Re: Some thoughts on hiding the file system, (and an OS X anecdote)

On Mon, 13 Dec 2004 07:07:50 -0500, Carl Worth <cworth redhat com> wrote:
> On Sun, 12 Dec 2004 12:01:21 -0500, Havoc Pennington wrote:
> > > The Unix file system isn't a design implementation that shouldn't be
> > > exposed, its an inherent and deeply ingrained design choice that cannot
> > > entirely be eliminated from the UI without a massive amount of pain.
> > > Even MacOS exposes some of the nature of the file system.
> >
> > But OS X also does exactly what I am advocating ;-)
> And I think the hiding in OS X already causes confusion, and as such is
> not an ideal model for emulation.
> Here's an actual experience that occurred last night. My wife
> (non-"technical" user of OS X), was burning a CD of photos for my
> sister. I had some of the photos she wanted on my (Linux) laptop so I
> (being the nefarious shell-user of this thread) did the following:
>         rsync -avz photos herlaptop:/tmp

I would hesitate to call this a typical or desired way to share files.
If you wish, you can share stuff through /usr/bin too, but I suppose
you'd have little or no help from GNOME to do it...
> There were multiple causes of the confusion, but the common thread was
> an attempt to hide the file system from the user interface. And not all
> of these problems are unique to a "shell-user" being involved.

But most are?

> 2) The abstraction of "/" hides most of the entries there. Only 13/32 on
>    my wife's computer appear. I don't know what mechanism is used to
>    determine which entries to display, but all of traditional unix
>    entries, (bin, etc, tmp, usr, var) are hidden.

You mean "traditional unix SYSTEM entries". Anything outside /home is
to my knowing not intended for users. Or why use /home at all if this
is not the case?
> 3) My wife also had a "tmp" directory in her home directory which she
>    did find. The presence and name of this directory was almost
>    certainly my doing. But the confusion came not from the name "tmp",
>    but from two directories in the file system with a common name
>    component.

I think this is something that has been discussed before, and some
good options came up. And there's always the bottom-left corner of the
window (perhaps there's a good reason to show the object name
(duplicate, btw) there instead of showing the parent?)
> 4) There is a way to view "/tmp" in the file browser, but no
>    direct-manipulation mechanism that I could find. I had to use the
>    menu to select "Go->Go to Folder" and then use the file system name
>    "/tmp".

Funny, I'd say this was a great feature! :)

>    [Gnome does not have this problem due to the lack of hiding mentioned
>    in 2. But nautilus does provide a similar filesystem-based interface
>    through "File->Open Location".]

...and should be in GNOME, too.
> 5) Finally, in the user interface, there is no way to distinguish a view
>    of "/tmp" from "~/tmp" except by their contents, (ie. one had the
>    photos of interest and one was empty). The titlebars of both folder
>    views have a folder icon followed by the name "tmp".
>    [Gnome behaves similarly in this regard.]

This is issue 3.
> 6) This ambiguous naming appears in other parts of the interface. The
>    "Recent Folders" list now shows two indistinguishable names "tmp".
>    [Gnome doesn't put viewed folders into "Recent Documents" but does
>    have the same problem displaying "foo.txt" twice after opening
>    /tmp/foo.txt and ~/tmp/foo.txt]
> What lessons can be drawn here? The problem in [4] stems from actively
> hiding aspects of the filesystem, (such as "/" for root and separator)
> while at the same time providing no alternative mechanism for some
> operations. That's clearly bad design.

It's bad desing to hide things not meant for users to manipulate? No,
I don't think so.
> >From the above, the only problem in Gnome is the ambiguous display in
> [5] and [6]. I don't know if Gnome has an active goal to hide as much as
> possible about the filesystem, (ie. "/ shall not appear in the
> interface"). If so, I would contend it would be misguided.

Or a Champion of Usability, depends on what angle you look at it.
> I think it is appropriate to default to "trailing component only" when
> displaying something like a folder view, but I think the full path
> should be made available

It is, in the bottom-left corner demanding only one click. If the
previously discussed emblem stuff would magically be implemented, it
could be obvious from the looks of the window.

Kalle Vahlman, zuh iki fi

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