mess," he confessed. Maybe Spotlight could help him, I thought.

As much as Brian seemed like a genuine guy, as a typically skeptical British journalist I can't just take his word for it. Thankfully, I don't have to.

I was having an email conversation with a web developer recently, someone who has been in the fortunate position to play with beta versions of Tiger for some time now. He didn't break his NDA, but he did say this: "All the hype about Spotlight is justified, you know. It really does rock, it's amazing."

So might Tiger help people like my disorganized journalist friend? Might it ultimately spell the end of the Finder?

Just as some people have abandoned any sort of filing system for the email (the 'Gmail mentality', I call it), I think Spotlight (if it's as fabulous as we're being told) will lead to a new trend for single-folder file organisation.

People really will be able to put everything into their ~/Documents folder, without creating hierarchies of sub-folders. Throw it all into the one place, and use Spotlight and the equally entrancing Smart Folders feature to keep everything in order, and find what you need, when you need it.

Finder, RIP?

Which would you rather do? File everything yourself, or just forget about it?


2005-04-26 03:02:12
Terra firma and the detritus of banality
So in the future, no one will ever file anything or throw it away. It will just accumulate, sedimentary layer upon layer, and form the virtual ground upon which we walk. A inexhaustibly thorough representation of every moment of our digital lives, no matter how trvial or banal. We will inadvertantly become our own personal archeologists. Yet another case of the map becoming so detailed that it is the same dimensions as the territory.

I know people who keep messages like this one from 09:12, Tuesday, May 4th 2002: "Sam will be a bit late, due to the trains." It was probably irrelevant to them in 2002. Three years have past, and yet the message stubbornly refuses to acquire any significance. Horror turns to dismay when one discovers the stockpile of spam being kept. And from dismay to resignation, as one realizes that some people never delete any email messages they ever get. The only way messages 'disappear' is through several GBs of compaction errors. I'd leave them to wallow in their own filth, except that people want to back it all up, vital documents and viagara spam alike.

Fortunately, Spotlight sounds like it's really going to improve this situation a lot. (God bless the disk quota.)

2005-04-26 05:28:38
Keep on keeping on
The bit about people who keep trivial email messages from x years ago reminds me of the oft-met dialogue surrounding facial hair on men: someone asks "When did you start growing your beard?", to which the incredulous owner of said hair responds "I haven't started growing a beard; I've just stopped shaving".
2005-04-26 08:08:38
Finder, RIP? Nope.
You will always have situations where you have several documents which have nothing in common except that they belong to the same project.

Now you could go and try to tag each one of them with the project name as keyword so that Spotlight can find them, but woe unto you if you miss one!

No, folder hierarchies are the easier and more manageable solution in such cases.

Not that Spotlight is useless - but it's a complement to the traditional folder approach, not a replacement.

2005-04-26 09:56:46
No way!
I file. Myself.
Why? Quite simple.
Who ultimately reads postings/mails/documents? My Mac? The Finder? Spotlight? No. I DO.
And because I use my stuff I want them to be in an order I understand. The hierarchy I use is created in my head first; it is the way I sort out my documents when I think about them. So to represent that particular order on my harddisk is just the next logical step.
No change.
2005-04-26 19:41:12
Re: Finder's end?
Traditional hierarchical organization can be enhanced by Spotlight's ability to correlate information across hierarchical boundaries. For some people (including Brian Croll? :-)), Spotlight may even supersede hierarchies. Others (including myself) may see their useful and peaceful coexistence. Others may choose to ignore or even deactivate Spotlight. But we're all stuck with those stubborn hierarchies. ;-)

Reasons for using hierarchies as an organizational tool are well known and long established; we've been doing that for decades. But acceleration of search technology has contributed to making limitations of the file/folder metaphor more apparent. And it appears Gmail has been a successful prototype for bringing "folderless" e-mail into the mainstream.

themas: Information organization "created in my head first" often has more web-like than hierarchical relationships.

larsd: Woe unto people who are prone to misname and misplace files in a traditional file/folder hierarchy.

pjmm: Amusing analogy.

boo: Sounds like "The Final Cut"'s eerie scenario of Zoe implants recording our lives.

Not likely Finder's end (yet) but maybe its name is a bit more well-fitting after being Spotlight-enabled?

2005-04-26 21:54:43
Re: Misplaces/Misnamed Files
Yea, at which point Spotlight will come in very handy :-)
2005-04-27 02:02:35
Re: Finder's end?
Not likely Finder's end (yet) but maybe its name is a bit more well-fitting after being Spotlight-enabled?

You've hit the nail on the head, sjk. With Spotlight, the Finder really is much more about finding than it has ever been before...