This is an idea I've had in my mind for several years, but never written down in a blog post. Since my blog post, Concept for a revised iTunes app, about the latest iTunes 11 application got some attention I decided to finally write down my thoughts regarding an extension to Finder and Spotlight I think would help a lot of people.
I haven't really used Linux for many years and have no idea if something similar like this already exists on Linux. If you know something like this, please contact me via Twitter or app.net. The concept I will describe is probably something that could be done in Windows and Linux, but since I'm a Mac user I will focus on that platform.
Unfortunately I don't have nice movies that demonstrate the desired behaviour, but I've made some screenshots. Since the functionality operates in a "off desktop mode", like Time Machine, I've used a system background image (/Library/Desktop Pictures/Milky Way.jpg) to make it more similar Time Machine.
So let's begin!
See files in their contexts
Have you ever searched for a file in Spotlight and wanted to know how that file is used? The search result you get in Spotlight only groups your result according to file types. But if you search for an image, you can't see where you've used that or where you got it from in the beginning. Imagine if you could trace a file's use and origin through this extension!
Let me try to visualize this for you.
Imagine that you have a PSD-file, history-tracker.psd, and enter this "mode".
It automatically gets selected and shows you the flow chart of the file to its left and right.
We can see that we got the file in an email and that we have exported jpgs from it. Great! But what if we want to see if we got any more files in that email? You could e.g. right/control-click on the Email.emlx and choose something like "Focus", since left-clicking a file should not make that selection lose focus of the first object we had as the origin.
When the email is set to the new origin or focused file, the flow chart re-arranges itself to show the new flow. (For clarity, I have omitted the left part of the email, but it should show you the contact information for the sender.) As we can see, the email contained several files of different types. But how do we make the group of files easy to browse through? Just like Apple did with the stacks in the Dock.
Other scenarios could be
- tracing a file and see what documents that are importing/linking this file (e.g. in InDesign)
- tracing where you have used a logo or image in word processing documents like Pages and Word
Since I've never looked into the API for Spotlight, I have no idea if it's possible for an "ordinary" application to bring this kind of functionality to OS X. I guess that to get full support in every app, one have to use plugins and that will probably never happen. And considering the sandboxing of Mac App Store application, we will definitely never see an application in the Mac App Store that will give this kind of functionality.
So I think that only Apple could make something like this work on the Mac.
When I worked as a Mac OS X consultant a couple of years ago, now and then I got questions from clients that wondered where they used a specific file or where they got it from. This could be one step closer to helping them in those kinds of situations.