Apple’s unveiling of their iCloud service at yesterday’s WWDC keynote marked the beginning in a sea-change of how we are going to interact with our computers. It marks the beginning of the end of the desktop file system.
You could argue that Google’s docs model has already done so, but the real difference is that Google’s model is about abandoning the device for he browser, whereas apple’s world view is device centric.
The desktop filing system metaphor has been around since it was invested by Xerox Parc in the early eighties, and found its way into advanced systems such as the Apple Lisa, Macintosh and Acorn’s RiscOs. At the time, it helped people understand how they could use their computers, how they weren’t so different from the offices that they were so familiar with.
However, today we are right to question whether that is the most efficient metaphor for computer use going forward. Can we do better? Apple obviously thinks that we can.
In addition to this move away from the filesystem, we have a move towards multiple device types and the need to have information available on those devices in a see less fashion. Apple could have just bought dropbox and would have gained an elegant and popular solution. But that is an elegant and popular solution for the filesystem world. Apple is ready to move beyond it.
What will this new world look like? There are some clues out there already. Documents will be managed within an in app area, and they will be sent to the cloud on a regular basis, such that the same document is available on all your devices. Evernote does this beautifully today.
Sometimes, through, you want to share files between applications. A great example of this is the media browser on MacOS, where you can access iPhoto files from within a wordprocessor or presentation app.
Some of the core technologies to allow this to happen will be introduced with MacOS X Lion, for example file versioning takes away the burden of managing different files for updated versions of files. Who hasn’t. Hard disk cluttered with v1 through v13 of a document, not to mention v5.5 and v4_Ed_fl in your email.
Yet, before the transformation can fully take place, more problems will need to be solved, such as, how can sharing and collaboration be effectively managed? How will scenarios play out where one user has Microsoft Word and another Apple’s Pages?
With Lion, Apple is moving towards the future slowly but surely. Not only are the technologies not fully ready, but people need to be read to make the transition. That means showing people the way, introducing new technologies so that users find they’re just no longer needing the filesystem before it can be finally disposed of.
The Apple columnist Daniel Eran Dilger asked on Twitter why Lion wasn’t called MacOS XI. That’s because the next big evolution will be to ditch finder, and we’re still not there yet. But, it’s time to start changing your mindset and getting ready.