Keith Rarick

File Management Ideas

In theory, Gnome Zetigeist makes me happy; kudos to the people working on it for daring to make something new. Its concept excites me, but its design specifics leave me wanting. I think we can do better, and here are some concrete design ideas to back up my claim.

First I want to recognize that the iTunes-style (or Rhythmbox-style or Banshee-style) interface is successful at mitigating the complexity of a huge collection of files. There are just a few salient aspects of such an interface: a list of “data sources” on the left (including “playlists” and “smart playlists”) and a data display on the right. The data display is usually, but not always, a scrolling table with sortable columns. It is also searchable and the results update instantly (sub-250ms or, ideally, before the next frame).

This interface should be applied to all user files, not just media. I don’t advocate an auto-generated interface. Rather each data source (each item in the blue side bar) must be thoughtfully designed. Here are a few examples.


For the Music, Movies, and TV Shows, start with an exact copy of iTunes. It’s pretty good. Then go ahead and make changes if you wish, but your changes must actually be better, not merely different.


The Documents, Spreadsheets, and Presentations items would simply give appropriately-filtered lists of files.


I’m staring at three windows. The first one is drawn by Firefox; it shows a list of files I am currently downloading. The second is drawn by Nautilus; it shows a list of files I have recently downloaded. The third is drawn by Transmission; it shows a list of files I am currently downloading with BitTorrent.

Most of the time I do not care about these distinctions. I simply want to get the file I just downloaded. If it hasn’t finished yet, tell me so. I do not know, a priori, if it has finished downloading – that’s part of why I want to see it.

The Downloads item should present a list of files that have been or are being downloaded (in reverse chronological order by default). It should handle HTTP, FTP, BitTorrent, and all other things (hello, plugins…) that conceptually allow you to “download” a file.


Firefox lets me make bookmarks of web pages. Gnome lets me make bookmarks of things on my computer. Again, I mostly do not care about this distinction. Any open window that represents a file should let me make a bookmark. The window could be showing a spreadsheet, video, web page, mail message, or something else. I don’t care. Just give me a little star button like in Gmail. The star should probably be in the window title bar. (I think this would require an EWMH extension.)

The Bookmarks item should then present a list of things I have starred.

It should also understand Delicious, Weave, and similar things (hello, plugins…).


Gnome keeps a list of recently opened files. Firefox keeps a list of recently visited web pages. You guessed it; I don’t often care about that distinction. The actual data display should be at least as useful as what you get in a modern web browser.


Trash is relatively prosaic, but I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that items in the Trash should be deleted automatically after 30 days, or when space is needed. I should not have to empty the Trash myself.


This one is interesting because it probably makes most sense to show thumbnail images rather than a table of text. Sort of like F-Spot.

Preferences & Applications

These aren’t in my mockup, but might make sense to include.