Taking their cues from Steve Jobs' presentation yesterday, a lot of commentators have described the new Spotlight search tools included in the upcoming OS X Tiger release as a broader application of the iTunes search functionality -- particularly the idea of Smart Folders that automatically update according to pre-defined criteria, the way Smart Playlists work with music.
But the Smart Folders idea goes back much deeper in Apple history -- in fact, it pre-dates Jobs' Second Coming. Smart Folders used to be called "Views" and they were a pre-announced feature of Copland, the ill-fated OS that was eventually replaced by the NeXT OS. (It drew on the V-Twin text indexing that did make it into OS 9, I believe, and may well still be a part of OS X.) I saw a demo of Views when I visited Apple in 1996, and it made such a strong impression that I wrote about it in my first book, Interface Culture:
Apple's V-Twin implementation lets you define the results of a search as a permanent element of the Mac desktop -- as durable and accessible as your disk icons and the sub-folders stacked beneath them. In Apple's language, these new items are called "Views," for reasons we will come to understand. At first glance, a View looks and behaves like your average folder or sub-directory: it is represented by an icon; clicking on that icon opens a window that contains other icons, representing assorted files; clicking on one of those icons opens the appropriate document. So far so good. Things get tricky, however, when we try to add a file to a View manually, by dragging an icon over the View's window... The user has only indirect control over the contents of a View. He or she specifies its general attributes, using the language of the V-Twin search engine: "find all documents on my hard drive that are likethis other document." The computer then decides which documents fulfill that request, and places them in the View window. (Technically speaking, it places copies -- or "aliases" -- of each document in the View; the originals remain in their previous locations.) Unlike the temporary results of a "find file" request, the View window has what programmers call "persistence." Like an ordinary folder, the View remains on your desktop until you throw it away. During that lifespan, the V-Twin software regularly updates the View's contents whenever new files arrive that match the original search request.
I think it's pretty ironic that the most highly-touted feature in Tiger is one they've been trying to get into a shipping OS for almost ten years. Sometimes information society isn't quite as fast as it's rumored to be.
One other thought on the keynote: I was quite disappointed by the new displays. I'm completely in the market for an insane new flatscreen extravaganza, having enjoyed my original Cinema Display for about four years now. But sadly, none of the options really do it for me. The 20 and 23-inch are the same old displays in a new case, for pretty much the same old price. The 30-inch is drool-inducing, to be sure, but with the required video card it's $4K! Trying to persuade the kitchen cabinet around here that I need to spend four grand on a few more pixels would be a negotiation up there with the Reykjavik summit -- and it would no doubt end with the same amount of success.