In the wake of Apple’s keynote address at WWDC, at least three interesting articles have appeared that discuss the changing paradigm of file management in Lion and iOS 5.
The first is from Patrick Rhone over at Minimal Mac. He writes:
The idea is this: Your data is the computer.
This is the new world that Apple is creating. Where your data resides, the device you use to access it, how it is saved, where it is saved, how to manipulate it, how to back it up, how to recover if you make changes to it that you did not intend, all will be things you don’t have to think about.
Your data will be available to you on any device you own. It will be left exactly as you last left it. You can open it in any application that it is able to open it. Should your computer crash, do not fear, your data is safe. And when you get a new machine, simply log into it and all of your data will be there in short order. Buy a new Mac, a new iPhone, and new iPad, simply log in and the data will be there too.
That’s the first big step. Right now, moving data back and forth between my MacBook and my iPad is not easy. Using services like Dropbox and apps like GoodReader make it easier but far from seamless. And it definitely does not do what Ben Brooks describes in the second interesting article I want to discuss:
I don’t know of a single other way to take a document I am working on with my iPad and jump to my Mac having the document up-to-date and the cursor in the same position without pressing an extra button — to me, that is magic. It’s magic because logically that is how everything should have always worked, but in reality it is how nothing works.
That is “magic”, and it’s exactly what has been missing. More importantly, what Apple is creating is what leads to the third interesting article about the shifting paradigm of file management.
This one comes from Federico Viticci over at MacStories. It’s not an easy article from which to quote because it recaps a conversation he had with his wife. I’m going to quote something that sums it up, but only barely. So read the quote below, but then go read the entire article. It’s not long.
Here’s the quote:
I’m not saying iCloud is the operating system (we know it’s not, right?), but it will look like one for many users. And this is because many, many people don’t know what operating system even means. To people like Francesca, the operating system is a bunch of PDFs, folders and songs. Plus the Internet (the web browser). You can call her a “n00b” and whatever you want, but do you see where this is going? If most people are “ignorant” in regards to computing and don’t know the difference between an underlying OS and the user’s files on top of it, don’t you see how Apple’s strategy will work for all of them? Apple is saying they’ll store all the content (documents, music, contacts, calendars, mail) for free, across devices, automatically. Steve Jobs is saying people shouldn’t worry about the filesystem. When you put things in perspective, it’s easy to understand why Francesca got the hang of iCloud as an “operating system”.
OK. Now, go read the article…
Did you read it? Good. So you see the point he is making? It’s not that iCloud is the operating system so much as it makes the operating system less important. Of course, it is the operating system — specifically an Apple operating system — that enables iCloud to make the operating system less important. (Before we get caught in a loop, let’s jump off and move on.)
What Apple is wanting users to do is what many of us already do: Approach documents from an app paradigm and not a file storage system paradigm. Associate documents as living in the app regardless of where they are stored, not living in a specific folder and manipulated with an app.
Like I said, many of us already do that. We open Pages and go to File > Recent Documents > DocumentIHadOpenThisMorning.Pages. Or, if you are like me, you invoke LaunchBar, hit “P” for Pages, then hit the right arrow to bring up a list of recent documents and choose what you need from there.
Essentially what Apple is doing is taking the way “power users” approach file management and making it the new paradigm. You don’t have to worry about “where” the document is so much as what kind of document it is.
The next question then becomes how you store your documents. Clearly Apple would love to see the file system as we know it today — folders inside of folders inside of folders — to go the way of Mac OS 9. What they are doing with Lion is just the first step.
In some ways, my filing system is probably more in line with where Apple is headed than many. I treat my folders as simply an archival system. For instance, for every client I have one folder. I handle those folders in one of two ways:
- Every document associated with that client lives there.
- If I have multiple projects for a client, I may have separate folders for each project, inside of which every file for that particular project exists.
My filing system never goes deeper than two layers. (The only exception is when I’m sharing a folder via Dropbox with other people who are accustomed to more structured filing systems. But again, this doesn’t bother me because I don’t use Finder to get to my files. I use LaunchBar and the recent document command for a specific app.)
The way I keep everything organized is through detailed file names. Each one starts with the name of the client, the type/department/tag of the file and then a descriptive name. (i.e. Client – Admin – Contractual Agreement with Vendor A.pdf)
Credit where credit is due… I stole this approach from Merlin Mann after listening to his first workflows interview at Mac Power Users. This is similar to his approach for filing text files, and that’s how it started for me. Using Notational Velocity and TextMate, all of my text files live in one folder regardless of the client for whom they are written.
From there, I revamped my folder system as simply an archival repository for other types of files. Since I export most of my files into pdf format for sharing, it doesn’t matter what kind of file they originate as. I can write a memo with Markdown in Textmate, create a spreadsheet in Numbers or write a speech in Scrivener. When I’m ready to share it, I create a pdf on my desktop, email it and then delete the pdf from my desktop. The original file is stored in an archival folder but is accessed using LaunchBar and the recent documents command.
With Lion, it sounds as if this will be more the norm. You access your files from apps, not from folders. You can “file” or “archive” those documents wherever you choose, but the app is the interface, not a Finder window. And whether you are accessing them from your Mac or your iPad or your iPhone, it matters not. You access the same document not from a file system but from an app.
If iCloud works as advertised, Apple will take a huge step in changing the paradigm of file management. Just as they created the “desktop” metaphor with the Mac, they have already started to change it with iOS.