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Tenor, The Context Link Engine - page 2

Traditional File Managers--Good, Not-So-Good, and Best-of-Breed

  • April 13, 2005
  • By Kurt Pfeifle

But while Konqueror fulfills my requirements as a traditional file manager today, does the very concept of a "file manager" make it easy to keep track a millions files? Will it still be appropriate once I have 100 million files on my hard drives? Maybe I should learn the word "delete" before this limit is hit, but don't tell me it will never happen: remember how in the '50s IBM estimated the "world market for computers" to be "no more than 5"?

The number of files we keep has been growing at a furious pace and there is no sign this is going to stop.

Today Konqueror still works on the hierarchical structure our file systems represent. If you have ever had to teach someone new to computers, you've probably had to explain to them the concepts of directories, subdirectories, files, paths--all deeply nested on the disk, right? And then you would move on to the notions of drive letters and personal directories. It's not the easiest set of concepts to grasp for a computer newbie. If you've ever done it, you probably know what I am talking about.

That hierarchical, file system-derived concept is not very natural to human brains when they are desparately searching for a certain piece of information. Our "thinking" ticks differently than a computer's logic. Even after so many years of using computers, I'm still not perfectly trained in remembering exactly where I saved which document, under what name. Where is the OOo file containing the consulting quotation I sent last year to that potential customer in Hamburg? My mind doesn't think in straight logical hierarchical paths. It instead goes: "Wait... The IT manager said he preferred a PDF, but their financial department (who had to approve it) wanted a *.doc file, or a print out on paper. It was just before Christmas, wasn't it? Oh right, I sent a PDF by e-Mail (to speed things up), but kept the .doc as a future template for similar quotations..."

Hierarchical file systems with hierarchically organized user interfaces do not supply any intuitive and contextual search paradigm. Future deskops need to become much more easy ("intuitive") to work with, including the interfaces they offer to users for finding a certain piece of information or a file.

Human minds work with "contexts." A pure file manager navigating the file system, based on the harddisk hierarchy of directories does work okay--if the number of files are not too many and if we can remember where we put things in that hierarchy. As I recall, the first MS-DOS versions typically did not even have 1,000 files installed. Later that number grew to 10.000 files, at most. It was during this era that the concept of the classical file manager was born. For this number of files, it even worked well! Organized into a hierachical structure, files could be found again using that same structure.

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