promises to free users from files and folders and drives, oh my!
Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business
February 16 - 22, 2010
High Tech Office column
When Dorothy, Toto, the Tin Man, and the rest were walking the Yellow
Brick Road, they found the Enchanted Forest a scary place indeed,
filled with 'lions and tigers and bears, oh my!'. For too many of the
rest of us, today, the equivalent chant might be 'files and folders and
drives' (Oh my!)
I know some of us have gotten good at saving files and finding them
again when we want them, but for lots of computer users, this remains a
puzzle, along with far too much of what it takes to keep our personal
technology up and running, to say nothing of productive.
Software and hardware is generally designed by the people who are
comfortable with file systems, installing device drivers, and all the
rest, and who – despite generally good intentions - usually don't
really understand how frustrating their products can be for far too
Windows, for over a decade, has provided users with My Documents, My
Music, My Videos, and similar folders, but many users still manage to
store everything on their (cluttered) desktops. The new Windows 7 tries
to help users with, what Microsoft calls 'libraries' of categories of
files, making them appear together regardless of where they are
actually located. I'm not sure it helps.
Some applications have simply taken the user out of the loop. Does it
matter to Mac users how Apple's iPhoto, for instance, organizes their
image files behind the scenes as long as they can open it and see
thumbnails of all their photos?
In January, Apple – to no one's surprise – announced the iPad, as had
been widely expected, a tablet computer. Wildly over-hyped before the
announcement, (though not by Apple, who manage to manipulate the media
by saying nothing in advance), afterwards much of the media claimed to
be disappointed, focussing on what they felt the iPad was lacking.
They proclaimed it 'just an over grown iPod Touch', with no built-in
camera, no standard hard drive, no standard USB ports or memory card
slots. Less attention was paid to what else is missing: like an iPhone
or an iPod Touch, it keeps the user at a distance from all those
things: files and folders and drives, device drivers, messy software
installers and uninstallers and the like, which have divided computer
users into two classes: a minority who 'get it' and everyone else,
forced to rely on the technophiles for help.
I haven't gotten my hands on an iPad; in fact, as I write, no Canadian
release date has even been announced. (And remember, Canada got the
iPhone about a year after our American cousins). I don't know if it
will prove to be 'magical' and a new category of product filling a
middle ground between smart phone and laptop, as Apple's Steve Jobs
Most of what we do with computers is either content creation or content
consumption. Apple showed off a few content creation applications for
the iPod – a new version of their iWork suite of word processor,
spreadsheet, and presentation software, and an inexpensive third party
paint program already available for iPhone. But its strength is going
to be for content consumption: browsing the Web (at least those parts
of the Web that don't use Flash graphics), keeping in touch via email,
Facebook, Twitter, and the like, reading eBooks, watching video and
listening to music.
And I suspect that when I finally get my hands on one, I'll find it
good at those tasks, somewhat awkward if I want to use it for writing
or keeping financial records, but superb at letting people use it
without needing to be aware of files and folders and drives.