Re: If you could change the C or C++ or Java syntax, what would you like different?

Tom Anderson <>
Mon, 18 Oct 2010 08:46:46 +0100
On Sun, 17 Oct 2010, ClassCastException wrote:

On Sat, 16 Oct 2010 22:55:46 +0000, Martin Gregorie wrote:

MS-DOS, like the other 8 bit OSen (FLEX, FLEX-09, CP/M, etc.), just had
a flat list of file names which was OK because few of its users could
afford disks big enough for the lack of directories to be a problem.

It's about to happen again. In the mid-80s we reached the scaling limits
of flat file lists and went to hierarchical directories. Now we're
approaching the scaling limits of hierarchical directories. I haven't
seen a modern system that doesn't have some ludicrously long full-path-
names of files, highly deeply nested directory structures, and human
trouble navigating the wilderness of files and keeping track of what
files are for what purpose.

You should come and see mine. Nothing special, bog-standard Fedora 13,
which follows big-standard unix filesystem layout. I have a home
directory, in that i have subdirectories for different sorts of things
(Documents, Pictures, Music, Code), in those i have subdirectories for
projects, and in those i have files. A typical absolute path:


Doesn't seem ludicrously long to me. Especially given that the /home/tom
is often implicit.

Things that aren't my documents can live in other places. For instance,
javac is at:


As are almost all the other programs i've installed with the package
manager. Some things i've installed myself are slightly deeper; for
example, the OpenJPA javadoc is at:


Even that isn't that long, really. I certainly don't have trouble
navigating. I know:

* My stuff is in /home/tom/${appropriate subdirectory}
* System stuff is in /bin, /sbin, /etc, /lib, /var and so on
* Package-managed stuff is in /usr (/usr/bin, /usr/lib etc), and also /etc
   and /var
* System-wide stuff i've installed by hand is in /usr/local, except for
   some of it which is in /opt

There are some more obscure things, and Chrome goes in /opt despite being
package-managed, but that's 99% of what i need to know.

If something is package-managed, i can ask the package manager about it.
If i know the filename but not the location, i can ask locate.

Applications come with numerous files; on Windows systems they tend to
be bundled with it in Program Files (with some libraries being
elsewhere, or else duplicated wastefully); on Unix systems all kinds of
config and other files get scattered to the four winds, /usr, /etc,
/bin, and ~/.appname.

True. But the package manager knows where they are (barring ~/.*,
generally), and mostly, i don't care.

Documents might end up anywhere, at least on Windows machines.

Yeah, that doesn't tend to happen to me. It also didn't tend to happen to
me when i used Windows, from what i recall.

Another tension is between organizing by program and organizing by higher
level task.

No, because you just don't organise by program. That's a dumb idea which
went out some time in the late 80s.

Say someone's throwing together a report and presentation. The report is
made in Word, the presentation in PowerPoint, both using data from an
Excel spreadsheet, and some of the graphs were copied, pasted into
Photoshop, prettied up, and then embedded as .png files. Oh, and the
whole thing is also HTMLized using FrontPage and posted to the company
LAN as well as the PP presentation presented at the Friday afternoon
general staff meeting and the printed report handed to the boss
afterward in the hall outside the conference room. And the guys that
couldn't attend the meeting in person phone-conferenced with those that
were while consulting the copy on the LAN's internal website.

So you've got Photoshopped pngs along with xls, doc, pp, and other
files, that logically are part of one project. The user wants to file
them as "2010 2nd quarter budget report" or whatever, under "2010 budget
reports", under "budget reports", ideally; the programs all would like
to keep track of their own files, docs with docs, xlses with xlses;

Do they? I don't recall any programs i used on Windows doing that.

and Windows itself would dearly love it if you'd just shove the whole
mess in "My Documents" along with every single other file the user ever

So keep your project folders in My Documents. Even if Windows dumps you
there rather than the last folder you used or whatever, your destination
is a few clicks away.

Add to that how every kind of browser, file sharing tool, or similar
client for downloadable content ends up with its own preferred
directories for storing received files, plus iTunes, plus various sync
folders for your phone and laptop, and so on, and so forth, and we're
rapidly heading straight back into file management hell.

I would agree that we need better management of that. For me, it's not too
bad - Firefox and Chrome save things to ~/Downloads, rtorrent saves to
wherever i tell it to, i don't use a tool for my phone or camera (they're
mass storage devices - why on earth would i?), and i don't have any other
downloaders. Well, unless you count sftp, ftp, and so on, but those put
things where you tell them.

What's our savior going to be? I'm beginning to suspect we're going to
soon see a wave of new file management tools, at first appearing as
third- party "knowledge manager" programs and eventually superseding
Explorer- style shells as those have superseded the old C:\ prompt.
These will provide their own nonhierarchical, link-based file management
ability, probably with the ability to easily convert any subnetwork of
stuff into web pages, or even acting as a web site itself; a
locally-hosted web app that can easily adapt to make some stuff
publishable remotely. Hyperlinks will creep into everything and become
easy to create via drag and drop; no copying and pasting (or worse,
memorizing and typing) long filenames.

Keep taking the medicine.


90% mental, 25% effort, 8% mathematics

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