Blog Post

Apple could kill the finder. Would you miss it?

At the WWDC (s aapl) keynote this week, Steve Jobs remarked that when trying to teach someone how to use a Mac, “everything’s going along fine until you hit the file system, and then the difficulty is staggering for most people.” I remember having my own difficulties understanding file systems back when I was a computer neophyte, and I’m sure others would agree.

On iOS, this learning curve is non-existent, as it has no file manager. Instead, apps use a “library” metaphor, where each app is responsible for presenting its own documents. For example, when you launch Pages for iOS, you get a view of all your documents, so you can swipe through and choose one to edit.

Pages for iPad uses a library to display its documents.

But how can Apple make file management easier on the Mac? Truth is, it has been laying the groundwork for years. The iLife suite, iTunes, and Photo Booth have used the library system since the beginning, and I suspect a new version of iWork will come out that does the same. Apple is furthering this groundwork with Lion; Auto Save, Versions, and Launchpad are all designed to be easier alternatives to using the Finder. AirDrop, the new simple local file sharing tool, is also part of the transition, even though it’s integrated into the Lion Finder. All Apple has to do is take it out of the Finder, and integrate it into each app’s library.

Another piece of the puzzle is iCloud, which makes syncing files across multiple devices easy, requiring no intervention on the user’s part. iCloud has the potential to make drag ‘n’ drop file management a thing of the past. No more copying that important Keynote presentation from one Mac to another with the Finder; With iCloud, it’ll already be there.

It follows that in the future, we could see a Mac OS where there is no Finder, and none of the complexities that come with it. When you want to work with a document, you’ll just fire up the app that’s associated with it and select it from the library. Shared libraries could work between apps, too, like they do now with iPhoto and other Apple apps. There won’t be any need to save files, or launch applications with the Finder; the OS will take care of that for you.

All this isn’t to say that it’ll be easy for Apple to replace the Finder. There are still questions that remain unanswered. For instance, how Apple would deal with downloads or the Desktop folder. Despite this, I have little doubt that Apple will continue to move us towards a Finder-less future. The gains in terms ease of use are simply too great for Apple to pass up.

What are your thoughts? Should Apple ditch the finder, or are the compromises required too great?

86 Responses to “Apple could kill the finder. Would you miss it?”

  1. The problem is the finder itself and the file structure. Don’t get rid of it, make it better. The file structure on mac just doesn’t make sens. Applications store there shit in your personal folders, library folders everywhere. I just want my personal folder with my files in my structure without all that junk from iphoto, imovie projects, libraries, photobooth shit…
    Thank god for pathfinder because otherwise it would be hell.

  2. What are they thinking? The finder organizes all my files. Some are PDF’s, other MSWord, others Excel, etc. My folder system is developed so that someone else, unfamiliar with how my files are organized, could quickly understand and use my system.

  3. Jennifer Thompson

    Power users need more than just the simplistic iOS features. I don’t care if they put in features to simplify things for the newbie user as long as they don’t take out the advanced features for the power users. The OS needs to be versatile and flexible. I have both OS X and iOS devices, and iOS is nowhere near as efficient on data input and arranging files. I will also get very annoyed if they take out the ability to use the command line. I really hope they don’t go down that road.

  4. The finder is going to become just like the terminal in OS X. Power users need it, but most don’t. It’s there when we occasionally need it through, it’s just not flashy or obvious whe using a mac.

    • A different Robert

      As long as the changes are optional, I won’t mind. If they’re great, I’ll use them. If they’re terrible, I’ll turn them off.

      Apple has a mixed history, however. Sometimes, they give us a nice switch and let us choose whether we want the latest sexy superfeature. Other times, Uncle Steve wants Cherry Vanilla, so everybody has to drink Cherry Vanilla.

  5. Miguel

    With a file system I can control my data and migrate from a machine to another and from an OS to another. With a hyerarchical folder system I can organize my files thematically and not by file type. But, most importantly and to repeat myself with my own “folder of folders” I can copy my most important files in due order onto a Pen or a hard drive (or a cloud storage system) and I’m on my way. I love Apple but wouldn’t like to be chained to it.

  6. I can’t remember if I cried
    When I read about his widowed bride,
    But something touched me deep inside
    The day the Finder died.

    Nah. I might miss it in a nostalgic way. But good bye and good riddance, I say.

  7. Can’t imagine doing my work without the Finder. I don’t know the database/file management software market well enough to find a replacement.

    Something I like about the Mac and OS X is the way we can accomplish a task different ways. You can use the mouse or the trackpad or keyboard commands to perform the same functions. Don’t think the Finder should go if it compromises that.

    Hopefully, they’re going to replace it, not just kill it.

  8. The collision of content users and serious content creators is coming. This article spells it out. I’m a long-time college professor who began using Macs in 1984. I have thousands of files organized into an intricate folding structure that allows me to find very similar files (including file names) that go back for years and years, including course handouts and grade files.

    For example, I may have files relating to similar topical areas in both an introductory and advanced classes. I need to be able to distinguish between these files. Doing Spotlight searches won’t get the job done. Further, I teach Accounting and have literally thousands of Accounting problems I’ve written (and continually updated) over the years. I need to be able to distinguish problems I’ve written for an Intermediate Accounting class as compared to both Introductory and Advanced Financial Accounting.

    What about projects relating to the creation of new courses? Each project of this type is going to have many different types of supporting files, including copies of email messages.

    The bottom line is that content creators who work with hundreds or thousands of files need something like the Finder to keep their work organized. The iOS “pile of documents” approach is simply not sufficient.

  9. Ian Kemmish

    “When you want to work with a document, you’ll just fire up the app that’s associated with it and select it from the library”

    This, of course, is precisely what you had to do prior to the release of the first Mac. On some time-sharing systems, files appertaining to one application literally were invisible to other applications, in the way that you describe. Everybody hated it. Indeed, the thing which stopped my father, a nuclear engineer, from using a personal computer, was the fact that you had to differentiate between applications and the files they dealt with. He never grasped the conceptual finesse that required.

    The Mac swept all this away by only requiring you to open a document to work on it. That’s why it sold.

  10. One user segment that is very heavily Mac compared to PC is astrophysics, and to a lesser degree physics. I think these scientific users would consider the loss of the file system to be a great hindrance. If there was a file system option, for example you could start up finder.app, then it would be fine.

  11. Karl Foxworthy

    “You DON’T need an app for that.” There are many Mac users who use the computer to perform automated workflows that aren’t dependent on applications. For example, nearly all of the manipulation of images on my computer is done without using apps, performed instead by Automator-created services that are triggered on selected files in the Finder. No Photoshop or other application needed, just Core Image built-into the OS and exposed through Automator. The same goes for video compression.
    As for the Finder, I like managing my files and the Finder is an excellent application for doing so. If someone bothers to learn its extensive set of keyboard shortcuts, you’ll discover that navigation is very fast and easy. And one other issue, I don’t use “cloud” services from anyone, because you can’t trust that your data is kept private and not accessible by the host company, your competition, or the government.

    • A different Robert

      Another problem with the iCloud: Not everyone has fast, reliable always-on internet. If you have a bandwidth limit or just share a slow link with other users, the downsides of the cloud may outweigh the benefits.

      As a user who spends a substantial percentage of my time in the terminal, I cannot comment on how “hard” or “useless” Finder is. To me, a mac is a reasonable trade-off between a convenient low-effort desktop and a unix-type system. If Apple ever changes this, well, I PREFER a nice desktop, but I NEED the unix-style os layer…

      Apple has been smart in the past, as well as very dumb. I hope they do the smart thing when it comes to the whole granny-user versus power-user dichotomy. My bag of appropriate tools would be that much weaker if OSX was no longer in it.

  12. Only Human V1.0

    I know many, who use their Mail to find files they work with. Better yet, I know many, who use that email software to mail to other people to send their files back to them to find them again. I am not sure if any kind of finder or finderless method will be able to help them, because they just want to be on upper level of existence. They need a guru, not better operating systems.

  13. FarmerBob

    It’s not file management nor ease of access. It’s File Control. And by Apple . . . not us. This iCloud thing. I think Steve found a way to take it with him. And I mean take IT ALL!

    Next they’ll be offering a new servant tool called a Cylon.

    Be afraid. Be very afraid.

  14. I think there is no need to panic. “Hiding” individual files in the apps that created them is so boneheaded I doubt it will ever be more than an option for “casual users”.

  15. How about a Libraries app on iOS and Mac that would show all the libraries from all the apps and allow you do move files from library to library. For example you could move a file from the ‘downloads’ library to the ‘photos’ library.

    I guess I’m still not totally convinced that loosing the findes is an advance. The finder is the fundamental tool for organizing the digital stuff of my life. I think my brain is now wired to think using file system metafors. It will take effort to move away from that way of thinking. I already find myself frustrated working with files on iOS.

  16. I like the finder for sorting, custom toolbar use, and custom folder display. It works ok but needs many enhancements. Unlike many of my friends that are lazy, I don’t use the desktop to store all my files.

    I think the changes in Lion and the Finder should be done gradually or Apple is going to end up with another hot mess Vista style release on their hands. From what I have been reading on many blogs, the new Lion OS will only run well on new Apple Intel machines(last year 1 1/2) or older ones that are loaded with memory and the expensive SSD. Thanks for telling us this little fact Apple.

    Apple has nothing on their website stating where and how to upgrade your older Intel machines and the clock is ticking to the Lion release and user frustration! I am not going to upgrade for at least 3-4 months after the many Lion release issues have been addressed. And I’m not going to buy a new machine like Apple is pushing, but upgrade my old dual-core Intel with a SSD if I go to Lion at all.

    I am extremely worried that there will be a HUGE disconnect (literally and figuratively) with this Apple OS update. Apple is not giving the users any heads-up on what is involved with running this OS. They just assume users can handle it and well buy a new machine and track pads! Where have I seen this nightmare before?…the MS Vista release! I am still using XP pro on my PC. I might be using Snow Leopard for a LOT longer than Apple wants for the same reasons. Maybe I’ll give Linux a try?

    The Finder is the least of Apple’s worries.

  17. Peter SAdlon

    I said it else before where, things like the Finder and Windows Explorer are gonna stick around but more and more it’ll be as power user tools.

  18. I think that multi-application folders are continue to be needed and, consequently, there continue to be a need for applications that allow the users to handle folders and files. Probably there are many aditional functionalities (and / or improvements to the UI) that can be added to future versions of applications like the Apple finder to make much more easier to people to handle folders and files.
    To handle files in a completely coupled way to applications I think is not, in general, enough nor adequate. When I work in a project I need to handle several types of files and all of them should be there (in the folder). I dont think the iPad approach would be enough for that kind of scenarios. The iPad approach is good for many usage scenarios but not for all.
    In my opinion to drop the finder would be a serious mistake but to think that finder like applications can not be dramatically improved would be another serious mistake.

  19. Underlying any OS will still be a file system. Ridding the Finder would be a travesty for any power user. Hopefully, if Apple eliminates the Finder, then it will provide adequate APIs for developers to make a powerful substitute. I cannot see how taking away the ability to manage files fits in with the concept of a personal computer. Perhaps that is what Steve means by Post PC — all your data are belong to us.

    • Seems Apple cares less and less about what Mac users say and want ever since Apple went from Apple to Apple Inc$$$

      They use to care about individuality, independence, and the PC user experience.

      Now they only care about you conforming to their ever rigid standards. I miss the good old days when they only made PCs. I’m just a paying cog to them now.

      They have forgotten that they got where they are by listening to their customers unlike Google and MS.

  20. I guess we could all take advantage of an even better designed finder. Apps could have a direct hand at their own docs for newbies, but power users could still use a hierarchy that’s meaningful for work to be done – clients, projects, whatever – Every user at some point needs access to a personalized way of handling his things. I definitely need to have in the very same place all the docs concerning my clients, docs, photos, PDFs, whatever… But the actual finder isn’t the quintessential way of doing it. I’m pretty much sure Apple will come along with a totally new way, more convenient for everyone, more straightforward, and able to not cripple the power users.

    • I would hate having to store any files in Apps. Maybe it is good for the IPhone/IPad individuals, but not on my Mac/PC or business IOS devices.

      Also, what would happen if the App went corrupt? Say bye, bye to all your valuable docs that are locked in it!

      It is REALLY bad idea to embed working files in Apps. I will take the Finder any day over this rigid system of file mangement. I need to open up and share many files in many different applications on my Mac/PC. I do custom sorts and edits in BBedit, insert columns in Excel, and do final output in a page layout and graphic programs. Having a file locked together with a App is beyond stupid and counter productive to my fast paced business work! The cheap data stick is still faster for me. I don’t have my PC hooked to the web, only the Mac. A lot of people work like this to avoid viruses on their business PC and network. Data sticks are still faster and more flexible.

      Maybe somebody will make the first wifi data stick?

  21. iOS proves that consumer devices can do without a complex File System.
    OS X is only moderately successful … iTunes works fine without the user knowing how their music is stored, but iPhoto? I think it’s a nightmare.
    There’s still a difference between a mobile consumer device and a professional workstation. Before Apple can succeed in building a Finder-less OS, they really need to invent a way that makes this OS usable on a professional level.

    Just think about files that you need in several apps. Or file types that aren’t associated with any specific app. On iOS it’s mostly not possible to work on a single document with several apps. Only photos, and some music apps enable you to share your documents.

  22. I do most of my web sites now in iweb but the one thing that is a problem is that it has this library metaphor. Now this is great for when you want to open and work on a site though the more you have the less flexible it becomes which is a problem for anyone producing multiple sites so that would have to be solved somehow.

    However more problematical is the fact that when you want to pass on original files to clients to use in their own version of the software it is extremely concerning as any export would export all your sites together. While iWeb is not unfortunately and sadly not designed as a professional piece of software and there is some excuse for this it would be totally unacceptable for a Mac using so called professional software or indeed for any user wishing to have flexibility with their files.
    I don’t even use iPhoto because of previous disasters trying to sort out my imagery into logical files for access which is a shame as it is potentially very useful.

    So some breakthrough would have to occur if the flexibility of the file system and the ease of use of the library system is to be successfully combined.

  23. Some people only use the browser on their Macs. Some people use the browser and a single app or two (like, say Word or Pages). Those people don’t need the Finder. For the rest of us who use many applications on a regular basis, we absolutely need the ability to group, view, and work with sets of files which are related by their content or my work but not by the application they were created in. Removing the Finder would make the application the high-order bit, which is just stupid. Software should reflect the way people work, not force people to work in a certain way. I seriously doubt that Apple would kill the Finder, but they could replace it with something better.

  24. I think that Apple is almost ready to get rid of it. When thinking about why I use Finder, it occurs to me that Apple has almost addressed them all. For example, I go to finder to open little used apps, but Launch Pad eliminates the need for that. I also like to keep, and access, multiple iterations of the same file but the new Versions feature addresses that. The only other reason that I really need to use Finder is because I like to group files together that relate to the same project.

    If I could create Spaces for each of my Projects, and then save them, I think that my projects problem would be resolved. I could open a Space and all of my project related documents would open, ready to work and in the layout that I like. This would seem to be superior to Finder if these could open quickly.

  25. I can see having a simple iOS layer on top of a Finder application, however, I could not get my work done without the Finder. For casual use iOS would be totally adequate. Some people would never go beyond that top layer. I think Steve’s trucks and cars analogy holds here. Most people just need basic transportation. Some people work with their vehicles. For those of us working with the computer the iOS interface won’t cut it.

    I generate an image with one application, convert TIFF to ASCII with GraphicConverter, do some calculations on the images with AppleScript, chart a ternary diagram of the results with DeltaGraph Pro, paste that result into a document created in Pages, export that as a PDF and send it to the print shop to get a hundred copies for distribution. In general, when I’m working on something I can have a dozen applications up and running at the same time and I’ll switch back and forth between them as needed. Sometimes I need multiple windows of different apps open at once to compare information. iOS is not suited for that.

  26. The Finder should stay! Necessary for a great many people. I basically agree with what others have said here: Andrew, Sylvan, Roger, Nathan. I’ll refrain from repeating their excellent comments. To me the Finder and its surrogates–PathFinder, ForkLift–are like maps to my world on my computer, keys to my filing system, leave me having some control over my work when many apps leave my work in some obscure nowhere. Files to me are primary, the apps that make them are only their servants. I really need to know what’s there, where it is, and how to access it when I need it. FWIW.

  27. Stephen Wonfor

    I agree with Roger about the need for a Finder. In FMGo in the iPad I can create an export text file that I would like to open in Numbers – the data is Tab delimited. Numbers cannot see the file. In OSX I can copy the export text and paste into Numbers – columns and rows are filled. In iOS all the data ends up in one cell. I manipulate data a lot – I need to be able to examine data files in Excel, Numbers, TextEdit, TextWrangler, Preview etc.