Why the file system’s death is greatly exaggerated

A while back, Ryan sent me a link to this post on the death of the file system. It’s worth the quick read as Fred Beecher tackles whether the rise of “apps” and app-native data eliminates the need for the file system as we know it.

In the end, I completely agree with Fred. I just can’t see eliminating the file system in the near term. One file format per one app is not only naive, it ignores one of the greatest strengths of the file system: organization. Users can make it what they want. Sure, that’s one of its drawbacks as well. But the ability to use it to create taxonomies for virtually unlimited purposes is going to keep it around until something truly better is conceived.

The file system concept has been borrowed by an incredible number of PC applications, and dependencies on it abound. From mail clients to application development management systems, this concept of entities containing data inside nested folders is pervasive. Basic example: tree menus. They’ve grown into many software apps. Recently, I helped facilitate an effort to migrate a business from one piece of software to a different program suite. Guess what users needed to know in order to truly understand the new software? Due to the dependencies of nested “assets” within a specific taxonomy, users needed to be able to explore and manipulate these assets in a file manager-style interface. To extend the software further, files from different programs needed to be nested correctly. And this wasn’t rocket-science software, folks. It was pretty basic software.

Perhaps these examples are extreme. Maybe the file system truly is irrelevant for very basic apps. But apps (like most technology) have a way of growing, and users have a way of finding quick solutions to the limitations of computer technology. And the file system works, for now. It’s low-hanging fruit in a marketplace impatient for the current produce and often totally unwilling to wait for a new variety of fruit to be bred.

Will there ever be a better way to organize and store our data?  Probably. Eventually. But the file system as we know it isn’t going away soon, which is why the chapter on “storage” in The Ultimate PC Primer was so difficult to write. Even though file management has been somewhat abstracted away in some newer-generation software apps — shortcut software, in particular — much of the technology ending up in the user’s hands still relies on him/her understanding file system basics.


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