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Desktop data management needs re-think, says Shuttleworth

By   |  October 27, 2008

Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth says that the PC desktop is facing a new revolution in the way that information is managed and that he hopes that free software will lead the way.

In a recent posting on his blog Shuttleworth says that “there’s a revolution coming as we throw out the old ‘files and folders’ metaphor and leap to something new, and it would be phenomenal if free software were leading the way.”

Shuttleworth says that the idea that managing data was becoming harder for the average user was a key theme of the recent Gnome user experience hackfest which he attended.

“I was struck by the number of different ways this meme cropped up. We had superb presentations of ‘real life support problems’ from a large-scale user of desktop Linux, and a persistent theme was ‘where the hell did that file just go?’ People save an attachment they receive in email, and an hour later have no idea where to find it. They import a picture into F-spot and then have no idea how to attach it to an email. They download a PDF from the web, then want to read it offline and can’t remember where they put it. Someone else pointed out that most people find it easier to find something on the Internet – through Google – than they do on their hard drives.”

Shuttleworth says that developers need to “rearchitect the experience of ‘working with your content'”.


One of the criticisms of the Linux desktop historically has been that there is no uniformity in the way the different desktop environments and applications work together. For new Linux users this is often a challenge as they make the leap from one application to another.

Improving this user experience and the desktop user interface is a consistent theme put forward by Shuttleworth who has regularly spoken out on the Linux desktop to be more user friendly.

“My biggest concern on this front is that it be done in a way that every desktop environment can embrace,” Shuttleworth writes. “We need a consistent experience across GNOME, KDE, OpenOffice and Firefox so that content can flow from app to app in a seamless fashion and the user’s expectations can be met no matter which app or environment they happen to use. If someone sends a file to me over Empathy, and I want to open it in Amarok, then I shouldn’t have to work with two completely different mental models of content storage. Similarly, if I’ve downloaded something from the web with Firefox, and want to edit it in OpenOffice, I shouldn’t have to be super-aware or super-smart to be able to connect the apps to the content.”


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5 Responses to “Desktop data management needs re-think, says Shuttleworth”

  1. Mark Shuttleworth considera i pc ad una svolta epocale at Linux e dintorni
    October 27th, 2008 @ 4:12 pm

    […] Link […]

  2. Ubuntu Look » Desktop data management needs re-think, says Shuttleworth
    October 27th, 2008 @ 7:33 pm

    […] Read more at Tectonic […]

  3. bjd
    October 28th, 2008 @ 3:50 am

    I think LD_PRELOAD, inotify and symlinks with timestamp-suffixes will be your
    friends here. Present symlinks in a list, in a desktop-wide window ‘recent files’
    (open, closed, etc.). Shouldn’t be that hard.


  4. Justin
    October 31st, 2008 @ 11:46 am

    I agree – I normally gmail myself stuff so that I can find it, but even that is not perfect. If Gmail had the ability to quickly add tags and notes to emails, it’d be a perfect example of the perfect filesystem.

  5. Malcolm
    October 31st, 2008 @ 2:33 pm

    Whatever is ultimately punted as the ideal replacement for the ‘files-and-folders’ metaphor, it will have to be something pretty compelling to warrant a change in the way people do things. Some are quite comfortable with the ‘sick mind’ adage as manifest in a clean desk(top), whereas others revel in chaos theory as evidenced by multiple open apps on a cluttered desk(top). Most of us probably fall somewhere between the two extremes, and just want to be able to get the job done, without having to resort to technical aids like a symlink window or some sort of ‘helper’ app (‘Post-it’ notes, anyone?). Given that the ‘files-and-folders’ way of doing things has been around since forever (we’re talking pre-PC days here), and most of us have settled on doing things the way it suits us (applies particularly in the corporate scenario, not the community, hobbyist or developer ones), I wish Shuttleworth well in his endeavours to gain acceptance of a ‘re-architected experience’…

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