I have finally upgraded all my machines to Tiger. As usual, this was a smooth upgrade. Apache & PHP needed some tweaking afterwards. Mail re-imported everything [and seems like it has changed it’s mailbox format]. Safari’s RSS capabilities should be useful for some [am I the only one who hasn’t climbed the RSS bandwagon?]. Dashboard widgets should give us geeks something to do. I am thinking about a Netflix widgit and a cricket score widgit. Hopefully, someone will beat me to it before I am done “thinking”.
What I really wanted to talk about, though, is Spotlight. For a while, the focus of personal computing has been on arranging information for retrieval. Desktop, files, folders, directories etc. Two dimensional and hierarchical. Which is completely reliant on you, the user, to put the files and folders in the directories that they go. You have to do this because, to the OS, all of your precious dissertation and party snaps are just bits of meaningless data. It cannot differentiate between the two. But, that is not entirely true, either. All files do have some data about what they are [jpeg or mp3 or when created or when modified etc.]. There have always been the hope of incorporating this data about data – metadata – into various OSes. Along with the capability to add some of our own metadata, basically, to describe whatever any properties we want to any given file [Metadata has metaphored into “tagging” and emerged recently all over the internets. Flickr, del.icious being the foremost engines of this development. Kottke had a ruminative post about what this means for the internets themselves.]. BeOS was famous for it. Even with metadata and tags, there is still the question of what is “inside” the files residing on our machines. Apple’s Spotlight uses metadata and the indexed content of the file in its search. It knows the content of your files because most applications in MacOS support Apple’s Search Kit technology – which searches, indexes and retrieves “documents written in most human languages” [damn, my Learn Whale mp3s remains unsearchable]. This has been a part of the MacOS since 10.3.
All that to say that when you put a word or a phrase in the spotlight text box, you get all of your files – emails, pdf, txts, jpgs, mp3s etc. – that contain that word or phrase. Arranged nicely and available via a click. The flat filing system suddenly appears really inadequate. If we combine Spotlight’s ability to find whatever is on your machine with Tiger’s implementation of smart folders, you start to get an idea of how the desktop computer can finally start to evolve.
Now, the trick with metadata and tagging is that it requires some user input. And as we know, people are lazy [and stupid]. Point taken. I am still gaga over Spotlight. What I would like to do is to get into the datafile created by Spotlight and see what it has to say about my information.