On files and applications

The mobile revolution is shaking up the software market. Old paradigms (bigger is better) disappear and new ones are created.

One area where these changes are specifically noticeable is the relation between applications and the file system.

Most computing environments are in what I call the second generation, where the file system is the dominant part of this relation. The file is the centre of our activities. To start working we open a file and the associated application is automatically launched. We only start application directly when we want to create a new file.

This has not always been like this: in the past (first generation) the applications were the core, where applications gave access to data on the mainframe or in databases. There are some situations where we work in applications without having any idea of the underlying file- or database structure. E-mail is one of the uses of this system.

Like I said, the mobile revolution is changing this again. Mobile operating systems as iOS, Symbian and Android give very limited access to the file system and force us back to the mainframe era. Even the desktop operating systems don’t give you direct access to the file system anymore, but rather a virtual system mounted on top of the real file system.

It looks like file system abstraction is the future, but I don’t think that applications will be the centre of our universe. The operating system of the future won’t be centred on files or applications, but will use processes and tasks as the leading parameter.

In the operating system of the future, you will be able to say that you want to write, and a simple text editor will open. The moment you access more advanced editing functions, the application will automatically switch to another editing engine. Of course, you text is automatically saved and can be used in many ways.

In the future, operating systems will actually help you being productive. Trust me.

Jeroen Sangers @jeroensangers