File System, iTunes media management

Regarding the file system and it’s effectiveness in not being a good metaphor for most people.

I just heard this quote in the really great new podcast The Menu Bar 1 where they quote-as-remember Steve Jobs

What does really work well is iTunes

I only partly agree. It depends on what you want to do:

  • You want to listen to music, that’s fine. Works great!
  • You want to sync your media with your iHardware? Works great!

But:

  • Ever tried to outsource your media files to an external drive (like all your movies) to save up space on your SSD? On Mac, there is specific software for this 2. On Windows? Well, there is no TuneSpan for Windows. It’s possible, but not at all user friendly. 3
  • Ever tried to grab a file and make a ringtone out of it in Garageband and stuff it back in?

It works really great if you listen to Music. But the moment you needed inter app communication (eg in the case of making a ringtone and cutting it), iTunes badly fails.

What actually is great in the way iTunes manages media

iTunes lets you access your files in the filesystem. That’s it.

You can perfectly go to a user accessible folder and grab your music files. The next step would be to make iTunes detect me moving my files somewhere to a different location.

Add that and I think, we had the perhaps perfect compromise between file system and managed files.

Of course, this will only work great for use cases where one app is dealing with one specific kind of file type. Like media consumption in iTunes case’.

Comparing to iCloud

Ever tried to find your Pages documents you accidentally saved to iCloud? Tried to find them in the Finder? Good luck. The Library folder is actually hidden by default as of 10.7 or 10.8. That’s too much abstraction!

What I want in general

Manage my files for me, but generate a really nice fily system structure, detect changes when I move stuff around on my own, and show me files which could possibly open other apps. iTunes even does this right now 4. Essentially organise the messy “Documents” folder of users.
If you take away the file system part completely, you just make it unnecessarily hard to use. Perhaps, insert tech company here 5 start small like this: Implement a system which manages my files like described above, and the moment I am no longer using the file system, you’ve mastered your job. I will occasionally use it (like activity monitor), but it stays out of the way most of the time. But don’t take it away beforehand.

The unix shell is still available in 2013 on a brand new MacBook. Guess why? Because it can be useful for some people. You can hide it, but don’t cut it out.

It’s not the computers appendix, it’s more like your lungs. Most of the time, you don’t think of breathing, you just do it, and it gets out of your mind, you don’t deal with it, but if you need to, you can breathe like you want 6.

Problems like How do I deal with multiple apps being able to manipulate one file partly remain (they can all implement this file management mechanism). But I think this would be a really huge and great step in the right direction.


  1. Which is from the very nice and smart people Zac Cichy and Andrew J Clark ↩︎

  2. The app is called Tune Span ↩︎

  3. I know, you can argue: Why are you even using iTunes on Windows? ↩︎

  4. Ever had a book in the books section of iTunes or PDFs saved to iBooks on your iDevice, or the digital booklet attached to some iTunes Albums? You click on them and Preview opens the files. – Pun intended right now (at the moment) and right now (correctly at the moment) ↩︎

  5. MS can do this too, not just Apple. Perhaps MS is more likely to go this approach. ↩︎

  6. In some borders of course. It seems really difficult to suffocate just out of your own will. ↩︎

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