Do Mac and iPhone users really need a file system?

“Many Mac power users and developers are concerned about the iOS-ification of the Mac OS and how much more of that process will be found in sessions at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) next week in San Francisco. A recent developer blog post recalls talks by Steve Jobs from a 6 years ago, where he speculated on whether computer users really needed to interact with a file system. But to me, it also recalls a mostly forgotten Apple OS from around 20 years ago,” David Morgenstern writes for ZDNet. “In his blog, iOS developer Ole Begemann, tells of watching a 2005 video of Jobs speaking at the D: All Things Digital conference.”

In every user interface study we’ve ever done […], [we found] it’s pretty easy to learn how to use these things ‘til you hit the file system and then the learning curve goes vertical. So you ask yourself, why is the file system the face of the OS? Wouldn’t it be better if there was a better way to find stuff?

Now, e-mail, there’s always been a better way to find stuff. You don’t keep your e-mail on your file system, right? The app manages it. And that was the breakthrough, as an example, in iTunes. You don’t keep your music in the file system, that would be crazy. You keep it in this app that knows about music and knows how to find things in lots of different ways. Same with photos: we’ve got an app that knows all about photos. And these apps manage their own file storage. […]

And eventually, the file system management is just gonna be an app for pros and consumers aren’t gonna need to use it. – Apple CEO Steve Jobs, 2005

“Begemann said this sounds in many ways like iOS and its relation to users and data,” Morgenstern writes. “However, to my ears, it also sounds like the object-soup file approach that Apple used in the Newton OS, which was first released with the Newton MessagePad in 1993, almost 20 years ago.”

Much more in the full article here.

87 Comments

        1. AMEN!!! Even if I could just make a FEW folders in Pages on the iPad. I have to scroll thru every document I have ever made since Buying the ORIGINAL iPad.

          1. I am not saying it is fun or better… just agreeing iOS is proof that many have adopted the opaque file system… and is exactly why the simplicity of the device is so perfect for new comers, non-pros, young and old. It’s a consumer product and those users do not need to understand that there is EVEN a FILE system at occurring.

            Regarding your comment; Work can be done – but it is not the best way to effectively work – yet that depends also who is using it and what work is being handled – isn’t it.

            1. “Many people” have NOT “adopted the opaque file system”.

              Many people have adopted iPads and long for it to have a file system. They did not really have a choice if they want to be in the Apple eco-system.

              When we talk about “adopters” these are people who make a choice to do something.

              Adapters would be a more accurate description.

        2. ha ha – many people will say to you emailing is work and they do it all day.

          A Vice President System Operations Manager at many companies are emailing Clients and Employees all day.
          Please inform them they are not working or doing their jobs?

          Secretaries and Lawyers and anyone who emails…
          ha ha – you tell them Ubermac but be careful what you say.

          Do you have an iPhone? Salesmen believe they are working?
          The phone is their computer.

          iOS — USERS do not require the knowledge of a file system.

          The question comes to Mac users now… so once the day comes where OSX is more like iOS – will you be playing fames or working?

    1. Of course. On my Windows VM the first thing I do pin Windows Explorer to the Start menu. I always find it weird that it is buried in the Accessories folder, but that is Apple may be doing; changing Finder from an “always-on” instance to a separate application.

      I also note that in the examples give (iTunes, Mail) the apps provide for in-app file organization with smart folders and collections (mini file directories). For this to work system wide all apps need to provide this sort of organizing capability.

      1. iOS is more of a opaque file system.
        The Apps on iOS save the files and store them within the App Package. Exports are done via other methods. To Photo Gallery or to iCloud or wifi to a desktop.

        BUT pretty much one can say the FILE management is under the hood for iOS. No worries to the user. OFC there is and will remain a FIle System but an open system to probe and worry NO.

      2. grrrrrrr… is a FILE SYSTEM the graphic user interface now too???

        You are suggestion short cuts or alias on a task bar or dock is FILE SYSTEM MANAGE?

        Oh my, help I want off this PLANET.
        No wonder the non-pros adopted iOS so easily… wait – I will make an alias on the desktop because I do not understand folder structures or where i put my real file.

        Your situation is has to do with WVM.
        Windows 7 pins Explorer to the Task bar on installation – its not Apple doing this. Apple would rather you use OSX.

        Hmmmm, yes I see a directory being partially part of file management but again not the “file system”.
        EXTENSION NAMES are – and are directly related to the originating creator to the file. Click the the file it opens in the appropriate application. Choose to change this and confuse everyone in your family… but the selection to do this is limited to the choice of file types.

        Example. PREVIEW can open EPS files – but it converts them to PDFs on the initial import. The file is systematically handled not by the USER… preview deals with it entirely. However, one could force all EPS to open strictly into Photoshop or Pixelmator where “you highlight a file and right click, choose Open With” and set it differently then what was intended originally. Originally because of File Systems… extension names and application restrictions and storage locations.

    1. When was the last time that you needed to explore the timing settings on your car’s engine? Do you really need to know what the inner workings of your tv remote is so that you can tinker with it? You aren’t aware of all the things that you could tinker with and YOU don’t need it. Find something better to do with your time.

      1. “Find something better to do with your time”

        I was in agreement with your comment until your last line.

        Fsck your snotty, arrogant attitude. Who the hell are you tell someone their curiosity and tinkering is a waste of time? Poking around, exploring and *learning* software (or anything else) is a far better use of time than plopping your ass in front of a TV playing video games or watching Jersey Shore.

          1. I envy you. I kept hearing about it and finally checked it out as I was channel surfing one night. After a minute, 10 IQ points were sucked straight into the TV to feed the troll lurking beneath Los Angeles. After it accumulates enough IQ points, this troll has the power to whisper in the ears of Hollywood producers to think up or approve garbage that tops the previous garbage they came up with.

            Thankfully, the troll can only ever suck IQ points from a person once, so it sometimes takes a long time before the next crap reality TV debuts. But they’ve learned how to make these shows popular, so they make it up in volume now.

            1. Much appreciated. I shall avoid Jersey Shore but not a Jersey Cow. Mooooow.

              I don’t watch cable or satellite tv. The iMac/AV is the television/gaming/computer of the future. Make it 55 inches and it has the world beat. I will buy shows from iTunes if I am truly bored. Where is Breaking Bad Season 5? I feel bad. LOL.

        1. he’s just a pl41n b4g3l. plain ideas. plain commentary. and plain insults.

          don;t mess with him, though. he’ll electro.. oh wait- i mean he’ll 3L3C7R0 you!

      2. These are consumer devices and OSX one day will following the IOS path regarding file systems and some applications do to a degree already on several Apple applications. However, not exactly as in iOS. iTunes stores your rented movies deep down inside the music folder of the USER folder not inside the app as handled in iOS. Preferences to particular applications are saved in the system folder… not inside the app it pertains to.
        CONSIDER those things and you will see one day kids also believe what was the reason to scatter files all around the hard drive for?

    1. Absolutely true. I have over 50 apps that I use frequently for content creation:

      0 chance that could be managed properly in an iOS like environment.

      I need to open documents in more than one app, and Lion cannot properly track all that, in my sad experience. I use it because I do need the latest and “greatest” to stay current on apps, but it requires a LOT more care on my part to confirm to myself exactly where a document stores before I commit to saving it. I don’t think it is ready yet to track all those changes and and iOS based system would be worse by far.

      1. Definitely, there are lots of limitations with the iOS file system; but again that is not the question here. One can create fairly complicated content using these portable devices. But not developmental things. Still, nothing comes close to Keynotes, Number and Pages on a cellphone in Android and these apps speak well to the Desktop counterparts in OSX.

        iOS will mature and OSX will adopt some of the simpler ways found in iOS. Does a non-pro user need file systems. NO. iOS already proves this.

        Is iOS efficient for heavy load work – hell no.

        Text Edit – can version track changes of a file, this would be wonderful in iOS – but then again will that be needed – nope.

        Apple is really about bringing simplicity to computing in a powerful way. No other company seems dedicated to venture on that path. Ease of use. Clean, simple, beautiful yet powerful.

  1. actually the learning curve goes horizontal, not vertical, when something is hard to learn. if it went vertical then you would be learning things quickly (learning on the y axis and time on the x axis). just another one of those things that have made it into our vocabulary that really doesn’t make sense.

    1. The learning curve measures the amount of effort required to learn something (y-axis) vs. how much you want to learn (x-axis).

      Steep learning curves mean areas of learning requiring a lot of effort. A flat learning curve means it is easy to learn the next thing with little or no effort. A vertical learning curve means things get impossible to learn quickly.

      So yes, he was using correct terminology.

      1. Nevermark is correct El Tritoma is confused.

        x-axis is measure of TIME SPENT to learning or understanding.
        y-axis is measure of COMPREHENSION

        The plotted line appears curved DUE the constant of TIME spent learning (the x-axis continually moves) unless the person quits entirely. But a curve appears upwardly or downwards VERTICAL movement – up being BETTER UNDERSTOOD. Down being help I need someone to explain. Like you el Tritoma!!!!!!!

    2. ha ha, yeah but actually time is the constant measure as you sate on the x-axis. So the time learning is assumed to keep the horizontal moving along… the y-axis of the chart you are imagining plots the rise and fall of comprehension.
      The quote from Steve is absolutely correct, in stating the vertical or y-axis FALLS on the vertical, which expresses difficulty in understanding particular principles of File Systems.
      The learning curves UPWARD when a users gets how it works and DOWNWARD when confused..

      Which way do you rather this occurring?
      Up and Down are verticals for me.

      1. Not odd at all. No OS using a purely app based system can properly track where files are stored when they have been opened in 3 or 4 different apps like I do.

        Files need to be found sometimes, they just do, no wishful thinking will change that.

          1. you contain the native file to the app that created the file within the app itself. if you require the file to be used else where, you transfer it or convert it or share it out of the originating app.

            1. “if you require the file to be used else where, you transfer it or convert it or share it out of the originating app”

              And this is easier than multiple apps being able to work on (edit) a single copy of the file on the device… how? On the same device, you now have to track and remember which app has the latest copy.

              Locally, 3rd party apps can open (read-only) or copy files from another 3rd party app via custom URL, but it seems an app can’t write into the sandbox of another app.

            2. NO ONE is claiming it is EASIER to do or work with.

              What is being debated is – one day as in IOS, is there a need for File Systems understanding to the USER in OSX?
              Simply no, iOS has proven this theory by it’s success.

              How efficient and usable this is; is an entirely different story.

              Nevertheless, what is easier is; is the USER can forget all about file systems and naming conventions, extensions and file formats and even no longer worry or wonder where the file is stored. Simplicity is made beautiful.

              Regarding your ideas:

              1- create a simple file in TEXT EDIT, name it “test” on your desktop
              2 – open “test” with OPEN OFFICE, make a change and save it
              3 – you will see that your file saves not as the ORIGINATING app did, try this in reverse as well – you maybe asked to over-write the file due to the name yet you will be creating a OPENOFFICE .RDT file – capable to open within TEXT EDIT… yet it is the system that controls the ICON appearance and the application selected to OPEN WITH. The creator will be OPEN OFFICE… check for yourself.

            3. Please provide an example of this CRAZY scenario…
              “multiple apps being able to work on (edit) a single copy”.

              What do you expect, a Photoshop layered file opening up in Pixelmator with perfect accuracy then saving it from Pixelmator again perfectly intact to open again in Photoshop… wow thats a dream.

              But TRACKING your latest copy… hmmm interesting point.

              Okay perhaps this is where iCloud could come into better use. A way to Backup your documents from your specific applications. But you are not going to share your iDraw file with your father…. look Happy Birthday Dad!!! You will Export it – most likely as a Jpeg. Yet, lets say your work does use iDraw on the Mac, you could share a SVG file or a raw native iDraw file as you hoped… via iCloud or direct wifi link.

              This depends what you are dealing with ofc.

              A Jpeg – who cares, what you open it with but a layered iDraw native file will not open in anything but iDraw.

              Keynotes, Numbers, Pages are great examples also, yet can produce Offcie compatible files – yet you are not SPEAKING of compatibility – more of native raw file formats.

              Please, do not confuse proficiency and efficiency with ease of use or ease of understanding.

    1. I do not think the article is means to convey NO file system is needed, rather, It is specifically questioning the openness of the file system for the USER to have. iOS already is that closed structure and proven far more people adopted how it works. Pro-users (veterans computer users) are rather annoyed at first with iOS, yet, once accepting how files are handled the author is right to QUESTION this.

      I agree with you here on ONE point.
      iOS is perfect for those who really are not pro-users.
      The simplification of saving and handling files is opaque in iOS to most; and rightfully so. There is always a file management system – yes, its strictly for the SYSTEM… but the key words here is USER.

      USERS really do not need to understand or bother with file manage and system – IOS is living proof of this. Users of all ages just use the device and have no idea or worry about files and where they are located or stored – nor are they worried what programs created it and what will open the file. That is part of the beauty and simplification of the system.

      Right you are; a file system will always be needed but not for the USER, rather for the system itself and the application.

      In OSX, files have extension names and those names directly relate to the application which the file was created.
      The extensions also are seen by 3rd party apps which did not create the originating file yet the extension is recognized and capable of being used by a different application. The concept still exists in iOS but performed slightly different. As the user is confronted with an option to EXPORT, SHARE, or TRANSFER files beyond the originating application.

      One could argue this is exactly what ONE does in Photoshop to prepare files for web i.e.(png or eps for say quark use) or whatever other reason you must save different file formats. These are pro-users or veteran users (geeky folk like you and me). That is the confusion for basic users and hence partially why iOS is much easier regarding its opaque file management and its success.

      SO back to the QUESTION…
      Do Mac and iPhone USERS really need a file system?

      NO. And if OSX continues on it’s direction to work and act like iOS… USERS will not require to know or care about files like we all had to since the birth of the Mac.

    2. First Thing I used to teach students when the Mac came out was how to tell where their files went. Not knowing is a bit like bringing up clothes from the drier, closing your eyes and hurling laundry around your house. Fine, do it if you want, BUT THEN don’t be surprised If you find your underwear in the frig right behind the grapefruit!!!!!

  2. Spotlight is my interface to the file system. A lot of files are on my desktop. Once in a while I move them in a folder named stuff, which sometimes contains a folder old stuff.

    I really hate organizing my files. File system has to go at some point. I love iOS for not having to manage files.

    Some people chose Android, just to have a file manager. It’s pathetic and stupid.

    1. If you really hate organizing your files, you are REALLY going to hate it when an iOS-like system does it for you.

      Macs and iOS are two wonderful systems, but are very different tools. Steering wheels and 1/2 inch wrenches are very different things with different uses.

    2. I can get your point, though, not agree totally.
      I need to organize my files always. But the nature of work down on OSX is greatly different then with an iOS device.

      However, the benefit of starting an idea or project in Keynotes or iDraw on my iOS device and finalizing it on the Desktop is a wonderful value. And beats lugging around a laptop.

      Definitely, limited the device is, yet powerful enough also to get hints started.

  3. It seems that Jobs was complaining that filing was often complicated and tedious, and that storing and seeking files was a chore. I don’t think that filing is the “evil” rather it is the means of identifying, collecting, collating, and linking files that needs work. Perhaps it is the method of filing that requires improvement, I don’t see how eliminating filing altogether would solve anything.

  4. hiding files under an application works great until you need to use more than one app for a single file, such as viewing a pdf in adobe acrobat or preview, and then needing to edit it in illustrator. or using one app to create an input file for some other app.

  5. I need the file system to store project data: a mix of emails and Word, Excel, PDF, files, etc. iOS is useless in this regard. In fact, I’m surprised art how poor iOS and iPads actually are.

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