[Thunar-dev] Spatial or not-spatial?

Benedikt Meurer benedikt.meurer at unix-ag.uni-siegen.de
Mon Feb 28 22:50:08 CET 2005

Jasper Huijsmans wrote:
>>> I agree. Like I said during the discussion, it is exactly how I use 
>>> Rox currently. Alexander's comment was that it a navigational 
>>> interface needs a way to tell the user where they are. So, a location 
>>> bar (not nice),  a tree (doesn't really fit the design) [...]
>> Sorry if I missed a point, but which design do you mean here?
> The navigational one.

Hm, a tree fits the navigational design very well IMHO.

> Important for me is that there is only one window. 
> I know where my files are, so I just go there. If I want to move/copy it 
> somewhere else I open a new window and drag things over. This is most 
> likely not the way most users work.

I guess most users would just right-click the file, select 'Cut file', 
use the treeview (or probably the up/back buttons) to navigate to the 
destination folder and choose 'Paste files' if they are used to/forced 
to use a browser like file manager.

>> Well, as said, personally I'd prefer the spatial view, but as Auke 
>> said, its not about our personal opinion...
> Hehe, you start to sound just as undecided as the rest of us. Like I 
> said, I see advantages to both, but i really don't know which one to 
> choose.

I'm not undecided; I've made my point clear. In my opinion, Xfce should 
focus on ease-of-use and simplicity in the future (I'm sure everybody 
remembers that *useless* debate on xfce4-dev); we don't need another 
geek toy for the Unix/Linux desktop, we have already a lot of complex 
file managers out there. I don't care if a bunch of geeks don't use the 
final Thunar version (in fact I doubt that I'll ever use a file manager 
on a regular basis myself), if we can make the average user happy with a 
simple file manager in Xfce 4.4.0. No matter what we think of Xffm 
personally, I think the overall user feedback should have told us that 
the advanced/complex file manager attempt is not what the average Xfce 
user wants, so lets learn from history here (interestingly, the average 
KDE user seems to prefer a higher degree of complexity in the file 
manager UI, but that doesn't matter, since we don't develop for KDE here).

Note, that I don't want to clone Spatial Nautilus here (and people 
should not try to turn Thunar into a ROX clone). Instead, my vision is a 
spatial interface, that supports the users way of thinking about their 

"Beginners are, by necessity, task-oriented. It is very hard for us 
techies to understand beginners, not because we know the stuff well, but 
because we're professional learners who have evolved a highly efficient 
personal learning methodology without even thinking about it. Our 
tendency is to present facts and examples. We structure information the 
way we would like it, not the way the user needs it."

Its really necessary to keep that in mind.

Oliver (my boss) made an interesting point recently about the file 
manager design:

Imagine the WWW, its hierarchically by design:

   |- xfce
   |   |- thunar
   |   |   | - /wiki
   |   |   |    | - /dokuwiki.php
   |- gnu
   | ....

and so on. Many people tend to think of the WWW organization as a 
complex graph, but if you think twice, you'll discover, that it's really 
just a simple tree (with *lots* of nodes).

Now, if you are looking for information, e.g. you are looking for 
information about 'graphical file managers for Unix', then you could of 
course traverse the `WWW tree' to search for matching documents. But 
nobody would do that - really, ask yourself. :-) Instead you'll most 
probably query google (or msn, or whatever) and check the results.

The question is: Why? The WWW is organized as a tree, why not traverse it?

The answer is simple: It takes too much time, because there are too many 
nodes. Thats why you'd use a query-interface, rather than the 

So, lets have a look at or file system. Of course, nobody has the WWW on 
his file system at home - "has anybody seen my internet backup?" - but 
the amount of data on home desktops is ever growing, with no end in 
sight. And the answer most people gave me here recently is that you need 
the tree-interface to master this amount of data.

Hm, ok, lets recall, for the WWW you use the query-interface because 
thats the way to master a huge amount of data, but for your file system 
you use the tree-interface because that's the only way to master a huge 
amount of data - btw, to make sure nobody gets stuck on the terminology: 
"data" = information, no matter if that information is presented by 
local files, by static html page, by table rows in databases, etc.

That doesn't make sense on the long-run (in *my very own* opinion). 
Instead it sounds like some old bad habit that doesn't want to die yet.

Ok, that was a bit longer than I intended, but I hope it helps to 
understand my my point of view a bit. Most important to me is, that:

1) Thunar is simple and easy-to-use
2) We don't blindly implement an old concept, just because we've seen it 
working in the past (remember - in the beginning - the WWW was 
searchable from a tree-interface quite well!).

I can walk that old road too, as long as 1) is taken into account. But 
it would be nice if atleast the people arguing here would try to 
understand that there's another (probably better) way. And remember, its 
for the user (!= 24/7 geek), not for you (well, maybe its for you as 
well, but that doesn't matter).

Ok, even that appendix is too long. Hm, too late already...


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