L.M. Orchard commits filesystem sacrilege

Here's Leslie Michael Orchard's heretical idea:

I'll be burned at the next stake over from Charles when the time comes, for this filesystem heresy. Just the other night, a co-worker was asking me about how diligent I was in organizing my email. I told her, "Not at all. I leave it all in one pile and then run the Find command on it later." She was shocked that I, alpha geek and info freako, didn't have some intricate taxonomy of folders into which mail was sorted by carefully crafted filters...

Here's what I want to see: Storage without explicit organization, but with super-rich metadata for super-fast searches. Allow me to create views made from persistent searches - my "project folder" is simply a collection of resources tied together by a common tag, one of many. And, if I want to form a project hierarchy, make my persistent searches into file objects too. The main thing in all this, though, is that it be woven very deeply within the OS. I don't want a helper app. I want this to replace the standard metaphor completely. [ 0xDECAFBAD]
Reserve me a stake next to Leslie's. Meanwhile, of course, helper apps are what we have. Here are two that Leslie relies on:

My most used OS X apps are:
Both of these give me lightning fast access with keyboard-shortcut finger twitches to what's on my mind and what I want to do. I want to find more things like this. [ 0xDECAFBAD]

I'm trying LaunchBar now. It's interestingly like and unlike ActiveWords. Like ActiveWords, LaunchBar helps you create a private namespace of typeable abbreviations that shortcut your access to apps, files, and people (i.e., email addresses). Unlike AW, which is delightfully context-free, sniffing the keyboard buffer so it can activate on keystrokes no matter where you type them, LaunchBar needs to be explicitly invoked first -- by default, with command-space.

Making my Outlook addresses available to LaunchBar was a two-step procedure. First, I had to get them from .PST to LDIF so the Mac's Address Book could import them. (I used Mozilla to import .PST and export LDIF.) Then, because LaunchBar doesn't yet read Address Book directly (though it soon will, says the Help file), I had to Select All in Address Book, export to vCard, and tell LaunchBar to scan the vCard file.

Someday, we can hope, these import/export gymnastics will become less strenuous. At that point, the real problem comes clearly into view. Consider: I activate LaunchBar (command-space), then type "Tom" to launch email with Tom Yager's email address. LaunchBar very thoughtfully learns which of Tom's addresses I prefer. A harder problem: how do I wish to communicate with Tom? iChat or email? And if email, is it Mail, or Mozilla, or pine? Set that complication aside and assume I'll choose the default, Mail. Now I'm in a composer window with a message addressed to Tom, and I want to add Steve Gillmor. Mail has completion, but it works differently from completion in emacs, and the shell, and LaunchBar, and so on.

I really like LaunchBar, and will probably integrate it into my Mac OS X routine. Especially handy is the mini-filesystem browser. At the moment, command-space-bl brings up the folder /Users/jon/blogs, and from there, left-arrow and right-arrow navigate up and down the filesystem. No completion in that context, though. The dired mode of emacs does that for me, so I'm using .txt files as a bridge between modes. Since emacs is my system-default text editor, LaunchBar gets me to a directory, then a .txt file in that directory (if there is one) gets me to emacs, and then emacs gives me completion-enabled filesystem navigation. It's all extremely Rube Goldberg, of course. Suppose there are no .txt files, only .html files? Half the time I want to view the file in a browser, so the default association is fine. Half the time I want to edit the file in emacs, in which case the default is wrong. LaunchBar's Command-R gets me the list of running apps, but doesn't (so far as I can see) remember the previously-chosen .html file so I can feed it to emacs rather than Safari.

Adding more Ptolomeic circles like that won't really help. Leslie's right: helper apps aren't the answer. The OS needs to be deeply aware of various namespaces -- the Mac's systemwide Address Book is a great step in that direction -- and then surface them into a common completion UI.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2003/01/20.html#a578