Yes, I know, I'm interesting in talking about what might otherwise be considered boring, or at least less then exciting, since all you've heard from me so far is talking about workspaces and how we use them, and now I want to talk about file browsers? Boooooring.
Although we are Ubuntu users, so maybe this isn't so boring. What I want to take a look at is not something that hasn't been looked at before, Ian Cylkowski took an extremely detailed look at Nautilus, and OMG! looked at his post as well. DanRabbit has taken a shot at simplifying things, and the result is Nautilus Elementary, a revision that has been received with many cries of OMG! Just like finder!
So me, being exactly what I am, decided to do a comparison of the 3 filebrowsers that I see the most, Windows Explorer, Nautilus-Elementary, and Finder, as well normal Nautilus.
First up, lets look at what all of these have in common.
1 - Navigation
2 - Sidebar, with bookmarks, devices, networks devices, places, and or recent files
3 - View options
4 - Preferences and option menu
5 - Search (bar or button)
6 - Current folder information
7 - Zoom slider
8 - Location Heirarchy
9 - Content of folder
So, what do we see? Well, lets compare some things. First up is navigation controls. All of the different file browsers have a back arrow and a forward arrow, and some have more. Finder keeps it just at the two, Explorer adds a little drop arrow for recent locations and a reload button in the location bar, Nautilus-Elementary doesn't have the drop arrow but does have a reload icon next to the arrows, and... then theres standard nautilus. Back, Forward, (both with drop down menus) up, stop, reload, home, and computer. Yeesh.
#2? Sidebar. Explorer and Finder both have a tree-like navigation, at least to some degree, allowing the user to hide categories they aren't using. Finder organizes into Places, Explorer uses Libraries, and both have secondary drives, as does Nautilus. However, Nautilus, as default, does not have hidden options, but instead lists the home folder, desktop, file system, network, trash, all connected drives, and all bookmarks. Not inherently that different, as all 4 show devices and places of documents, just in slightly different ways.
3 is View controls. Nautilus and Explorer share a drop-down menu listing different view options, while Nautilus-Elementary and Finder have a set of buttons, 3 and 4 respectively. Interestingly, Explorer combines the zoom slider within its view control, different from the other 3.
4: Preferences. Nautilus has preferences for it hidden within the edit menu, a few clicks from the user. At the other end of the spectrum, explorer puts a whole lot of options out in the open. However, it too hides menu items behind a keystroke. Finder has a drop button, as well as options in the global menu. Lastly, Nautilus-Elementary hides the menu behind a menu button which then unhides the menu.
5. Search. Windows Explorer and Finder both have search bars on the upper right, while Nautilus and Nautilus-Elementary both have a search button to activate a search bar over the breadcrumb trail. (Yes, the screenshot of Nautilus-Elementary from my desktop is modded with a different breadcrumb trail, thanks to Gnaag).
6. Current Folder information. This lists how many items, and how much available space is in the current folder, while when a folder or program is highlighted, it shows the content size. All 4 basically do this the same, although windows explorer goes waaaaay more in depth with the available information.
7. Nautilus has a plus and minus set of buttons, while Nautilus-Elementary and Finder have a left-right slider in the bottom right. Explorer combines the zoom with the view options drop menu.
8. Where are you at? The breadcrumb trail shows you where you are in the hierarchy of folders. In Nautilus and Nautilus-Elementary both (keep in mind that mine is slightly modded), there is a clear heirarchy visible, which, when clicked, goes to the selected folder. Windows Explorer shows this heirarchy in plain text, much like a web browser. Lastly, Finder does this in sort of a hybrid spatial view, which slides over the previous folder when a new one is opened.
9. Your content! This is basically all the same, everywhere.
My conclusion? Theres still way to much going on in all of these designs. Nautilus is straight up a joke, with overlapping and repeated functionality, information all crammed to the left margin, and overall just a lot of clutter. Explorer has far more information, yet doesn't feel anything close to as crowded or overdone, mostly because it is actually really well designed. But really, do I need an open menu at all times? just double click, right? Do I need a print and burn option at all times? Theres so many buttons that neatly blend together and sit in good balance, but are simply not necessary. Yet Nautilus seems to have learned nothing from them.
Nautilus-Elementary is really a fantastic example of a nice clean interface, with a very nice balance. Especially considering the building base of Nautilus and its mess, this design has really done much to bring a new balance previously missing from the file browser, and to clear away many of the options we simply do not need. But is it a little to much of a Finder clone?
I personally don't think so. To me, it behaves the most like Explorer, in a good way. Its looks have only one thing in common with Finder: cleanliness. The rest is simply shared heritage of file browsers, working the way file browsers ought to. I'm a huge fan of bringing file browsers back to where they ought to be on my computer: connecting me to my documents quickly, and without getting in my way.
I gathered screenshots from: