[Usability] MIME system interface redesign


There is a current proposal for a redesign of the GNOME MIME system:

As this hasn't really been discussed on d-d-l or here, I wanted to raise
an issue I have with the 'common user operations' identified in this
document. Essentially, as far as the listed operations go, it's all
good. However, semantically the defined interfaces only allow for 'open
this type of file with this application' and not 'use this application
for [these types of files|all types of files that it can handle]'. In
other words, if I want to get the MIME system to 'open all of my image
files with gthumb' for example, I'm out of luck.

I believe the most likely reason for this omission is the reasoning
(given in an email from Seth a *long* time ago which seems to be the
basis for this proposal [0]) that users will essentially always have the
file whose MIME-type they wish to change in front of them. Put in a
slightly different way - users don't care about file-types that they
don't have. I would like to argue that this is only true with respect to
*fundamentally different* file types. Given that the difference between
many file types is, from a user's point of view, purely an
implementation issue, it seems poor to have the MIME system expose this
implementation detail to users. Generally, file-types affected by this
interface issue are those subject to the most fragmentation: images,
music, video, text, word processing, spreadsheet, etc. In other words,
all of the files most used by your average home user.

<personal issues>
Every month or so, I try to open an image file, word processing document
or specific type of plain text file (i.e., NEWS, AUTHORS, etc.) only to
discover that while I've specified that, for example, all the image
files that I commonly use are to be opened in gthumb, the .bmp that I
just received wasn't on that list and opens up in eog, or worse, a
nautilus view.
</personal issues>

Essentially, what I'm asking for is some consideration of a standard
interface for choosing which file-types - out of the ones that *can* be
opened with application X - should *be* opened with application X.

While I haven't done any kind of serious prior-art survey, previous
solutions that spring to mind are first-run wizards on Windows, and
file-type associations preferences tabs in various applications[1].
Obviously, neither of these are particularly desirable solutions.

...crack follows:
One approach would be to add a nautilus property page for program
associations, similar to the one proposed for files[2]. Of course, for
this to be effective, there would need to be a strong emphasis on
programs-as-objects, which isn't really present, except in
applications://, which is probably going away. Having said that, the
current work on editing .desktop files with nautilus could be used as a
base for something like this.

...that was significantly longer than I intended it to be. *shrug*

[0] http://mail.gnome.org/archives/usability/2001-October/msg00084.html
[2] http://www.gnome.org/~jrb/files/mime/file-properties.png

Kai Willadsen <kaiw itee uq edu au>

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