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On the future of computers

Applications are useless.

Most of applications on my computer are never opened by hand. The only ones I open are the specialized browsers (Firefox, Banshee music player, F-Stop photo organizer, Gaim) and the utilities (Terminal, Calculator, Control Center and its applets).

The rest of the programs on my computer—the document editors like OpenOffice and Gedit and The Gimp—I open by double-clicking on a file. (Well, if I have to make a new one I may open the application, but only because Gnome's "new document" menu isn't comprehensive.)

So why don't we have a Universal Browser? There's always Back, Forward, Refresh, Stop, and an address bar in a toolbar at the top of the screen. When you double-click a file, the current window transforms into an editor for the file. Saving is done automatically. There's no Open, Save As, or New—they're done at the folder level. The only items that remain from a typical File menu would be "Print" and "Close" (and maybe they can be put somewhere else). When you're done with the file, click Back and you're returned to the folder it's in. To create a new file, double-click a "New..." item (probably the first in any file listing), select the type from a list, name it, and off you go.

Offline games? Double-click your savegame to start it up. Online ones? Your account file or character file. Web browser? Your bookmarks or your home page. E-mail and IM? Your account file.

As for the specialized browsers: why doesn't my music player pop up whenever I open the Music folder? Or my photo manager when I open Photos?

Except for utilities (and there's no way around them), the concept of "what program am I using?" is pointless to most uses of a computer. Why do we still expose this?

Personally, I think it's because it makes software companies invisible. Of course, Open Source doesn't care about that.


( Read 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 27th, 2006 09:15 pm (UTC)
Mm, no. Not necessarily saving automatically and all that. Especially with writing and large image files, I often take advantage of the fact that I can easily undo a lot of stuff at once by reverting to the saved file. Similarly I frequently use "save as" when I want to export another version of the file without affecting the original. (especially in CGing, when I decide to save a preview file just to see/show how it looks so far, but don't want to save those alterations to the original)

There'd be some advantages to integrating alot of stuff like that, but sometimes it's impractical to lump everything together, and a certain amount of simply having things run seperately is necessary. Maybe not for someone who focuses mostly on just one thing and occasionally dabbles with others it'd work, but not someone who does a LOT of different stuff on a regular basis.
Oct. 27th, 2006 10:38 pm (UTC)
Similarly I frequently use "save as" when I want to export another version of the file without affecting the original.That sounds more like "Save a Copy" than "Save As", actually...

The behavior of "Save As" itself can be performed by going to the folder and making a copy of the file.

Saving is a historical artifact from the time when computers couldn't write to the disk and accept input at the same time (at least without taking a substantial speed hit and practically writing an operating system in every application program). It's convenient for some workflows, but I really think it causes more problems than it solves—mainly in the form of data loss.

As for the "big undo" use: perhaps editors that frequently need that sort of thing (like image editors) can implement some sort of "checkpoint" feature. Maybe that can even be built into a versioning filesystem so that everybody can do it.

(By the way, a versioning filesystem, where the filesystem itself keeps track of old versions of files, combined with save-instantly would give you persistent undo—you could undo something you did two years ago with an older version of the program. I would so totally love that feature.)
Oct. 27th, 2006 10:49 pm (UTC)
Except that going and making a copy of the file while I'm working on it is not anywhere near as easy or convenient as simply hitting Ctrl+Shift+S and typing in a new filename right there and hitting Enter. And I happen to do a LOT of stuff that I frequently want to save multiple versions or go back and do things. Writing, for one, and CGing for a really major one. It's extremely convenient to be able to save the massive finished file in the editable format, then without doing anything else do the resizing to make the version I'm putting online and doing a Save As right from there. Saves a whole lot of hassle, only have to use the one file for both, don't have to bother making a copy of the file, etc.

You're really seeing things from a particular point of view of computer use, I think, when there *is* more to take into account. The same systems won't work for everything, depending on your focus areas different things will be more or less convenient. In what I do, that Save As function and being able to revert to saved is a wonderful time and thought-saver.
Oct. 27th, 2006 11:21 pm (UTC)
I think I should point out that automatic saving does exist in some programs. The typical method, as I understand it, means that while you work from a static save file, the program automatically saves your changes under a generated, usually temporary filename. This grants the protection against data loss that is so important without sacrificing the ability to scrap all changes and start over from the last save.

As for Save As, I think that a certain amount of redundancy is a good thing. There are times when I find it useful to copy a file from the browser, and there are times when I'm working on something and it's simply more convenient to use Save As from the window in which I'm currently working.
Oct. 28th, 2006 05:01 am (UTC)
I never use Save As in an actual workflow, only when what I really want to do is export the current file to a different format. Like, for example, instead of Saving a video project, I want to Print To Tape or XViD or something. For me, the Save As usecase is no different than the Print one.

Maybe a "Duplicate" or "Fork" option would be useful. Depends how the underlying version-tracking FS handled things.
Oct. 28th, 2006 05:54 am (UTC)
I use it a lot. Either exporting previews or samples of CGs I'm working on, or in some cases wanting to try going in two different directions for one image that I can't just do with one file, etc. It's also very useful for exporting final versions of projects while keeping the in-progress file, just in case I need to go back and fix something I overlooked.
Oct. 29th, 2006 10:05 pm (UTC)
I think this may be similar to what your talking about. In Maya there is the save button, and under its options, it has incremental save. it can keep an unlimited amount of increments or a preselected number - like 20. (wherein the oldest gets deleted after it's reached it's limit and keeps numbering - delete #1 make #21). It also makes these files write protected so the program or you can't break them very easy.

So it never saves over the previous file and I don't have to think about it, unless the current one vanishes, or corrupts, or maya eats it. And then I can also work back through my saves till I find the one where started working in a certain direction.
Oct. 28th, 2006 07:27 am (UTC)
Since I'm typing this from a cellphone, this comment will be a little pithy. Sorry.

I think your idea is nifty, but it seems like a one-stop program would be open to all kinds of needless security exploits.
May. 9th, 2007 04:53 pm (UTC)
my quiz for all
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( Read 9 comments — Leave a comment )