Windows Explorer 8, Tomorrow, and Yesterday

This is a guest post by Yuvi Zalkow. He writes books and makes cool screencasts.

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John Gruber pointed to a post last week on Microsoft’s blog regarding the new Windows Explorer.

The blog post goes into great detail about Microsoft’s thinking with regard to redesigning Explorer for Windows 8. It talks about how they carefully considered what users use most in Explorer and how they tried to make those things more accessible (by sticking those features in their toolbar ribbon thingy).

Now before I criticize Windows Explorer, I should clarify that I don’t think Apple’s Finder is a beautiful thing. It’s awkward and unintuitive to the non-power-user. Whenever I’m helping a novice Mac user, I always initially sympathize with them (“I know, I know, it’s pretty squirrelly…”). And I myself make heavy use of third party tools to get by (e.g. Total Finder, Default Folder X). There have been some nice changes to Finder in Lion, but it still suffers from many of the same awkwardnesses. I still see the look of fear in a new user’s eyes when they have to confront Finder to find something.

But here’s the thing. Gruber mentioned that “Apple and Microsoft are heading in very different directions, UI-wise.” That’s totally true. But I think this Windows Explorer article illustrates something bigger than a UI issue. As far as I can tell, with the promise of iCloud and other Mac OS trends, Apple is trying to do away with the average user even thinking about the idea of a file system. That’s the promise for tomorrow with Apple. In the meantime, Microsoft looks like they’re attempting to build a slightly better yesterday.