Home / Why consistency is important in software design

I have a problem: none of the available file managers really meet my needs. There’s always something that bothers me either because a feature is missing or (I think) could work better. That’s why I’m constantly looking for something better. I’ve tried many file managers: Salamander, Total Commander, Frigate (and a few others that I cannot recall so easily). Out of those I tried Frigate is the best but I keep looking and that’s why recently I tried another one: Directory Opus. I remember Directory Opus from my Amiga days: it was THE file manager on that platform, packed with features and nice to use. Amiga went down and took the whole market for Amiga software with it but it looks like Directory Opus folks averted the disaster by porting their software to Windows. This post is about how they lost a potential costumer (me) because of lack of consistency with Windows.

File managers have long history, dating back to DOS days and Norton Commander who ruled that market (and was cloned multiple times). On Windows we have two general styles of file management:

  • one that works just like Explorer (built into Windows)
  • second that works more or less like Norton Commander

By now we all expect some things to work a certain way: F5 is copy, F6 is move, F2 is rename, Ins selects a single file, you have two panes, you can drag-and-drop files between them using a mouse etc. There’s no particular reason to use F2 instead of Ctrl-C except that everyone excepts Ctrl-C to mean “Copy from a clipboard”.

Every file managers seems to implement the golden standard set by Norton Commander. That is: every except Directory Opus. You might think that this is a small thing but it’s not. I was quickly infuriated by things not working the way I was expected them to behave. Among other things:

  • there’s not right-click-drag-and-drop (which usually allows me to choose move/copy/create shortcut when I perform drop)
  • F5, F6 (and probably many others) aren’t mapped to the same operations as in NC
  • Ins doesn’t select/deselect a file (in fact, there doesn’t seem to be possible to do it not using the mouse which renders keyboard navigation largely useless)

Customization is possible so I was able to fix at least some of the keyboard mappings but I quickly gave up on Directory Opus even though it seems to be a very solid product, has all the basic capabilities and maybe even has features not available anywhere else.

The moral of the story: don’t be gratuitously different than anyone else. Be as consistent with the platform as possible. There are cases where you simply find a better way of doing things and that justifies being different, but keyboard mappings aren’t the place to innovate.