Tabbles gives you a bite-sized taste of WinFS

Almost four years after the WinFS project was effectively canceled and the dreams of many demoralized Microsoft enthusiasts shattered, a small independent software development firm called Yellow blue software (or Green software for short) is reigniting a fragment of the WinFS vision in a well polished and lightweight Windows software called “Tabbles”.

Simply put, Tabbles is a relational file management tool designed for the Web 2.0-era. It allows you to organize and find files not just by folders but by tags and relationships – one of the many unfulfilled promises of WinFS.

The reason why relational file management is compelling is the fact that files in a file system usually have more meaning than just the folder they belong to.

One dilemma most computer users have probably encountered since DOS is not knowing which folder a document should be stored under for convenient access. This also happens to be the problem the Yellow blue software founders frequently ran into which inspired them to create Tabbles late 2008.

Although I do think the idea needs to be more integrated into the Windows shell to really work well (maybe what Windows 7’s Libraries should have been), nevertheless if you ever wanted to get a taste of what a WinFS-powered Windows Explorer would have been, then take a look at Tabbles. There’s even a handy portable version that requires no installation for a quick snack.

Additional reading: The developers have an insightful post detailing the evolution of their GUI design for Tabbles that’s well worth a look for any UX enthusiasts.

20 insightful thoughts

  1. Great concept, but useless for busy people with information overload without seamless integation (“Although I do think the idea needs to be more integrated into the Windows shell to really work well”).
    If I had money, I’d pay them to work on that little annoying bit…

  2. I think tags proved to be more hype than practical after all, and it’s good that MS dropped it. Who has the time to tag all their files and pictures anyway? Either the user has to make it a habit, or else there’s no use… unless the machine can finally figure out how to auto-tag things. That will be more about the more inclusive metadata though.

    For instance, this site right here doesn’t use tags either. :)

  3. You guys need to dig a little deeper before kicking this to the curb… Tabbles has auto-tagging which can categorize stuff automatically for you. It’s not perfect but it’s certainly not manually tagging each and every file either. My only beef is the price for pro. It needs to come down $20 before I’m interested.

  4. Now the only thing we have to do is to upgrade our brains. 😉 Because they aren’t compatible with relational management. We can better remember “where” we stored something instead of exactly “what”. That is the whole idea behind GUIs therefore it was right to kill WinFS, IMO.

    The idea of folders and the information space is very old. See also:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Method_of_loci
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simonides_of_Ceos
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mnemonic

  5. hi there, I’m one of the guys behind Tabbles. Thanks for the comments!
    Tommo: Integrating more with the Windows shell is not easy at all… 😐
    Pak: the thing with Tabbles is that it’s most about virtual-folders than about tags – you deifnitely don’t need to tag file one by one! The auto-tagging works in many different ways from folder position to file name (you can even use a regular expression to tag stuff)…
    Fungus: we’ll be happy to give you a 50% discount (which brings it down to 15$!) just drop us a line using the contact form :-)

  6. The interface looks like it needs Clearasil. That bit of iTunes metal with the dots just looks too sore. Not knocking the developers, but when Microsoft spoke about relational file system in WinFS, they meant a whole lot more than this.

  7. Pingback: DotNetShoutout
  8. Actually, it’s rather a problem of a more complex approach. And the problem of Tabbles, Windows 7 Libraries, WinFS is in the old-school Desktop Metaphor used for informaiton organization in the computers. Files, folders, virtual folders.

    They all have a notion of folder/container that has some content inside. You need to remember what this container has inside without opening it, and you have to remember it’s exact location in other container/containers.

    Automatic tagging involves semantic computing, which itself turns into the need for object-relational DB where you could be able to store information about relationships between information entities that you should extract from stored data. And to capture these entities, you need to make indexing. Essentially, WinFS was exactly that thing – object-relational DB with indexing + processing of relationships extraction etc. Though internal organization of that system was not perfect (it was a belief that actual entities should be stored, without notion of context in which they are to be used – “one schema for all”). Anyway, having semantics extracted from your personal/web data is not enough – you need then to build an entirely new User Interface on top of it; and here comes the need to make that UI as much natural as possible. That should involve touch, speech recognition, gestures, maybe augmented reality effects.

    And there is a lot of work to be put into this area, to make the turn to the Non-Desktop Metaphors.

    1. Hi Daniel,

      you’re making a lot of interesting points in your comment. We agree on most of it – the part about the speech recognition and AR is maybe a bit too far away. We believe that indexing is useful but often not precise enough to tag objects, therefore we’re relying 100% on the user’s activity to tag the files (tagging themselves + auto-tagging based on name/location and more….).

      While writing this I’m checking your blog – amazingly interesting stuff! What we believe is that (at least for the next years) semantic can go up to certain level in “understanding”, and thus categorizing contents, therefore “manual” categorization will (always) be needed…

      Anyway, we’d LOVE to hear what you think of our GUI and the solution we found to make Tabbles as straightforward as possible. The GUI is indeed crucial for our project, cause among the main challenges was to produce a “2 dimensional file-manager” – meaning that relations can be both vertical (father/child = container/containee) and horizontal (needed for objects with similar characteristics but not in the same folder) – where file-managers are traditionally “1 dimensional”.
      Tabbles does now allow you to navigate both vertically and horizontally with the exact same UX: it dynamically generates a tree of tabbles (virtual folders) depending on what you’re looking at, and placing the static children (objects contained) and the dynamic children (objects related but far away) on the same level.

      Well, enough babbling for today I guess – we’d be really happy to hear your opinion and to send you a license or two (please drop us a line using the contact form on tabbles.net!).

      Thanks,

      Andrea

  9. Ah Daniel,
    Its been sometime!
    Any hints of MS targeting something like this in Win8? Libraries in 7 are only touching the surface.
    So much more needs to be done. First they need to Unify contacts with a local store that syncs all and can be used to maintain document Authors and contact status.

  10. You might want to check out liquidFOLDERS, that looks like a more complete implementation of WinFS. They don’t seem to be limited to tags, but seem to do all sorts of interesting things with file visualization.
    -Mike

Leave a Reply