The Finder is dead. Soon, a PC won’t have files, folders, or documents. It will have “apps” like an iPhone

There’s a major shift occurring in the way we interact with PCs, applications, and files. It’s being led by Apple with the iPhone, the iPad, and I predict, the next major version of Mac OS.

1. We will no longer interact with applications or files on a desktop PC

When you launch iTunes, you see your music. When you launch iPhoto, you see your photos. When you launch Mail, you see your email. Where is it all stored? Who cares. Apple stores these files on your Mac in a folder or “package” that isn’t meant to be examined or manipulated.

People resisted this model for a while. For some reason, users wanted to manage their files on a desktop, a paradigm that was revolutionary back in 1984. But I always loved Apple’s model. It makes everything easy to organize and backup. I don’t want to deal with the details, just make it work.

Apple used this as the de facto model for the iPhone. Each application has its own sandbox of files and data. The user isn’t aware of or troubled by the concept of files or storage.

The iPad works the same way, and for most people, so will their next PC. In just a few years, everyone but pro users will be using a device centered around “apps” instead of files. If you aren’t a developer, designer, or video editor, this simpler data model is all you need for the web, email, and media.

2. The central point of syncing your data will no longer be your PC, it will be Mobile Me (the cloud)

Right now you sync your iPod, iPhone, iPad, and AppleTV to your computer. Why is the computer the central point of all this? As these other devices evolve and become more powerful, we’ll use our PC less and less. The central point of sync should be the cloud, the internet.

I want to be able to access all my data on my iPhone, iPad, and iCar. And I want them all to be in sync. I want the data to be managed automatically, backed up, secure, and fast. If I buy a video on my iPad, sync it to my TV instantly. If I take a photo on my iPhone, sync it to my iPad. Don’t ask me anything, just make sure everything is everywhere.

The cloud will be the hub for everything, and each device will sync to it. When you want to replace the battery on your iPad, Apple will simply replace your entire iPad. Why not? Just resync all the data.

Back in 1998, Apple killed the floppy drive with one fell swoop. Killing the PC desktop won’t be as quick and easy, but Apple will do it over time. It started with the iPhone, and in a few years we won’t even remember the Finder.

Say goodbye to the desktop.

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Update: Interesting points after discussing with Nils:

  • The Finder hasn’t been updated with anything sexy in years. I think this is because Apple doesn’t want to devote major resources to something that should die. Expose, Dashboard, Spaces, and Spotlight are all hacks to make the final years of the Finder tolerable.
  • Apple built the iLife media browser so you can access your media between applications. This makes sense. We will need to share things, but not through generic files on the desktop. It will happen through richer tools like this one, with metadata and deep integration.

    78 comments

    1. There was procedural programming and data-centric programming and then along came Object Oriented programming – a realisation that data and process were not separated in the physical world so why create this separation in the digital world. Are we simply seeing the holistic concept of Object Oriented programming reflected at the application and even appliance level? Might we be witnessing a turning of the tide away from reductionism?

    2. Let me make my standpoint clear: I like the concept that I can very easily sync data across devices. This is something I do manually, better automated.I do not completely agree with the idea of a cloud server having all my data if it is strictly going to be in a server in apple or google.I definitely do not agree with apps having all the files they have within themselves.Imagine the work done behind a PC. The amount of research papers, Phd students, universities, research labs, companies, grants and investment behind a seemingly simple product like a laptop with an internet connection will simply be mind boggling. Crunching numbers at 2GHz is actually like a super computer that can do tasks like simulating earthquakes and making predictions about the universe. It so happens that this technology can been made cheap because it can also do some simple tasks like playing music and viewing photos and hence captures everyones’ attention. What am I try to say? To say that media browsing is all that we will ever do with a computer simply does not justify the enormous time, money and knowledge investment by the huge geek community. Remember the guys who made them work? They still work on it.I still listen to music on my computer and I want that music to be synced with my mp3 player, my car (which you have so subtly mentioned as iCar – nice touch) and on all the PCs I have. I wont mind if the music files are stored elsewhere on some server as long as I get it on all the computers. My photos too? Sure, I am going to share them by sending it to my friends using gmail which is effectively storing the pictures on google’s server.That is what 90% of the people do but not all. But lets say I want to cut a part of music or I find a feature in another music player that I dont find in iTunes. Lets say I find a feature on another word processor that I dont find in office and I really really need to use it. If Office hides my files, then it wont be possible. After all it was my content and I want to it to be handled the way I want. And I found that a different software to manage my documents is better but I am not able to make the shift because the software has my files hidden deep within its structure. I dont want that. This concept of a nice cloud operating and providing me with services and software that take the hassle off my back for managing file will only last as long as I can afford it. I am agreeing with Sachin for making this concept to be an exception to developers. But the world is not split into two groups of consumers and developers. It very well does consists of poeple in between who wants slightly different things from what usual software do. I just used a mp3 cutting software to extract a part of a song to be used as a ring tone – that was not itunes that did the job. I just zipped a lot of my unused photos and videos yesterday because it was taking up a lot of disk space – that was not picasa or iphoto that did the job. I used open office once to print some documents that were not in english as office had some problems doing the same thing. There was some photoshopping I had to do for some scanned notes before I transferred them to onenote- no way my photoshop is going to handle all my notes or onenote is going to do image sharpening stuff. I am not a developer in any of these cases, but I still required access to the files as the software I have are incomplete and I needed to get into the system to tweak some stuff myself. See, open file system helps. After all, if I am paying for a software, it better do things the way I want them to be done.Next: Why I dont want apple/google/whatever_new_company to be central point of all my cloud data.A central file storage system that syncs to all computers is a wonderful idea. Even developers will agree with this although they use words like cvs and svn instead of cloud.But lets say that I run a huge organization for the department of defense and imagine my files being stored on apple’s server. Or lets say that I am a published writer on my way in writing a new novel and obviously I dont even want an accidental peek on it by anyone else (data stored on cloud servers are not necessarily encrypted – in fact, the emails we store on gmail are stored as regular files and can be read by certain google employees). There are some people with privacy issues too. You cant argue with them into saying that nothing is ever going to happen by storing them in a different server, they will just want their data to be only on their media and inaccessible to anyone else (Its like not sharing your diary with anyone else).There are some advantages of the current system that makes it so powerful and easy to understand and use. Only a few have started to encounter some difficulty with it and it possible that in the future, companies somehow enforce cloud computing as the only way to interact with files, but that does not mean that all problems are solved – merely that some people’s problems were ignored in the interest of the company’s profit

    3. Mukund, I agree with some of your points, disagree with most. The points you give for a cloud storage, computing architecture not working are valid, but for a very small percent of people out there. And there’s nothing stopping them from continuing to do things the old, manual way. (look at how medical records are still largely on paper and transfered physically) <br/> <br/>The issue of switching applications and moving data between them will be solved. The issue around security, privacy, are all solvable problems. <br/> <br/>Anyway, I’ll say one thing. After years and years of technology and innovation on cell phones, today I use an iPhone. and I do find it to "justify the enormous time, money and knowledge investment by the huge geek community." You equate all that technology with complexity. I think it allows for simplicity.

    4. Clouds are too "big brother" for me. Even if all big brother wants to find out is how to advertise to you, it’s still annoying.War is Peace, Freedom is slavery, Less is more!

    5. Despite what we all thing this is still a long ways off and for only one reason. We don’t have access to internet everywhere. There are times when my computer isn’t connected to the internet and to have all your data in the cloud would mean that you would have to be connected to the internet 24/7.

    6. There is a secure issue in all that new way of storaging files. Well, i’m a litte conservative, it bothers me to know that all my personnal files are storaged in a private server.

    7. <html><body style="word-wrap: break-word; -webkit-nbsp-mode: space; -webkit-line-break: after-white-space; ">Mathew, you don’t always have to be connected. Your data will be on all your local devices, in sync with the cloud. The cloud is just the master hub that everything talks to<br><div><div></div></div></body></html>

    8. That is the thing, I don’t want all my data in the cloud at all. I want it to just be here, infront of me. Yes, I use things like drop box to share items or whatnot, but I never want to have all my data in the cloud, not even as a backup.

    9. It definitely sounds interesting, but this won’t necessarily work per say. We’ll have to see how it plays out.

    10. Sachin, "Who cares" stood out. (in regards to storage) Your points hit home which has me thinking about how to leapfrog ahead. thanks.

    11. Love the concept of having Apps as opposed to Files on my MacBook. I have never really figured out how to best store files or docs…Just a ps… I agree with someone else here I don’t want ever to have my stuff in a cloud and want all my stuff on my Mac and i will use my network to access if needed elsewhere…

    12. Hey there, I found this page looking for some sort of advice on organizing my insane photo folder and got totally side-tracked by all brain candy written here.My thing is, none of the things I do on my Mac are for work, so I guess I’m just a consumer… But I don’t use my computer like one. I’m an unemployed student taking a semester off, so I literally sit around all day at my iMac, making things. All sorts of things. If you’ve ever seen The Brothers Bloom, by any chance, Rachel Weisz’s character is a rich shut-in who collects hobbies. That’s basically me. I write, draw, make Photoshop art, design websites (code and graphics), make videos and music, and I’m an amateur photographer. I’m also interested in fashion and have a large collection of photos of interesting outfits.With all these files, I sometimes create folders filled with completely unrelated filenames and filetypes, because they evoke a mood that I want to keep in mind for my next story/website/song/video/photoshoot/etc. Would I be able to make a "playlist" of all these files in this new system? If so, how could I access it? I don’t want a big list of folders in the left navigation unless I have the ability to have subfolders, and even then I think it’ll look messy quick.I can accept no file structure on my iPhone because it’s just a phone and I don’t expect much out of it, but there’s a reason I don’t really want an iPad – that’s just not how *I* use my computer, I guess. I make a lot of things, and even if they’re totally stupid (which I admit, they are), they mean something to me, and I’d be sad if, in the future, I’d have to pay for premium software to have access to a straight-forward folder hierarchy like I have now. I’m all for making things simpler, but I don’t know if it’s a good idea to cater only to people who are only interested in computers for consuming, rather than creating. If the iPad is the start of a "computer for people who don’t need real computers" revolution, and that means real computers will stay the way they are, awesome. Otherwise, I think the solution would be to make a default simplified interface like you’re proposing, with the option for advanced users to go "under the hood" and do everything they can do now, and more.

    13. This concept is about as fresh and realistic as the vanishing of printed books. IT WON’T HAPPEN. In a complete rational world, we ‘d be all running around with iPads, drive cars that produce zero emissions, wear clothes from L.L Bean (because they provide lifetime warranty).In the REAL world, we all drive cars with different colors (why?), wear clothes that make a statement and spend our time on computers that not only fill a purpose, but match our way of working.I heard this argument all to often before – for years! The working world touted their fancy ECM systems (SharePoint, Documentum, FileNet etc.) and gleefully announced the death of the stray file. Now, fast forward to 2010 and take a look at the newest statistics (i.e. from AIIM, an organization that is dedicated to content management). Surprise – we juggle more files on our hard disks than ever before.We are humans, not computers. We have sticky fingers, coffee stains on our mouse pads, and loads of files with text, music, pictures as well as video that we will not part with easily. The cloud as a storage won’t cut it, either. I have a super fast fiber optic connection to my house. But the NAS drive in my basement is still faster. Unless someone hooks me up to the internet at 1000 MBit, I will always like my local drives better. Not very rational, right? So much for being a human.

    14. I have just browsed through the discussion so please forgive me if some of my issues have already been mentioned:- having all my files only in the cloud raises security concerns for me. With local storage only local access can get them. I can choose what files I want to sync to the cloud to get access anywhere. Keeping them all in the cloud they are only one hackable identity away. This is a no-no for me. I don’t have industry grade secrets, but I value my private life and integrity. YMMV. Most of the time, people that had their personal photos leaked didn’t consider them "valuable" or "private" until AFTER the leak.- I like to organize files MY way. As an amateur photographer with some 40000+ images (conservatively counting) I want to be able to arrange them any way I want. File system hierarchies, cataloguing program, searchable metadata at the same time is nice. I don’t like someone forcing their way onto me.- Search in not for everyone. Most people doesn’t know how to find using a search in a large dataset. I have colleagues having worked for 10+ years at my job, accumulating loads of documents and mail in archives. Finding something is hard! It might be easy for the "casual" computer user that check private mail (and has quite a moderate amount of email), produces a very limited amount of documents in their life. If you are speaking about these users, yes, the "finder" might as well be dead for them. But they are not in need of a general purpose computer anyway. They could use a dedicated device for their needs. The trouble is the day they outgrow these needs.The strength of the general purpose computer is that these limitations does not exist. "Sandboxing" files only increases frustration and what is "sandboxing" worth if you can allow other apps to get to them. Then it is not sandboxing anymore. Oh, you say "permissions" and I say "show me the average user that can maintain a good set of permissions". I will show you the common solution: "allow all". No sandbox anymore.We (I am a computer science guy) can do a lot to increase usability and attractiveness of computers. But this is not THE solution. Perhaps A solution for SOME users, but far from all, and not even a good solution for the general public in my opinion.

    15. You are just some Mac Fanboy. Always there will be files and documents. Apps still suxs. iPad suxs too. No multitasking and so on. Just some screen to run one app and thats all.

    16. But off course!haven’t you ever asked what a file is?The file model wasn’t the right thing to have in the first place. The file model is a stupid abstraction to deal with real things that in the real world have names. Names like: contracts, balance sheets, movies, etc. Today we are feeling heavier how the file model mismatch our real needs. By the way, by "our real needs" I’m referring to non-geek people. For geeks I’d say: did you noticed how objects are a way better abstraction?The thing is that the file model worked pragmatically well for poor foundational hardware/software and we just used it.Turns out we are entering in the age when we better stop idealizing abstractions and start using them for "concretions" or make projects perish in theoretical universes that won’t make any difference for nobody.I’d like to echo what William James said: "thinking is for doing" Paraphrasing him: abstracting wasn’t invented for making more abstractions (that force users to be detectives of convoluted UIs)

    17. The cloud suffers from some fundamental problems when compared to traditional PC storage. These include:1) You have to have the network infrastructure in order to access the cloud. Not in a wifi area? No cloud for you. Can’t get a cable run out to the forest when you live (where satellite isn’t available)? Too bad. Is it thunderstorming and you have satellite? You might have clouds over your home, but you don’t have any on your network…2) You surrender control of your data to the cloud. Are we REALLY going to trust big, multinational corporations (who run the cloud) to manage things effectively and in our best interest?3) I hope you weren’t expecting your data to be secure. Anyone who has access to the slice of the cloud where your data is stored can find out all sorts of things about you (that maybe you really didn’t want to become general knowledge).I can list a few more, but in the interest of brevity I will leave it as an exercise to the reader… 😉

    18. First, I really like what Matt (June 02, 2010 post) wrote. It sums up some of the very real reasons why "the cloud" won’t be the ONLY place for our data of any kind. And, even working with a great program like Evernote (www.evernote.com), if I can’t get to the cloud I would have no way to access an incredible amount of information. So, they have a desktop portion and it syncs with the "cloud," so I can find things with my smartphone or on another computer. But, if something happens to the "cloud" do I have to start again or are we sure things are truly backed-up to an earth-bound hard drive?My smartphone does back up to "the cloud." And, yes, it does slow things down a bit. And, some parts of it sync with the Google cloud, which I didn’t even know until I was just playing around one evening. But, that phone also is back-up to my computer, my FTP site, and a number of other places. Call me paranoid, but we wouldn’t have so many back-up systems if there weren’t the need for so many back-ups.My guess is that earth-bound files are here for a good while longer. Ever purchase software and download it, then, even though you can re-download, copy it to a CD? See, we all are not quite ready for the almighty cloud.

    19. Firstly, there’s nothing new about this model. Financial and other database applications have been doing this for decades. When you create a receipt in any accounting software, you don’t know or care where the receipt is stored.Secondly, there’s nothing ‘Apple’ about this either, and attributing it to Apple is typical of devoutly religious Apple consumers. Popular media players like WinAmp have had libraries that abstract the file-system for ages long before iTunes. ALL email clients behave as you describe (even Pine).

    20. I agree. Calling this ‘the apple model’ is ridicoulus and insulting to all those who have used computers longer than the past 5 years.

    21. ADVANCE CLARIFICATION: Just re-read what I had previously posted and realised I might not have been clear…NOT NEW: All we are seeing is more applications adopting this way of doing things — file-system abstraction. But there’s nothing new about it.NOT APPLE: I use a MacBook Pro which I boot between MacOS X, WinXP and Ubuntu for cross-platform development. Though I agree developers like me need to abstract the file-system from users more often, I really FAIL to see how Apple uses file-system abstraction any more than everyone else. It’s the typical application — music, e-mail, accounting.

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