22 August 2015

The new Apple file system

A friend was just complaining about the elimination of Save As from Apple's OS X.

In partial defense of Apple, this is a tragically half-baked execution of a good idea.

Save-as with prompt-before-overwrite are the two primitives necessary to allow users to roll their own system for doing organization and version management of their files. But frankly most people are not sophisticated about how they do that.

What you should have is a system of automatic saving, versioning, milestoning, organizing, searching, and mirroring to backup.

OS X is obviously working toward this, but the current state of things is an annoying mixed bag of levels of maturity. The incompleteness and incoherence make it a less satisfactory answer than the old Directories-And-Save-As regime ... if you understood how to use the old regime well.

  • Automatic saving: OS X just does this, now. Which is good on the merits, but spooky if you have developed habits around saving explicitly. And since some applications have not yet integrated automatic saving in the new system, you cannot yet abandon those habits.
  • Versioning: Uh, there's time-based automatic versioning in Time Machine. If you use that. Which of course you don't, for a host of reasons, not least because the versions it creates are not made available in the context of your authoring applications. To get at past versions of a file, you have to leap out of your working context and into hyperspace, which is reïnforced by Time Machine actually looking like hyperspace.
  • Milestoning: There's no structural support for this. Except for the clumsy Duplicate function, which isn't smart enough to identify for you which is the copy you left alone and which you started modifying ....
  • Organizing: Someone at Apple knows that nonexclusive labels are a better solution for organizing large collections than the hierarchical directory tree ... but OS X assumes you only need half a dozen labels, and provides weak support for using them, which makes them no replacement for the tree in the Finder at all.
  • Searching: Text content search in OS X is astonishingly fast and complete in Spotlight in OS X, but it doesn't provide any structure, it just recognizes everything with the search string in it. There's no wisdom about metadata in the search at all.
  • Mirror to backup: iCloud supposedly does this. But the process is Not Very Transparent, and iCloud has other weirdnesses, so it's impossible to fully trust it.

If anything, this current state of things makes managing files even more dependent upon getting clever with your file naming conventions.

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