When I first switched to the Mac world a couple of years ago, I was mesmerized by the incredible number of admirable and good looking applications focusing doing one or two things, but doing them well. As a developer I am used to über powerful applications full of features and options and updates, but as user things are very different for me. I want simple, easy-to-use applications that ooze cool. I want to love getting back to work on my computer.
FileBrowse by R Green Blue is an excellent example of that kind of applications. FileBrowse is, as the name so boldly suggests, a file browsing tool. On the contrary to other file management utilities, like the great but oh-so-features-packed PathFinder, FileBrose does not attempt to solve all your issues. In fact it aims for one particular activity: media files browsing.
FileBrowse looks great. As one of the best looking Mac OS X applications I have tried recently, I urge you to run it at least once to see for yourself. The picture below shows the main screen which contains the root folders of your volumes, your main folders (like your Desktop) and your favorite folders.
The first interesting discovery in this UI is the icons. They occupy a prominent part of the window and display more information than those of the Finder. In fact, all the icons shown in FileBrowse are dynamically generated so that a folder icon can, for instance, shows previews of some of the file it contains. Besides, folders also display their number of items.
How did they manage to create such icons? The developers simply decided to rely on OpenGL to render full 3D objects straight to the screen. As a result, all the icons have soft-shadows, anti-aliased edges and correct perspective. For instance, the perspective of the icons changes according to their position in the window. You can see this effect in action when you initiate a drag and drop gesture.
While this feature does not seem particularly impressive, albeit darn good looking, it becomes very useful when you deal with a lot of media files. I shoot a lot of pictures with my digital camera and I spend a lot of time browsing and organizing them on my hard drives. Although there are some professional solutions available, like iView Media Pro, I very often like to use a straight file browser rather than a full-fledged catalog.
The folder in the above picture is part of my photographs collection. Each folders shows thumbnails of up to six media files that it contains. This feature is already nice when you work on well-organized folders (as in this example) but becomes vital when you browse through the folders you just dumped from your 4 GB memory card. I don’t know about you but I always have hard time remembering that my shots from San Francisco are in the folder entitled CF0517.
Once you have found the folder with the photographs you were looking for, you can open it and take a closer look at your work. When you select a picture, FileBrowse shows details about the file, including the size but also the resolution or the name of the camera you used, and a larger thumbnail. This thumbnail can then be zoomed to take the whole space in the window with the upper-buttons located in the corners.
As with regular (understand non-media) files, you have access to a few basic tasks to open the file, reveal it in the Finder, and so on. The application handles all kind of image formats, from RAW file to standard JPEG and PNG, and I dare you to find pictures it cannot help you with.
FileBrowse would not deserve the description of “media browser” if it was limited to pictures. R Green Blue thought about that and added support for music files in their product. In the screen shot below, you can see the content of my folder that contains songs from Elvis Presley. As usual, FileBrowse shows thumbnails, in this case the albums artwork, in the icons. Arguably less useful than with pictures, it’s still a nice way to get a sneak peek at your music collection.
As with pictures, you can select a file and get more details, like the duration or the artist name. You can also listen to the song without opening iTunes. This will remind you of the Finder previews, only in a easier and better-looking way.
It won’t come as a surprise that video files are also managed by this utility. You also get nice thumbnails and playback controls.
And let’s not forget text files, PDF and HTML pages. They all show thumbnails of the actual content while clicking on them lets you read them, either in their entirety (PDF files) or just an excerpt (Word files.)
Organizing Your Files
No matter how well you organize your files on your hard drive, you are certain to end up with at least a few folders containing dozens or hundreds of media files. FileBrowse offers several options to let you sort your media in a sensible way or hide the files you don’t care about.
Whenever you enter a folder, FileBrowse groups files. Each group is shown as a light gray stripe that starts with a darker gray tab. In the picture below, you can see 5 different groups, some of which are expanded (for instance the group “JPEG Image”) and some are collapsed (“Canon Camera Raw Files”.) By clicking the dark gray tabs, or by using the two buttons in the middle of the toolbars, you can expand and collapse the groups to show and hide files at will.
This feature becomes truly powerful when you change the groups wit the View menu. An obvious grouping option is by date:
Being a media browser, FileBrowse offers all kind of media-oriented grouping options. The following screen shot shows some of my pictures grouped by pixels resolution:
Under the name of each file, you can see some extra information. This value can be changed in the View menu. In this case I chose the last modification date, but you can display the rating of the file, the camera make, the resolution, etc.
It’s All in the Details
FileBrowse really impressed me with all the details its developers thought of. For instance, pictures with dimension ratios that don’t match the application layout are neatly folded to fit in the group strips. The 3D motion effect that happens when you start dragging a file or folder is also very interesting as the items moves in space to match the “force” you apply on it by pulling it with your mouse.
Despite all its qualities, FileBrowse has a few shortcomings. Some of the eye-candies are unfortunately superfluous to the point they distract the user. For instance whenever you leave a folder to get back to its parent or the previous one in the history, the icon is animated, moving as if dangling on a pin. This could have been more effective if the animation wasn’t so long and so slow. The result is a bit sluggish, distracts the user too much and ternishes the overall user experience.
There are also some usability issues. The toolbars icons look nice but they are difficult to distinguish from one another at once, especially the two upwards arrows (guess which one goes to the parent folder and which one goes back to the home screen.) My biggest grief is how files selection and action are handled. If you click on a file’s icon, you simply select it and display details. So far, so good. Yet, when you double-click it, nothing happens! To launch a file or open a folder you have to click on its name, located beneath the icon. I can understand the rationale behind (i.e. get rid of double-click and improve the workflow with single clicks everywhere) but even after a couple of hours using the tool, I still try to open a folder by clicking on the large, easy target that is the icon.
Before considering buying it, I highly suggest you to try it to see whether it fits your needs. FileBrowse does not accomplish many tasks but does a great job at those it was meant for. I would be happy to pay the $25 R Green Blue is asking for a full license… when v2.0 will be available. I really like this application but the small usability problem would drive me mad if I used it everyday.