"special" places in Nautilus

When I first saw the new nautilus search from Alexander Larsson I
thought it was excellent. I even posted a comment on his blog
(http://blogs.gnome.org/view/alexl/2005/12/07/0) to show approval and
support. It would seem that many people agree as there is much
encouragement and congratulation in the many comments.

However I was not entirely comfortable with the interface, and I have
now come to think that maybe this is not the right direction to head
for. The burn location worries me similarly (you can skip the CD burner
part if you like). I thought it might be best if I shared my forebodings
to see what people think, so here we go.

We could say that searches and the CD burner are not real “locations”,
as far as Nautilus is concerned. This seems to give rise to certain
problems, as the functionalities related to these objects differ from
those of normal locations in Nautilus.

First off, problems with the CD burner :

      * What use are notes and emblems in the CD Burner ? (they do not
        get written to the disk)
      * You can't move, or cut and paste files to the disk. (if you try,
        it does some weird stuff (= bug?))
      * When you leave the CD burner, it does not ask you if you want to
        save or not. A user could be confused after putting files on a
        disk, quitting the CD burner, and coming back at a later date to
        find files already in the CD burner. (If it did ask you to save
        or discard, that would be weird for a nautilus window.)
      * When you delete a file from nautilus that has been added to the
        CD burner, what should happen ? For the moment it deletes the
        file from the CD burner also (but only after you press the
        “write to CD button” (= bug?), or reload ; and this doesn't
        always work). This can create confusion : the CD burner looks
        just like any nautilus folder, and the files seem to be “in” it.
        I could very well see a user “putting” something into the CD
        burner, then erasing it in nautilus, I mean they had just put it
        in the CD burner after all. As it stands, the user could press
        the burn button, label his CD, empty the trash and not notice
        anything was wrong until trying to read the CD some time later. 
      * The CD burner is not in the tree. When you open the CD burner
        with the tree side pane showing in the browser, the tree still
        shows the last location (not the CD burner). Very confusing.
        Should we put the burner in the tree ? Where should it be put in
        that case ? Should you copy files to the CD recorder drive in
        the computer, as in certain other operating systems ? If so,
        what if there is an audio CD in there, could you still drop
        items to it and expect them to be queued ?
      * When in a sub folder of the CD burner, I think a user could
        confuse the burn directory and real directory. After all they
        have the same name, contents and window ; even the title bar
        shows the name of the folder rather than “CD/DVD creator”. The
        only indication that this is in fat the CD burner is the path. I
        think perhaps casual users generally rely more on the name and
        contents of a folder for identification than on the system path.
      * You can open files from the CD burner, but few applications
        recognize the protocol. For example, when you try to create a
        link to a file in the CD burner by drag and drop (why you would
        want to do that I do not know, but the menu choice is there),
        you get an “unsupported operation” error.
      * When you delete a file from the CD burner, it does not go to
        trash like any other icon you could delete would (the command is
        “move to trash” (= bug?)). Example : the user deletes a file
        from the CD burner. Then realizing that he in fact wanted that
        file on his CD, would he not fire up the trash, only to wonder
        where the file actually went, making him fell a bit lost ? I
        know that my first reaction would be to open the trash, rather
        than navigating to the location where the file I removed from
        the CD burner is.
      * Should hidden files not *always* be shown in the CD burner,
        regardless of the nautilus preference ? 
      * What would running an executable from here do : what would the
        path be ? (I don't think many shells support the burn:///

Problems with search :

      * You cannot paste a file into a search, or rather what logic
        would this serve ? Usually, when you cannot paste or move a file
        in nautilus, it is because the place is read only, or you do not
        have permission, not because it represents something other than
        a location.
      * When you click on search in a browser window, you loose the
        utility of the cookie crumb navigator. (you get lost :-o )
      * When you click search in a spatial window, it actually opens the
        search in another window. Could this window not simply be a
        “search application window” rather than a Nautilus window ?
      * Perhaps a list view would be the preferred default way to view a
        search results (irrelevant of the default nautilus setting), not
        only to view the path (and additional information for
        identifying files) but also to provide quick sorting (sorting is
        kind of like a second search).
      * When you start a search with the tree view in the side pane,
        what should be shown as the current location in the tree view ?
      * Subfolders in a saved search appear “inside” the saved search,
        however when you open a subfolder you get sent to the actual
        path of the folder. It would therefore seem that presenting
        search results like a folder could be the wrong metaphor.
      * A user may want to add an emblem to a file in a saved search,
        but not to the actual file, or the other way around...
      * When you change search parameters of a saved search, does it
        automatically save them, or ask for confirmation ? Both ways I
        can see this as problematic, as you generally do not save things
        in Nautilus.
      * A saved search shows subfolders “inside” the search (in exactly
        the same way as files are “inside” folders), however when you
        click on these subfolders you are actually redirected to the
        real folder. Say I searched for files modified today ; as a
        user, considering a “virtual folder” type metaphor, I would
        assume to find only files modified today in the saved search
      * Seeing as files appear to be “inside” a saved search, could the
        user not think the files have been copied there ?

Actions applied to the contents of these special places differ
substantially from those applied to other objects in nautilus, such as
folders or network places, thus problems arise from trying to imitate
normal Nautilus behavior. So many inconsistencies make me wonder if it
is wise to integrate such functions as search or a CD burner into the
file manager. The new search seems very impressive, but what are the
real advantages of having this in Nautilus rather than separate ? To me
it would seem much clearer if the CD burner was completely separate from
the file manager, and if search was performed in a separate window.

The need for “not normal” folders, that gave rise to the “blue
background” for me goes to show that this just should not be here. If
the we must differentiate “special” nautilus browser windows, why not
just put them in another window, or a separate application ? One
consensus could be that a particular application window serves a
particular purpose ; Nautilus is a navigator, not a burner or a search
tool etc. You wouldn't add a CD burner to evolution, even though it can
save files, Nautilus would be adapted for browsing CVS or SVN though (as
it is for FTP...).

Search as it is works without confusing anybody, although it lacks some
much needed functionality. I think one of the main things currently
missing (pre 2.13) is a button in nautilus that opens the search dialog
ready to search in the current path, and saved searches ; plus of course
backends, beagle... The main thing I am getting at here is that I do not
think integrating search into Nautilus (represented similar to folders)
is at all a step in the right direction, I think it will do more to
confuse users than it does benefit them with the new functionality. I
think the exact same functionality can be provided without integrating
search into the file manager part of Nautilus, with an interface similar
to the current implementation, added search buttons, a few modifications
and addition of new capabilities.

I do hope I don't seem too harsh, the new search is very impressive, and
contains many very neat ideas, so much so that I feel rather bad about
criticizing it. I was rather hesitant about posting this, as I don't
want to seem to be bashing other peoples hard work, but I am rather
worried that we may be trading simplicity for snazziness here. It would
seem to me that most people accept the new implementation as an
improvement, but please give it a little thought.

I hope these comments will be found useful by some, hopefully for ideas
to help make the GNOME interface both more simple and more functional.

Love, Karderio

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