WINFILE.EXE
September 5, 2019 12:36 PM   Subscribe

This morning when you woke up, did you even slightly suspect that today you would find out that Microsoft has re-released the classic Windows 3.1 File Manager, updated and working on Windows 10, on both GitHub and the Microsoft Store?

It's not exactly the same--under the File menu are options to run bash or PowerShell, and you can configure it for the text editor of your choice and put on toolbar buttons for compressing and uncompressing archives.
posted by JHarris (79 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
O happy day!
posted by potrzebie at 12:40 PM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


History repeats itself, the first as tragedy, then as Windows 10.
posted by betweenthebars at 12:40 PM on September 5, 2019 [33 favorites]


I feel like I see this type of filemenu often enough just installing drivers or obscure software. Is there a benefit to using this or is it just a fun "classic" release for nostalgia's sake? Tangent regarding both Windows and Mac's file managers, both are inadequate and do things the other doesn't and they'd both benefit from copying one another. You can really tell how petty they are in the small ways they obtusely make sharing a file system between mac and PC a pain in the ass.
posted by GoblinHoney at 12:42 PM on September 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


Been out for a while. Truthfully, it only served as nostalgia for me--I always found it more awkward than the command line.

Then again, I'm the retrogrouch who misses VMS.
posted by MrGuilt at 12:43 PM on September 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


The evolution of Windows file managers is interesting, and a good example of how feature creep can ruin something. The Windows File Manager was quick and easy to use. Windows Explorer added just a little bit to it, adding file icons, customizable right-click menus, a fancier interface, and showing icons on the Desktop and serving as the File Open and Save dialogs. Then, slowly, Explorer became more bloated, hosting previews and showing HTML backgrounds (remember Active Desktop?) and also serving as the Taskbar interface and the Start menu and a ton of other things. Before I installed my SSD last week, sometimes right-clicking on a file took several seconds for the menu to appear, just from the weight of all those little context menu handlers starting up.

It is arguable that WINFILE.EXE is probably a bit too primitive now, but one can't argue that it isn't fast.
posted by JHarris at 12:50 PM on September 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


a) file manager sucks
b) when file manager came out it was a revelation and the most amazing thing I had ever seen and promised to usher in a new age of desktop computing
c) file manager sucks
posted by GuyZero at 12:50 PM on September 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


just from the weight of all those little context menu handlers starting up.

This was the real vision for OLE all along.
posted by GuyZero at 12:51 PM on September 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


Oh man this takes me back to my 386 or was it a 486? I can't recall. I do know I had signed up for a Windows 95 disc, but for a few glorious months I had Windows 3.1.1 on my Compaq. I liked it but I'll be brutally honest, the first time I saw those blue and white sky/cloud combinations, I forgot all about 3.1.1.

This will still be fun to go back to. Either that or I'll realize how young and naive I was. Let's find out.
posted by Fizz at 12:51 PM on September 5, 2019


AKA the File Mangler.
posted by 445supermag at 12:51 PM on September 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


Was watching "Captain Marvel" the other night and was wondering about the computer with the "classic" interface. ("What are we waiting for?" "The sound file is loading.") If you want your computer brand on screen in a movie set in the 80's, 90's or Oughts, then keeping a current version with the old interface makes sense, from a marketing perspective.
posted by SPrintF at 12:52 PM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


AKA the File Mangler.

which is why it was replaced by windows exploder
posted by pyramid termite at 12:58 PM on September 5, 2019 [11 favorites]


Once again, I don't understand nostalgia for old tech.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:58 PM on September 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


Nostalgia is based on reviving associations you had when something was popular.

I see File Manager and I remember a time when I was young and carefree and didn't have back pain.
posted by GuyZero at 1:00 PM on September 5, 2019 [35 favorites]


> Once again, I don't understand nostalgia for old tech.


See the glee and spirit with which Irving Finkle preserves the legacy of cuneiform.
posted by stonepharisee at 1:10 PM on September 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


I see File Manager and I remember a time when I was young and carefree

I never associate things like this with youth and carefree-itude; I associate things like this with the hard work of my early career and the difficulty of dealing with limitations and clunkiness.

Back pain does suck, though.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:12 PM on September 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


Aw, File Manager. It's easy to laugh, but it was a good design! The file manager I'm using right now (nemo) is almost identical in overall layout (drives/bookmarks have been moved to the sidebar, the tree is now integrated with the file panel, and of course we all get textual nav bars now).

Of course, nothing has ever really matched Norton Commander, but what could?

yes, midnight commander, i know, but it was a kind of had to be there sorta thing
posted by phooky at 1:12 PM on September 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


Next up, Microsoft Bob on github?
posted by farlukar at 1:23 PM on September 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


I don't understand nostalgia for old tech.

Oh, I do. I feel like user interfaces and personal computing in general have gotten progressively worse in the past few years, and I miss the days when I felt like computing was fun. Yes, I can do much more with my computers these days, but there's a lot about the experience that (for me, anyway) is less pleasant.

Modern UIs often feel way too cartoony or Fischer-Price for my money. I liked the old clunky UIs.
posted by jzb at 1:30 PM on September 5, 2019 [17 favorites]


but what could

xtree turbo pro gold.
posted by bonehead at 1:36 PM on September 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


I'll be brutally honest, the first time I saw those blue and white sky/cloud combinations, I forgot all about 3.1.1.

I held onto Windows 3.1 until the last possible moment. No, seriously: I had a 486 Windows 3.1 laptop in 2003 or 2004 - no internet access, no file transfer capability except by floppy. Okay, that began to get a bit annoying, especially when more and more other computers didn't even have disk drives, and it was my remote note-taking machine, not my primary computer.

Sometimes, I still miss that lightening speed of Windows 3.1 on a 486 machine. Computers may do so much more now, but they don't do it any (subjectively) faster.
posted by jb at 1:38 PM on September 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


Damn you WOW Classic, damn you to hell! You blew it up! Damn you! We built those floodgates on the past for a reason! Do you not realize that generative design plus Protolabs plus the 80s will actually get you skeleton shaped killer robots?!?

(Can this trend get us paper ballots back?)
posted by BeeDo at 1:39 PM on September 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


There will always be those who pine for the "old days", like the guy I used to work with who disliked directories and thought all files should just sit there at the root of the disk.

He was also a Forth programmer.
posted by tommasz at 1:46 PM on September 5, 2019 [13 favorites]


Periodic reminder that Windows 93 is still a thing
posted by phooky at 1:48 PM on September 5, 2019 [12 favorites]


Man, I feel like an outlier, but I prefer the old file manager. It was the last time I felt like I actually understood everything going on when I was using a computer. There's so much going on in the backend now, so much of it completely opaque to me, that seeing the old file cabinet again is sort of a relief.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 1:53 PM on September 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


I felt like I actually understood everything going on when I was using a computer.

Once MSFT invented COM/OLE this was no longer true unless you were one of a dozen or so core devs on the Windows team. I'm sure you thought you knew what was happening, but go read a book on COM. You had no idea. It's Lovecraftian. (and let me be clear that I don't really understand COM either, I just read the book and lost sanity points)
posted by GuyZero at 1:58 PM on September 5, 2019 [10 favorites]


Nope. Didn't.
posted by bz at 2:06 PM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


I sent this around work earlier and one of my coworkers pointed out that no matter how painful the things we are working on now might be, at least it's not wfcopy.c. (I mean, look at the hoop-jumping they have to do for Japanese file names!)

Also I remember I got yelled at by a boss at my first job out of college because I'd renamed it to FileMangler and he didn't know what it meant anymore.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:30 PM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


...no matter how painful the things we are working on now might be, at least it's not wfcopy.c.

// BUGBUG !!!
posted by JHarris at 2:44 PM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


Metafilter:
// Put up the hourglass cursor since this
// could take a long time
posted by hanov3r at 2:58 PM on September 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


Just dl'ed (65 kB) and tried it. Holy heck it is fast.
posted by Mogur at 3:11 PM on September 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


File Manager. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...
posted by SonInLawOfSam at 3:16 PM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


I was one of the people given Win 3.1 software developers kits from MS. Think I beta tested 3.1 circa 1987? Anyways, I always used the command line for working with files. Way faster that way. Or do a batch job.
posted by baegucb at 3:19 PM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


Say what you want about Microsoft, their dedication to backwards compatibility is unlike almost anything else in the industry.

Meanwhile, many iOS and Android apps from a year ago are already broken...
posted by schmod at 3:22 PM on September 5, 2019 [11 favorites]


Also, Apple has never released a good file manager, so I guess they get points for consistency as well....
posted by schmod at 3:23 PM on September 5, 2019 [11 favorites]


There were several add-ons for the file manager that made it a more useful tool. WinDesk (I think that was the name of the one I used.) Everything these programs did is now just part of the environment. BUT -- and this is the thing -- Windows 3.1 was very malleable and very fun to play with and everyone was doing apps and add-ons, and I think this was a very fun time to play with computers. So, yeah, re-issuing File Manager is nostalgia. And fun.
posted by CCBC at 3:31 PM on September 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


I guess File Manager is OK if you're willing to waste all that memory running Windows, but it's no XTree.
posted by The Tensor at 3:50 PM on September 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


find . -print
posted by GuyZero at 5:03 PM on September 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


History repeats itself, the first as tragedy, then as Windows 10.

I wish History would arc towards the kind of improvements Windows 10 has made over the previous versions.
posted by srboisvert at 5:13 PM on September 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


Is this something I would need a math coprocessor to run?
posted by srboisvert at 5:15 PM on September 5, 2019 [18 favorites]


There will always be those who pine for the "old days", like the guy I used to work with who disliked directories and thought all files should just sit there at the root of the disk.

This is essentially AWS S3, what is old is new again ...
posted by forforf at 5:37 PM on September 5, 2019


Is this something I would need a math coprocessor to run?

No, Windows 10 will trap and emulate floating point instructions on architectures with no FPU.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 6:02 PM on September 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


Windows 10 will trap and emulate floating point instructions

Kidnapping and fraud going on under the hood of your daily operating system!!
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:28 PM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


Kidnapping and fraud going on under the hood of your daily operating system!!

Nah. Microsoft has an exception.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 6:37 PM on September 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


Please don't tell me this is some sort of Stranger Things nostalgia tie-in. Between this and Stallman speaking at Microsoft, I may just slowly stroll into the ocean.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:01 PM on September 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


Microsoft has never created a decent file manager. Free Commander ftw.

As far as I'm concerned, every version of Windows is the best, because they've all been huge improvements on the previous (well, except for Vista and 8... missed the first during my excursion into MacLand, and held on to Win 7 long enough to dive right into 8.1). But that means the previous versions all look like "why did we like this?"
posted by lhauser at 7:04 PM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


I've merrily deleted every MS installation I've come across, since around 1993. IMHO, Midnight Commander is the best file manager ever coded.
posted by Agave at 7:08 PM on September 5, 2019


The lights are strong
The orders are in
Norton Commander is ready to sin
Radio message from HQ
Midnight Commander, we love you
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:16 PM on September 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


> well, except for Vista and 8

You forgot WinME, which was a putrid pile of crap.
posted by Enturbulated at 7:26 PM on September 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


Does it come in Hot Dog Stand?
posted by Space Coyote at 8:17 PM on September 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


You forgot WinME

I had managed to forget it; thanks so much for reminding me of it.
;)
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:44 PM on September 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


Also, Apple has never released a good file manager, so I guess they get points for consistency as well....
posted by schmod
John Siracusa will fight you about the Spatial Finder. (Also, personally, I think that the Finder today is… basically just as good as any other modern file manager? Column view is pretty neat to have.)
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:11 AM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


Give me XTree Gold or give me death.
posted by happyinmotion at 1:29 AM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


Computers may do so much more now, but they don't do it any (subjectively) faster.

That's because of Wirth's Law.
posted by flabdablet at 2:56 AM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


I wonder if it will run under Wine.
posted by zengargoyle at 3:31 AM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


Directory Opus
posted by Homemade Interossiter at 4:10 AM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


There will always be those who pine for the "old days"

I see what you did there.
posted by mikelieman at 4:41 AM on September 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


That's because of Wirth's Law.

Some reasons are more egregious than others. Yes, there are enough spare CPU cycles to encode/decode data at rest into a format that's not a raw memory dump, and to have levels of abstraction so that getting input/rendering output is not device-dependent, which is good. OTOH, people being used to machines being slow allows developers to push their costs onto users by writing their apps once as slow, bloated JavaScript and wrapping it in an Electron app, knowing that the reason people have 32Gb of RAM on their machines is so that they can run Atom, Microsoft Teams and a cloud note-taking app at the same time without each mouse click taking more than 2s.

When I'm Emperor of the World, Electron will be outlawed, and its use will be punishable by banishment.
posted by acb at 4:45 AM on September 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


And there are still lunatics out there who prefer it.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:11 AM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


I wish History would arc towards the kind of improvements Windows 10 has made over the previous versions.

It has. Everything these days is newer, cleaner, more modern, and with nonremovable advertising and corporate monitoring built in. Your wish is granted!
posted by caution live frogs at 5:35 AM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


schmod: "Also, Apple has never released a good file manager, so I guess they get points for consistency as well...."

The current one really is terrible. I'm a fairly new Mac user and I was slightly shocked at how bad Finder is.
posted by octothorpe at 6:31 AM on September 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


like the guy I used to work with who disliked directories and thought all files should just sit there at the root of the disk.

I mean, with a modern OS with tagging and robust search, why not? I have gradually given up trying to carefully categorize things in sub-folders, because I can find it faster by searching for part of the name + tags.
posted by xedrik at 6:49 AM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


I don't understand nostalgia for old tech.

I don't know--there may be a few factors:
  • There communities who restore and use classic cars, fountain pens, vintage farm equipment, antique furniture, vintage clothes, vintage bicycles, and almost any field you can think of (not to mention folks who look for modern replicas of any of that). Add to that historical reenactors, and, to some degree, the RenFaire folks who want to keep the flame alive. They all have an appreciation for what was in the past, along with an interest in helping not lose such artifacts to history. Vintage computing draws from similar impulses.
  • There are always folks who have some nostalgia for the past. Even if it's not part of their workflow, they like having it around. A lot of my VMS nostalgia is tied to the role such a system played in how I met my wife.
  • There are always going to be folks who have built their workflow around certain technologies and practices. I look at all the EMACS users who have the bindings so ingrained in their muscle memory they keep finding ways to connect with modern systems (I saw ways to use EMACS with Slack). Likewise, IRC still has a strong following and obstinate users. George R. R. Martin was using WordStar as recently as 2016 (and that's just the most recent cite I can find to document that).
There are many, many retrocomputing sites out there. SDF is a good community for working as it was back in the day. Seattle's Living Computer Museum has practically every desktop system ever available to play with on site, plus several vintage systems you can get a log on to from the Internet.
posted by MrGuilt at 7:29 AM on September 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


I think you're spot on MrGuilt. Especially with your third point. There's a great, and often unacknowledged, conflict between people who are deeply invested in tech. One faction sees software as a means to an end. Change often means disruption to their workflows: in the form of the interface getting scrambled, features being added / removed, and the inevitable new bugs. And then there's another faction which gets itchy & loud if they haven't seen any substantial changes within the last five minutes.

The "software as tools" are the larger faction, but often cowed into silence by the other faction's insults of "luddite! you're just afraid of change!" I'm seeing this play out with the unending arguments in subreddits and forums discussing Windows 10.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 8:08 AM on September 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


interruptions to work-flow and loss of features are definitely the reason that I dread software updates.

There's also sometimes that the new-style tools are simply inferior to the older style. I use fountain pens because they are nicer pens than any of the disposable that are on the market today. Antiques are also often very well made: only the best survive, and good materials were more common in manufacturing when things were more expensive. My favourite fountain pen is about 20 years older than I am and, with good care, will likely last past my death.

In terms of software: there are certain apps that I've locked away from updates because I know that the next version took away features that I use. I also save the installation files of older applications, when those versions stop being available.
posted by jb at 8:26 AM on September 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


Teegeeack AV Club Secretary, I think there is a majority between the "DON'T CHANGE MY STUFF" and "GIVE ME NEW TOYS" camps: folks who are generally more-or-less happy with what they have, but, when there is an update, will grumble about any changes to their workflow for a few weeks until new habits emerge. The analogy off the top of my head is changing a password I have to regularly type: it's frustrating the first few weeks when I keep wanting to type the old one, but, after a while, it's just normal. Some in this middle may swing camps here or there (frustrated at an extreme change, or "why won't they just fix (or unfix) that"), but generally pretty sedate.

The frustrating thing about software, especially if it talks to the Internet or has any programability (like Excel macros), is updates are often not just new features (moving that icon against established muscle memory), but critical security updates. You can't not update it and remain safe.

I suppose that's why the folks clinging to EMACS have a point: since it's not really a GUI thing, they can keep the core unchanging; everything else is just a module.
posted by MrGuilt at 8:53 AM on September 6, 2019


it was so much faster. Speed is oftenmuch more important than pictures. I'd like to have the old calc, too; the new one is slow and uses too much screen space. Solitaire, minesweeper, etc., as well.
posted by theora55 at 9:09 AM on September 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


octothorpe: "The current one really is terrible. I'm a fairly new Mac user and I was slightly shocked at how bad Finder is."

Wait a bit, get used to it, then go back to Windows and be shocked at how bad Explorer is. Finder isn't everything John Siracusa wanted in the (old) article linked in comments here (thankfully, to be honest), but it is really solid for managing files.

It remembers where you have been recently and offers a drop-down list of recent folders. Those are available in any window leveraging the Finder (including file open/save dialogs) which is incredibly handy and something I miss daily when using my forced-upon-me Windows work computer. (Yes, Explorer does remember recent folders, but it is incredibly inconsistent - no rhyme or reason why folders show up in that list, some that I used once are always there and others that I navigate to dozens of times a day never appear. List in Finder is always up to date, and in fact is ordered by most recently accessed - so even if folder names are the same, I can find the last one I used.)

Finder also enforces regularity. Every window on macOS where you are expected to select a file uses the same mechanism, because Apple design guidelines requires it. It's a Finder window, with the same functionality as any other Finder window. You will always have predictable behavior. Windows is a hot mess. (One program I use regularly, for example, shows the "normal" Explorer window when exporting a single file, with the toolbar and address bar and recent folder list - but in the same program exporting multiple files produces an entirely new and far less useful window, which simply lists the drives available to the system and forces me to navigate down the folder tree like File Manager to get to the desired location. It's maddening.) A tip - those file open/save windows on a Mac? It's not exactly a normal Finder window. It will not allow you to manipulate file locations (whereas in Windows, an Explorer window will always let you do things like rename or move files, even if it is really an open/save dialog waiting for you to choose a save location or select something.) The practical upshot is that if it isn't showing the folder you want when you first open it, drag the desired destination folder into the open/save window - it will instantly change to show you the contents of this folder and save you the time and hassle of navigating to that destination within the open/save dialog. Do this on Windows, and you have just moved the folder into the location shown. Additional tip: the tiny folder icon in the top of a Finder window? It's a pointer to the current location. Click and drag it just like you would do with a folder. You can then be viewing a folder, and change it's location without closing the window (or drag it into an open/save dialog, as above).

Other things it can do that Windows fails at - rename a file or folder while it is open in another program! Drag a target file/folder to a different location without breaking shortcuts (aliases) to that target! Drag a folder to a Terminal window, and watch the path to that folder location appear on the command line! (reverse is true - in command line, type "open ." and watch a Finder window open showing the same directory!) These are actions that make me grind my teeth when in Windows - I have to fully close Outlook before I can modify a folder name, just because I recently saved an email attachment into that location? Ugh.

(If you're talking column view though, yeah I kind of find that useless. I always turn it off and view it as a List.)
posted by caution live frogs at 11:03 AM on September 6, 2019


And oh yeah. Moving an existing folder into a directory where a folder with that name already exists? macOS deletes the existing folder and replaces it with the new one. Windows merges them, on a per-folder and per-file basis. I can see reasons for both, but be aware - if you are expecting Windows-like behavior there, you could lose files.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:07 AM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


RE: nostalgia - for me, it's coming down to how computers used to define a space. You actually had to set a space up for it, with room for peripheral things (including computer accessories, paper, CDs, floppies, etc.). In doing so, the space had a life of its own. Laptops do the same thing, except in that case peripheral things are in a bag of some sort, and the space is whatever scenery you want (library, cafe, park, campus, etc.). Regardless of the space, static or defined on the fly, you had to enter it in order to do anything with the computer. Thus work with the computer becomes a ritual, perhaps a pastime if you're fortunate. Like a chat with an old friend, going in a way you expect, with a few frustrations, but otherwise pleasant. My work computer is literally the only constant computer space I have these days, and it's great!

Nowadays, a whole lot of people have computers in their pocket in the form of a 'smart' cell phone. Someone at a bar not too long ago made the clear case as to why this is better: if someone needs your immediate help, they can reach you. That case extends to ideas that should be documented in a notepad, email, message, video, etc. So yes, better in the sense that more people can reach you and your ideas can be stored and/or shared a lot more readily (regardless if it's a top of the line smart phone or a slow and steady one). The one thing that isn't all that great is something that's been probably brought up here before: addiction - whether that's constantly checking social media, e-mail, etc. A whole lot of noise too: context-less headlines, no grounding to discern reality or a truth.

Recently I shut off lock-screen notifications for social media, mail, and all other non-urgent apps. I just get texts, phone calls, FB Messenger, and other things. It's quite a difference. The mail and social scene doesn't come to me anymore, I come to it, and it's marvelous.

$0.02
posted by JoeXIII007 at 11:23 AM on September 6, 2019


Wait a bit, get used to it, then go back to Windows and be shocked at how bad Explorer is.

I've used both every day for the last three years and still hate Finder.
posted by octothorpe at 3:38 PM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


Windows Explorer and Mac Finder both have their positive and negative points, but work 90% similarly, mostly because with Windows 95 Microsoft made a conscious attempt to emulate Finder with Explorer's workings. That 10% of differences, like what happens when you copy a folder over another, will trip you up eventually, but it works both ways. For example, if you type a command directly in the Explorer navigation bar, it will act as if you entered that command from a prompt in that folder; this is especially useful for typing cmd there, since it will get you a command prompt with that directory as its current one.

It's worth noting that there's a reason for the Mac Finder folder-replacement behavior: "applications" on Mac are actually directories containing the executable, its data and associated other files, so copying a similarly-named application over another one on Mac through Finder would merge their internal files and make a mess if it didn't replace folders on copy-over.

The vaulted consistent Mac way of doing things has taken a hit in recent years with the huge popularity of iOS and Apple's attempts to make macOS work like it, with things like reversing scroll directions.

I think there is a majority between the "DON'T CHANGE MY STUFF" and "GIVE ME NEW TOYS" camps: folks who are generally more-or-less happy with what they have, but, when there is an update, will grumble about any changes to their workflow for a few weeks until new habits emerge.

Sometimes it's worse than that. I use the program Sigil to construct the EPUB books that make up a portion of my income at the moment, but was shocked to discover, with 9.15, that a major feature, "Book View," with provides a WYSIWYG view of the current chapter that can be edited directly, has been entirely removed. They made an attempt to replace it with a helper program that can provide an editable view, but it's severely lacking in features (no way I can see to make or follow a hyperlink), so I have to either stick with 9.14 or find an alternative.
posted by JHarris at 5:46 PM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


JHarris, I was mostly talking about changes that occur in most upgrades, that change things around, take away minor functionality, etc.

That sounds like major functionality. Customers walking away functionality. I went through that.

Apple killed Aperture, which was my photo editing program. They baked the replacement into something called "Photos," which was an inadequate replacement, messed with my workflow, and pushed me into buying their cloud storage. It was one of the things that had me not just move off Apple for photo software, but for OS and hardware as well.
posted by MrGuilt at 9:11 PM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


Other things it can do that Windows fails at - rename a file or folder while it is open in another program!

That goes deeper than Finder vs Explorer; it's a Unix filesystem vs. Windows filesystem issue.

In a Unix filesystem, it's completely possible to create a file that has no name at all. Unix files all have a structure called an inode that contains their essential metadata: pointers to where they're physically stored on disk, various kinds of access timestamp, access permissions, pointers to extended attributes and so forth. Notably missing from the metadata inside an inode is anything resembling a name.

The only way a Unix file gets a name is by having its inode number listed alongside a name inside a directory entry. And from the kernel's point of view, the only thing that the names get used for is looking up inode numbers. Once an application has made the kernel calls that open a file, the only thing the application gets from the kernel is an abstract file handle, again with no notion of name included, that references the inode directly.

Which means that any or all of that file's directory entries (yes, it can have more than one - that's how hard links work) can be altered without making any alteration at all to the information that the kernel maintains with respect to open files. Directory entries can even be removed entirely, and all that happens if a file is open at the time is that a kernel-maintained reference count in its inode gets decreased by one. The file itself won't be removed from the filesystem until that reference count is zero and all open handles to it get closed.

Files in Windows filesystems, by way of contrast, have their names lumped in with the rest of their metadata and the whole lot stored together as a directory entry. This pattern was inherited from the DOS filesystem that Windows originally ran on - a filesystem absolutely not designed with access by multiple concurrent processes in mind - and the resulting assumptions about what was allowed to happen to open files got baked into the Windows kernel APIs early on. In Windows, you can't remove an open file from a directory because the directory is where that file's metadata lives.

As well as causing the occasional inconvenience for file browser users, this difference is why Windows so frequently needs to restart when upgrades get applied. There is simply no way to replace a file that's currently in use; any process(es) holding it open must close it first. Which, if the file in question is the process's own executable, requires that the process be stopped. And if the executable in question is part of Windows itself, that simply can't happen. So there's this whole hideous hack of an API for doing deferred file renames and replacements, where Windows maintains a list of files that are scheduled to be modified on next restart (the list is in the Registry, because of course it is) and then performing any pending modifications early enough in the startup process that none of the affected files will be in use at the time.

Mac OS filesystems before the advent of OS X also didn't have anything like inodes, if I recall correctly; so the ability to rename or remove an in-use file is something that Mac OS only got when Unix was slid in underneath.
posted by flabdablet at 6:05 AM on September 7, 2019 [7 favorites]


Thanks for that explanation flabdablet. I'm excited to learn something more about Unix basics. It definitely is jarring when I have to go back to Windows and change my way of thinking. Fortunately my use of Windows is minimal.
posted by kathrynm at 6:12 AM on September 7, 2019


Incidentally, tricks with how UNIX file system concepts work get into Forbidden File Magicks pretty quickly, but on the other hand, hard links allow Time Machine backup volumes to seemingly have a copy of your entire disk for each backup date despite the fact that that would obviously add up to many times the capacity of the disk.

File systems are weird.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:52 PM on September 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


One of the linking tricks that Time Machine relies on is the creation of hard links inside the newest backup to directories from the next newest that themselves link to no files that have changed in the meantime.

Multiple hard links to directory files are traditionally somewhere between discouraged and prohibited in Unix for good and sufficient reasons, but in this particular use case they allow TM to build incremental backup snapshots of even very large filesystem trees very quickly indeed. And presumably the HFS+ version of fsck is savvy enough not to break the resulting filesystems if asked to fix them.
posted by flabdablet at 10:45 PM on September 7, 2019


Yeah, it's a genuinely good and clever use of hard links, which are frankly few and far between, heh
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:32 PM on September 8, 2019


rsnapshot does the same sort of Time Machine backups but only at the file level. If a file hasn't changed a hardlink is made. If a file has changed well it's just a new file. I have the lowest rotation level set for every 4 hours when my server will backup itself and then contact and backup my laptop as well.

There's a story in there somewhere about breaking WORK's magic NFS to robot tape drive backup system. TL;DR - back to incremental tar.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:43 PM on September 8, 2019


All of these hardlink-based backup tricks are fine for what they are, but for competent de-duplicating backups it's really hard to go past Borg.

Borg uses data-driven storage de-duplication based on rolling checksums, much as rsync does for data transfer, so it can do stuff like efficiently snapshotting VM disk images that would make a Time Machine backup blow out to the point of uselessness.

Ah, you say, but all of that involves the actual backups being kept in some weird archival format that you also need Borg to retrieve from. Well yes, it does, but as well as the untar-like borg extract subcommand, you have another retrieval mechanism available in borg mount, after doing which your backup snapshot appears as a standard file tree mounted wherever you like. And it's based on FUSE so the mount can happen without root privileges. Very, very tidy indeed.
posted by flabdablet at 10:58 AM on September 9, 2019


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