Towards Semantic File System Interfaces

I missed this when it was first published in October 08, but Mark Shuttleworth has an interesting blog post mentioning Linux "real life support problems":

We had superb presentations of "real life support problems" from a large-scale user of desktop Linux, and a persistent theme was "where the hell did that file just go?" People save an attachment they receive in email, and an hour later have no idea where to find it. They import a picture into F-spot and then have no idea how to attach it to an email. They download a PDF from the web, then want to read it offline and can't remember where they put it. Someone else pointed out that most people find it easier to find something on the Internet - through Google - than they do on their hard drives.

Almost a year later, the problem still exists on all popular desktop operating systems. The presentation mentioned by Shuttleworth refers to this short paper (PDF) called "Towards Semantic File System Interfaces" which outlines some of the problems of hierarchical file systems:

Hierarchical file system user interfaces usually provide a static directory structure with limited features for information management. Conventional file system interfaces require users to interact with a hierarchical classification of their files (taxonomy). In this sense, the user of a hierarchical file system is confronted with most of the disciplines in knowledge management, which includes creating and maintaining a consequent vocabulary and naming conventions in order to be able to remember where to look for files in the hierarchy. This is opposed to the natural approach of memory, knowing what to look for. As of publication date, there have been little to no efforts made by vendors of operating systems to integrate knowledge management technologies into modern desktop environments which leaves the status quo of file management where it was over 25 years ago.

Fascinating stuff, and definitely worth a read.

If you require a short url to link to this article, please use

designed for use cover

But wait, there's more!

Want to read more like this? Buy my book's second edition! Designed for Use: Create Usable Interfaces for Applications and the Web is now available DRM-free directly from The Pragmatic Programmers. Or you can get it on Amazon, where it's also available in Chinese and Japanese.