Will the next generation know what a file is?


Originally, computers were open. They had to be. And you had to know your way around in order to use them. By open I mean that you had access to everything and you had to know what used what. UNIX, DOS, Windows, and MacOS are like that. So is Android. Palm was like that as well, although they tried to hide it unless you really wanted it. So most of us grew up with the idea of file first, application second.

What I mean is that files weren’t necessarily associated with apps. That came later. When you launched an app and opened a file, you had to be able to navigate the file system in order to find the file you wanted. Later came the ability to associate file extension with specific apps or types of apps. But the files and apps were still separate.

Then came iOS. Apple totally hid the file system. Files weren’t just associated with apps, they were part of each specifics app’s environment. There was no way to open a document in one app, save it, and then open it in another. Gradually things have opened up a bit. There are apps like GoodReader that can sort of act as file servers. And some things like the photos are shareable. And gradually, some things have opened up. But generally, the file system is still closed. And no one puts anything near an operating system file or directory. The upside is supposedly stability. If the masses can’t play with something, they won’t break it.

So we have file-centric and app-centric. And if you want, you can mostly use a modern operating system as if it were app-centric. MacOS has specific places where apps can default to looking for files, and Windows has copied that. We are still looking for files because that’s what we grew up with. The next generation will grow up with app-centric as computers and smartphones become appliances, not to be fiddled with. Bob

So true. It may be that only a couple of generations get to see the insides of computers and the software structures. From here on in, they could be like washing machines.

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3 replies

  1. You can get into philosophical questions like, what is a file, what’s it for, what are the main reasons for swapping between different apps.. is it all just images and text and media?

    I know I really resented it when Windows started to try to shoehorn me into using “My Documents” at some unknown part of the file system. For a long time I declared “My world is C:\data\ which I can transfer and backup”; currently that’s almost completely shifted to “My world is ~/Dropbox/”

  2. I can’t remember what my first Mac was like, at work back in the 80s. Then it was Windows and I never thought about pre-determined places. I did what I wanted to, just like on a “real” computer like our HP3000 or an IBM mainframe. In fact I started to partition my hard drive. I left C: to Windows and use D: for my stuff. Then I switched to a Mac at home in 2009 and there were various folders suggested to me like Music, Movies, and Pictures under my home directory Bob, and My Documents, My Games, My Pictures, and My Videos, under Bob/Documents/. The former are used by various applications by default. The latter are unused by me or anything else. I leave them there just in case. I have my own setup for stuff under Bob’s Documents, so I know where things are. Besides, I store movies and video on an external drive.

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