Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Not having to specify a file's name or location, and generalised file identification

Sometimes I open a text file or word document as a scratch pad. Though it’s a temporary file and I’m more than likely going to end up throwing it out, I’d like to still be able to save it as I’m working on it.

To do so I have to specify a filename and a directory to store it in. I find this too heavyweight: it’s just a temporary file, I don’t really care what it is called or where it is stored. All that really matters to me is that it’s open in a window on the screen that I can easily locate now.

One way to deal with this would be that if you haven’t yet saved the file with a particular name in a particular place, the program automatically saves it in a temporary location for you. But I think there is a better solution, which points to a different way of opening and saving files.

One limitation of just saving a temporary copy of the file is that often you end up needing the scratchpad for a longer period of time, across multiple sessions using the computer. So you need to be able to close it and then open it again.

A file’s name and location is only one bit of information about the file that can be used to locate it. There’s other information that could be used for those purposes. For example, the data and time the file was created, when it was last modified, and the contents of the file.

These should by default be used to identify the file. If you save it, it saves the creation and last modification date and times. That way you wouldn’t have to give it a name and location unless you wanted to.

To open the files you’d use a modified file dialogue box or windows explorer. Rather than just showing the directory path, it would also be able to show you a chronological listing of files by creation date and modification date. It could also show a special directory listing for ‘unnamed files’.

I think you could generalise this. Essentially, you could tag files with any information you like. Then windows explorer / open dialogues could serve more as like the google search bar, where you just type in the various critiera you’re looking for, and it brings back a listing of candidates that match your critiera:

e.g. search for ‘created yesterday work 93555’
where this is to search for a document that was created yesterday
and it searchers for ‘work’ and ‘93555’ first in tags associated with the files, then in the directory and file names, and then in the contents of the files.

(yes, this would require extensive indexing and powerful processor. I’m not sure how practical a full blown version of this is for today’s machines).

To delete one of these unnamed files you could locate it in windows explorer then delete it, or -- as I think programs should work anyhow -- you should be able to open the File menu in the window it's open in, and then choose a ‘Delete file’ option.

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