Windows -- I just want the damn filenames

Now that the question has been answered and we’re drifting into a more general discussion about how to organise files, I thought I’d post this article from the Verge. It’s about how (some) profs are struggling with new students that just don’t have the concept of files and folders due to the the way that apps work.

Here’s the correct link to that Verge article.

Good search programs are great and I’ve transitioned to a less rigidly hierarchical structure than I used to have… but dang, we’re raising a generation of people that will not have the slightest clue how their computers work.

Every OS still has a traditional hierarchical filesystem internally. There have been various attempts to use a different approach but none have ever taken off. Hierarchies have very significant advantages, and not just as an internal representation.

What’s a little weird is that it doesn’t seem like that hard a concept, since the physical world is hierarchical. Say you’ll meet me at some time in the back room of a pizza shop in some town anywhere in the world–and I first make my way to the country, then the state/province/etc., then the city, the road, the block, the shop, and finally the room. And I can do that simultaneously with a time hierarchy, where coarse-grained travel might be by the day, and then finer grained travel by the hour, and finally by the minute.

The suggestion at the end of that article is odd. There’s just no way that the hierarchical structure is going away under the hood. So students in computer science are going to need to access that structure in some way.

The beginning also sounded more like the students weren’t used to the concept of saving at all. Because, if they had saved their files in just the default folder, that’s where they would still be.

I also don’t remember ever needing a metaphor to understand files and folders (or, as I knew them, directories). I just learned by example. I say just have the students open up Explorer or Finder and have them explore how to use it. If you want, give them a pre-made directory structure to play around with. The UI will make it obvious.

Continuing at a tangent, something similar has happened in the database world over the last couple of decades.

The traditional way to store data is in a relational database, with tables, field indexes, foreign keys, etc. The database has a rigid structure, and you use SQL to query it.

But when Google started to collect vast amounts of data, they couldn’t do it that way. You’d go crazy trying to keep Google’s data in a relational database. It couldn’t be done, especially with a distributed server model.

So they developed a new approach, NoSQL databases, where big data is all lumped together without necessarily having a rigid structure.

It’s somewhat analogous to keeping all your files in one folder and searching, rather than having a tree structure of sub-folders.

Many large companies with massive cloud databases now use this approach, although relational databases are still better for many other uses.

I used to ‘help’ secretaries at our hospital to set up file systems. The added complication was the MS-DOS limit of 8 characters. Setting up a good hierarchy was essential if you ever wanted to find that letter Dr Smith sent six months ago.

This is pathetic that people are that stupid. Are they incapable of using a physical filing cabinet as well? I hate when businesses cater to the lowest common denominator.