A possible future for the Apple OS

Posted on 2010/10/15. Filed under: General |

As I was waking up, I was thinking about an eventual version of the Apple operating system that we would see someday.

In reality, it won’t be the upcoming OS X 10.7 as that is too soon for my idea. Maybe when we get to 11.0?

Maybe Apple’s engineers are already working on this!

In this future version of an OS, the user no longer deals with volumes, folders, etc.

The screen is just the pretty picture behind the currently open documents which, for practical reasons, are still represented as rectangular windows. Windows for documents are still a good system… Don’t throw away something that works well.

However, there’s no “File System” visible to the user to mess around with… Instead, archived documents not currently open live in the data cloud… it’s something Apple had once before on the Newton as it so happens… I think it’s time to revive this idea.

Rather than make folders within folders within folders trying to organize documents, we merely tag them with an identity and other useful markers when saving them. Some of these markers are automatic, since a picture is always an image, a spreadsheet is always a table of data, a letter is always a block of words, etc.

However, an email, a newsletter, a memo, etc. are all essentially a textual document at their base identity, so the OS can flag any such saved item with that sort of flag for easy location later. Similarly, all vector, bitmap, or even 3D CAD type documents are essentially an image.

In addition to automatic tags, the user can also add any of their own.

Plus, all words within a document automatically become search tags for that document.

This way, when we work on a new document or edit an existing one, our only decision becomes whether to hang onto the changes or discard them.

If it was a previously saved document, why don’t we keep a revision history of that document… Storage space is becoming ridiculously cheap and so we might as well automatically hang onto all versions of a document like we do now with the Time Machine backup… However, this would be just the default way that the OS works for all files!

All files flagged for deletion are merely flagged as out of the data cloud where it comes to searches… They remain as part of the “archive” history of the OS and so one can always get back to them. No more is there an “empty trash” except when one is concerned about purging all versions of a file for security reasons, and so this becomes a special action. Normal deletions of files means just that they are flagged to be not included in searches when one is wanting to open a file.

This brings me to the retrieving of existing files.

Just as iPhoto lets you see recently added images, regardless of the names of the images, there should be many ways to access previous documents… but none that involve digging through folders yourself. If it is helpful for the OS, perhaps it keeps the hard drive organized by directories automatically based on file type and/or chronologically. The user doesn’t interact with the documents that way, however.

Rather, you either tell the OS you wish to create a NEW document, followed by what TYPE (spreadsheet, image, text, email, etc.) or you tell the OS you wish to retrieve an existing document from the data cloud. Note that the data cloud can also extend to local networks and internet shared spaces… why not!

At this point, you merely ask to “OPEN” a previous document, at which point the super-efficient searching starts. Your options include WHEN you last worked on it (today, this week, this month, this year, older), what it was (image, text, email, etc.), what title you gave the file (any portion of it), any word that might be inside the file, and finally any additional tags you might have given the file.

If that is not enough to find something, you aren’t any worse off than not remembering what folder that you buried a file in with today’s OS. Like Google search results, we see the most relevant results first, but by the time we get to the last part of the results list, we have seen everything that we could have possibly been able to open… We’re not losing access to all old documents but hopefully we weren’t so brain dead that we called all our files “Untitled 1”, “Untitled 2”, “Untitled 3”, etc.

There would be alternate searches available as we are trying to open a file… For example, looking through previous revisions only when trying to access an older incarnation of a document… or digging through the files we flagged as “deleted” since we remember getting rid of the document for some reason. We could also narrow the search to non-local to our machine but on the network (including our internet storage locations).

If it isn’t our own document but one created and available on the internet, the search start point can also let us browse for public content. There’s no reason we should be firing up a web browser application and THEN starting a search!

How we work on documents is through a basket of tools… currently applications… but we don’t bother to directly launch the programs. Rather, we begin with a new blank workspace and tell the OS what we want to do and with what tools, or we access a previous document as described above and then either use the same tool that made the file or specify an alternate and compatible tool to work on the file. A “saved” web location (known today as a bookmark) is just another type of document and we could choose to look at that internet location with several alternate tools… This is analogous to having an iPhone or iPad and having multiple ways to view internet data by picking among various “apps”. That stream of twitter tweets can be viewed with a web browser or a dedicated app in today’s IOS world, for example.

I’m not inventing something new here, as Apple had many of these things already with the Newton OS and with Spotlight but what we haven’t seen is making the entire OS work this way.

Am I foretelling the future of the Apple OS? Maybe… I think it would be the better way to interact with our data.

Your thoughts are welcome.

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