Thursday, November 29, 2007

Codename Nemo 0.1 alpha released

We've finally released an alpha version of our file manager project!

This has been a long way. The idea has been the same throughout the project, to focus on the aspects of documents that people actually remember instead of forcing a hierarchical tree down their throat.

Believe it or not, a lot of novices find it difficult to understand the hierarchical folder structure, and it's not particularly easy to navigate or keep in order for most computer literates either. People have trouble remembering what folder they put things in - and they would rather not put things into folders if they can avoid it.

This has been known for a very long time. We're building on research from the 80s here.

The big question is how you design a GUI that makes it possible to find the files again without a hierarchy. There's been a lot of attempts on this. Recently, people have been using pure text search - but while it can help, it's not a panacea. It's not always easy to remember something precise enough to put into the seach bar.

There's also been a lot of experiments with 3d spatial systems that mimic the physical world, usually with a high bling-bling factor. They look funny, but in my opinion they're never going to work because a) cleaning up in the physical world is really painful and something most people tend to avoid and b) the physical world scales really bad. Sure it's easy to find something on your desk if you only have 10 documents on it. But what if you have 1000?

So what do you do? We started from something that looked completely different from what this alpha release looks like and went through a couple of iterations before we arrived at what we have now.

There are lots of problems in this alpha release, but I personally think the basics are about right now. Is it usable? I think so. You can't select files or delete them, or even rename them because we haven't coded a proper custom widget for it yet (like e.g. in Nautilus). Must of the automatic stuff that's supposed to be smart is really pretty dumb because it hasn't been refined yet.

But you can get an overview of your files, organize them and find them again. And that's what it is all about.

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