Apple could kill the finder. Would you miss it?

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At the WWDC 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?

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