Ramblings of General Geekery

Computer Files Are Going Extinct

Although it’s somewhat ironic that this article was written on Medium, this is a very good rant on obsolescence of files:

I love files. I love renaming them, moving them, sorting them, changing how they’re displayed in a folder, backing them up, uploading them to the internet, restoring them, copying them, and hey, even defragging them. As a metaphor for a way of storing a piece of information, I think they’re great. I like the file as a unit of work. If I need to write an article, it goes in a file. If I need to produce an image, it’s in a file.

I also love files. That’s why I put them in a NAS. And then I have another NAS to backup the first NAS. That’s why my blog is essentially generated from a bunch of files, and why my notes are in a wiki that’s also generated from a bunch of files. Files are easy to edit, store, version, backup, recover. Sure, they don’t scale very well to giant online services, but for personal use, they’re the absolute best in my opinion. Of course, they’re also the worst for companies who want to lock you in and profit from your data under cover of “convenience”.

But Apple doesn’t make it that easy to get to your files. Images are dumped into a big stream, sorted by date. Audio is somewhere in iTunes. Notes are… in a list? Apps are scattered around the desktop. Some of my files are in iCloud. You can email photos to liberate them from the iPhone, and through a convoluted method via iTunes, you can access some files within certain apps. But those files are transitory — cached, and may be deleted without warning. These aren’t like the carefully crafted files and folders on my computer.

This one of the reasons I have a love/hate relationship with my iOS devices. And if you look at the number of apps that support some Dropbox or Box integration or similar, I don’t think I’m the only one. I’m actually not even sure Dropbox would have been as popular if Apple had initially released iOS with friendly support for moving files in and out of the device. Most of the apps I use on a regular basis on my iPad are ones that can interact with the files in my home network, like Plex or GoodReader. I refuse to store stuff on iCloud (except as a form of extra backup), regardless of how many times Apple insists on running advertisements on my phone in the form of notifications you can’t disable1.

Anyway, read the whole article, as it’s making several other interesting points on the subject.

Bottom-line: I also miss files. We eventually got the big companies to sell music as DRM-free files, but it looks like it’s never going to happen for video. Everything is a cloud subscription service, now. Everything is streaming. Everything is a timeline. It’s not just about files going extinct, it’s about the very concept of “ownership” going obsolete.

  1. Apple has been getting worse on that front, lately. ↩︎