File Managers

In 2023-12, I got a nag email from Jam Software, passive-aggressively letting me know that I was using TreeSize on more machines than I was licensed for. Perhaps they meant my old laptop, from which I can’t delicense because said computer is an unbootable mess of corrupted data. But honestly, it’s hard to say what they meant; the email was as self-contradictory as it was condescending. TreeSize is great software, but a practice like this makes Jam a company I can’t recommend, and I’ve removed the links to their site accordingly.
Microsoft’s File (or Windows) Explorer1 has never been good2. Early Windows felt like a GUI for the sake of a GUI, competition to the Macintosh. The Mac’s Finder was itself quite simple, and also never really quite grew into anything for power users. This makes sense for Apple, but Microsoft started off with a weak simulacrum of Finder and never really got around to embracing its power users. Before Windows was ever released, Peter Norton was selling an incredibly powerful file manager for DOS, Norton Commander3.

All of the Windows Explorers, together at last (external)

I have quite a few posts lined up, and I’m excited about all of them, but… I’m very stressed, and writing is very hard right now. So in the meantime, this post title-links to a very cool recent writeup by Gravislizard, a streamer (&c.) whose dives into retro computing I really admire. The linked post compares basically every notable revision to Windows Explorer since… before it was even called Explorer. Twenty little writeups complete with screenshots, from Windows 1.04 to Windows 10. Lovely little trip through history.

A test of three zippers

2023-12-09 update: I have a new laptop, and for related reasons I’m also rebuilding this blog. I redid the test in this post on the new machine (AMD Ryzen 9 7940HS @ 4.00 GHz w/ Radeon 780M Graphics; 48GB RAM). When I was doing this/revisiting this post, I realized I didn’t note what 7-Zip settings I was using. On this machine, at ‘fast’ and ‘fastest’ (which seem to run identically), it is faster than Windows (16 vs 26 seconds), producing a file that’s 9MB larger. At ‘normal’, it produced a smaller test file than Windows, but took 1:17. WinZip with OpenCL enabled won the speed test at 14 seconds for the third-smallest file. Strangely, it didn’t really use much of the GPU. Without OpenCL enabled, WinZip produced the smallest file and took 23 seconds.
I’m in the middle of quite a few posts, and honestly… this one should be pretty short because I had no idea I’d be writing it. I’m trying to make my Windows experience as pleasant as possible (that itself is an upcoming post), and part of that has involved looking for a good archive tool. Windows handles ZIP files well enough, but it’s kind of a barebones approach and it doesn’t handle any of the other major archive formats that I’m aware of.

Backward compatibility in operating systems

Earlier this week, Tom Scott posted a video to YouTube about the forbidden filenames in Windows. It’s an interesting subject that comes up often in discussions of computing esoterica, and Scott does an excellent job of explaining it without being too heavy on tech knowledge. Then the video pivots; what was ostensibly a discussion on one little Windows quirk turns into a broader discussion on backward compatibility, and this inevitably turns into a matter of Apple vs. Microsoft. At this point, I think Scott does Apple a bit of a disservice.

If you’ve read much of my material here, you’ll know I don’t have much of a horse in this race; I’m not in love with either company or their products. I’m writing this post from WSL/Ubuntu under Windows 10, a truly unholy matrimony of software. And while I could easily list off my disappointments with MacOS, I genuinely find Windows an absolute shame to use as a day-to-day, personal operating system. One of my largest issues is how much of it is steeped in weird legacy garbage. A prime example is the fact that Windows 10 has both ‘Settings’ and ‘Control Panel’ applications, with two entirely different user experiences and a seemingly random venn diagram of what is accessible from where.

This all comes down to Microsoft’s obsession with backward compatibility, which has its ups and downs. Apple prioritizes a streamlined, smooth experience over backward compatibility, yet they’ve still gone out of their way to support a reasonable amount of backward compatibility throughout their history. They’ve transitioned processor architecture twice1, each time adding a translation layer to the operating system to extend the service life of software. I think they do precisely the right amount of backward compatibility to reduce bloat and confusion2. It makes for a better everyday, personal operating system.

That doesn’t make it, however, a better operating system overall; it would be absurd to assume that one approach can be generally declared better. Microsoft’s level of obsession in this regard is crucial for, say, enterprise activities, small businesses that can’t afford to upgrade decades-old accounting software, and gaming. There is absolutely comfort in knowing that you can run (with varying levels of success) Microsoft Works from 2007 on your brand new machine. It’s incredibly valuable, and it requires a ton of due diligence from the Windows team.

So, this isn’t to knock Microsoft at all, but it is why I think dismissing Apple for a lack of backward compatibility is an imperfect assessment. I’ve been thinking about this sort of thing a lot lately as I decide what to do moving forward with this machine – do I dual-boot or try to live full-time in Windows 10 with WSL. And I’ve been thinking about it a lot precisely because of how unpleasant I find Windows3 to be. Thinking about that has made me examine why, and what my ideal computing experience is. Which is another post for another day, as I continue to try to make my Windows experience as usable as possible. Also, I’m not in any way trying to put down Scott’s video, which I highly recommend everyone watch; it was enjoyable even with prior knowledge of the forbidden filenames. It just happened to time perfectly with my own thoughts on levels of backward compatibility.