Folders vs Collections

This will be a very techy post about Windows. Proceed with caution.

My main operating systems are Windows and MacOS. Windows for work and MacOS is for my personal use. I have been having this organizational issue with my files and folders and the current capabilities of the Windows operating system feels lacking.

Since the dawn of operating systems such as Linux and Unix then DOS, Windows, etc. operating systems have always had a tree structure. A hierarchical approach to organizing files and folders. This makes sense to an operating system where the code already exists and (should) knows where to find the files it needs to keep the system running.

In some cases, Windows uses settings and configuration files to state the location of certain folders or files. All the application needs to do is read the registry entry and get the value for the specified folder. Other operating systems use symlinks where a certain path is defined and links to the latest version of a library, executable, or configuration file. This is all good and dandy. Until someone like me comes along and tried to include the same file in different locations.

Here are the current options I have tried: (I’ll mainly refer to Windows since this is where my main problem exists)

  1. Created multiple copies of the same file
  2. Creating a shortcut for the file and placing it in multiple folders
  3. Finding a way to create symlinks on Windows
  4. Looked up the “Libraries” feature in Windows

The first option is just ridiculous, creating multiple copies of the same file is stupid and if you don’t know why its only because you haven’t worked with hundreds of files all who belong to multiple projects or ideas and are scattered in some hundreds of folders.

The second option, while maintaining a “single” file route still doesn’t fulfill the requirement of being able to copy the folder that contains the shortcuts to somewhere else because once you lose access to the path, the file is no longer accessible.

The third option required administrator privileges on Windows and has some odd rules about being able to link to specific volumes or not. This also is a local setting and is not preserved on a network shared folder. The other problem I have with this is similar to shortcuts. If the original file is inaccessible, the link becomes inaccessible (unless it is a hard link in which case both should be accessible).

The fourth and final option that I looked into is creating a Library in Windows and simply adding the files I need to group together. Unfortunately, this option only adds folders, so you can’t add single files. Another limitation is that it is local and does not carry over from the network. A third issue is that libraries are only created in the Library part of explorer. You can’t have a “Library” on your desktop. Albeit you can create a shortcut to the Library and place where wherever.

So, after all of these tries and options and nothing seems to satisfy my requirement yet. On other operating systems you can create links to folders and files that carry over on the network or locally, you also don’t need administrator rights since information about the link are saved in the file and not on the file system.

Here’s a new idea, or maybe an old one that never got implemented. How about creating “Collections” as a base feature in the operating system. Collections would serve as virtual folders but are not really folders so they’re actually files that house many different files. Unlike folders however, they’re not tied to a specific location on the hard drive, instead, they’re a function of the operating system itself.

Files can be added to different collections, and such collections can be copied, moved, or deleted without affecting any other copies of the file in the same operating system. However, the file is the same in every collection and if edited in one collection it reflects these changes in other collections as well.

I’m not a guru so this may actually exist somehow or maybe there are apps that support this. Unix/Linux supports this with hard links too. However, my main issue is with organizing files in Windows and not having to duplicate the same file or manage multiple copies of the same file.

Alas, I am not at the end of this journey, I will continue to keep looking for a solution to my organization dilemma and if and when I find a solution I’ll try to remember to update this, or post a follow up entry.