The new document models
Files are the problem. Most users are confused by file systems, file types, folders and subfolders.
- Do you know where your files are located?
- Do you carefully organize your data into folders and subfolders?
- Do you never misplace your files?
- Do you use the search function, built in to newer versions of Windows and Mac OS X?
If your answers to the above questions are yes, you are not the typical computer user. My client support experiences parallel Microsoft’s and Apple’s metrics. Since most people are at least somewhat confused by files, operating system developers have decided to hide the file system from users, as much as possible in the future.
Today we use Windows Explorer¹ or OS X Finder to manage our files, on Windows or Mac computers, respectively. These are imperfect applications. Although they have lots of features beyond the surface, most of us never learn them. Consequently, we are at sea when it comes to effectively using and managing our files.
To combat user file system confusion, Apple is changing from a document-focused (doccentric) model of files to an application-centric (appcentric) one. If you use an Apple iPad or iPhone you have already experienced the new appcentric model. In this model, files exist within an app, and pretty much nowhere else. The operating system takes control of files away from you. Sure you can “share” a photo from your iPhone but you can’t paste it into the body of an email.
As they often do, Microsoft is following Apple’s lead, and moving away from the doccentric model towards an appcentric model. This is apparent in Windows 8, Microsoft’s new operating system for computers and tablets, which will be released to the general public on October 26, 2012.
This new appcentric model heralds significant changes for the way we work with these devices. Suppose you were working on a project for a client called “The Jones Project” (TJP). In the doccentric model you would organize your work by creating a TJP folder and perhaps subfolders. You would save word processing documents, spreadsheets, photos, drawings, PDFs, etc. in TJP. This makes it easy to find things related to TJP.
However, in the new appcentric model, files exist within the app only. Want to work on a TJP spreadsheet? Open your spreadsheet app and find the document. Want to import all or part of that spreadsheet into a word processing document? It may not be doable.
What happens when you delete an application in the new appcentric operating system model? Oops! You probably lose all your files. They may still be in the device’s hidden file system but you can’t access them.
The new versions of Apple’s OS X, Lion and Mountain Lion, have done away with Save and Save As… commands for the most part. Changes are instantaneously saved, whether or not you want to keep them. Want to save a copy of a file as you work? There is the Duplicate command, but it is not the same as the old Save As… command. Yes, there are workarounds but they are kludgy at best.
The old doccentric model mapped to our real world experience, even if imperfectly. The new approach will cause lots of grief for the unwary user. Even knowledgeable users are going to lose their work to the automatic saving of changes.
Unfortunately, there is no going back. All new Macs come with Mountain Lion. It is not possible to install an older operating system such as Snow Leopard on a new Mac. I have tried.
Starting later this year consumer Windows computers will come with Windows 8. I expect that consumers will no longer be able to buy computers with Windows 7 shortly thereafter.
¹ Windows Explorer began its existence named ‘File Manager’, a graphical program that replaced DOS command line syntax for copy, move, delete, or open functions in early versions of Windows. Microsoft expanded the program’s functionality in Windows 95 and rechristened it ‘Windows Explorer’. The new name created a problem since Windows 95 also included a web browser titled ‘Internet Explorer’. Ever since then, support people, such as myself, have had to constantly remind customers, “I said, ‘Windows Explorer’ not ‘Internet Explorer’.” In the soon-to-be released Windows 8 operating system, Microsoft has come almost full circle. Windows Explorer has been renamed ‘File Explorer’. This is one of the few good points about Windows 8.
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