Steve Jobs: ‘Why is the file system the face of the OS?’

June 6, 2012, 10:46 AM UTC

From D3: All Things Digital

FORTUNE — If you want to know what Tim Cook meant last week at All Things Digital when he said Apple (AAPL) was going to “double down” on secrecy, you only have to spend some time listening to the six appearances his predecessor made at the same conference between 2003 and 2010, free podcasts of which have been made available on iTunes here.

Steve Jobs used to joke that Apple was a ship that leaked from the top, and with the benefit of hindsight you can find plenty of instances in these podcasts.

Developer Ole Bergman spotted this one in D3, in which an animated Jobs — two years before the launch of the iPhone and five years before the iPad — reveals one of the key elements of what Jobs later dubbed the post-PC era: An operating system in which the file structure disappears. It comes at the 37:40 point in the podcast, which you can get here, during a demo of Spotlight. Bergman’s transcript (emphases his):

in every user interface study we’ve ever done […], [we found] it’s pretty easy to learn how to use these things ‘til you hit the file system and then the learning curve goes vertical. So you ask yourself, why is the file system the face of the OS? Wouldn’t it be better if there was a better way to find stuff?

Now, e-mail, there’s always been a better way to find stuff. You don’t keep your e-mail on your file system, right? The app manages it. And that was the breakthrough, as an example, in iTunes. You don’t keep your music in the file system, that would be crazy. You keep it in this app that knows about music and knows how to find things in lots of different ways. Same with photos: we’ve got an app that knows all about photos. And these apps manage their own file storage. […]

And eventually, the file system management is just gonna be an app for pros and consumers aren’t gonna need to use it.

You won’t see the preternaturally disciplined Cook doing something like that in a public forum.