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Mac OS X 3D File Browser

pudge posted more than 12 years ago | from the shades-of-project-x dept.

OS X 50

A user writes "A development team at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana has released a 3-dimensional file browser called 3DOSX as a test of the feasibility of the technology. This program uses OpenGL to render a file system as a series of floating 'platters' interconnected by semi-translucent beams of light." I tried this on my old PowerBook G3/400, first from the source and then from the disk image, and then realized I don't have the required OpenGL-accelerated video card. Doofus am I! Be not like me! (However, it does work, albeit very slowly, on a new iBook/600). J adds: Nice and fast on an old G4/500 with a Radeon.

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Frost pist? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3134720)

I'm pattering away in exitement!

Evil EdK Enterprises []

Screen Shots (5, Interesting)

cjhuitt (466651) | more than 12 years ago | (#3134747)

It looks interesting, that's for certain. I don't know that I would want to use it all the time yet, at least because I couldn't drag-and-drop a file between platters.

For those who are curious what it looks like, I took a couple of screenshots. At the risk of slashdotting my school's server, they are here:

Platters View [] .

A welcome return of Labels [] .

The Get Info [] window.

So finally it's true! (5, Funny)

Toraz Chryx (467835) | more than 12 years ago | (#3134772)

<Jurassic Park> I know this, this is a UNIX system, they tell you everything!! </Jurassic Park>

Re:So finally it's true! (3, Informative)

bwulf (325) | more than 12 years ago | (#3134911)

The original: []
The re-implementation: []

I really should get to try out the SGI version some time, though it claims to run on 5.3 and less only.

Re:So finally it's true! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3135063)

fsn (the original) runs on IRIX 6.5 as well.

Erm, right... (2, Interesting)

Fweeky (41046) | more than 12 years ago | (#3134791)

So, for 100x the CPU and memory usage, I can see fewer of my files at once, and do less with them, and have them represented in a totally unintuitive and unfamiliar way?

Right, that's very good. What next? Text editors with words represented as different coloured 11 dimensional hypercubes? :)

Re:Erm, right... (1)

jeffehobbs (419930) | more than 12 years ago | (#3134863)

Wow, what a grumpy-ass response -- can I get a "Bah Humbug"?

It's *cool*. A neat toy. Probably not meant to replace the finder...


Get off your high horse (1) (560445) | more than 12 years ago | (#3134903)

So, maybe it was an excercise in eye candy. I believe that's what it was intended to be. What next? Some sort of "game" that would let the user have "fun"? P'shaw.

Re:Get off your high horse (2)

Fweeky (41046) | more than 12 years ago | (#3134943)

I didn't say it wasn't "cool" or didn't look good, I said it's not a good or interesting file manager concept. Every 6 months one pops up, but none of them seem bothered with becoming a serious usable application.

Anyway, if people can write useless utilities for fun I can say they're useless and suggest something even more useless and fun :P

Re:Erm, right... (1)

alangmead (109702) | more than 12 years ago | (#3135048)

Almost all of those arguments ( excessive system resources, fewer files directly accessible, and fewer actions that can be taken on those files) can be used in discussing the Unix shell environment vs the Macintosh Finder.

The "fly over the documents" metaphor has been tried before. In some ways it was the precursor to the office metaphor used for the Macintosh (As noted in the Son of Dataland [] section of the paper Inventing the Lisa User Interface []

Re:Erm, right... (2)

Fweeky (41046) | more than 12 years ago | (#3135138)

> Almost all of those arguments ... can be used in discussing the Unix shell environment vs the Macintosh Finder.

And Explorer, except they at least do it in an environment where it's suitable and manage to do so with what's actually fairly trivial resources (well, let's ignore some of the more, um, advanced features like integrated media player/browser etc for now).

Frankly, I'd be more impressed if instead of going 3D (or adding built in media players, or intergrating Zip) for the k00l factor, they introduced or reused things in 2D that made it more powerful or intuitive; they are the aims of a user interface, after all, not how-to-add-another-gimick.

Having the large and flexible toolkit of the Unix shell environment still manages to massively overpower current graphical environments; why don't people try to introduce such concepts to them? You've probably got a similar chance of producing something usable as a 3D environment, but you'll probably learn a lot more (assuming you're wanting to hone your UI skills rather than 3D ones :)

(NB: For "They", read "people who write file managers" and not "the specific people who wrote this 3D file manager" :)

Re:Erm, right... (1)

alangmead (109702) | more than 12 years ago | (#3145557)

You view of what is trivial resources is based specifically current manufacturing technology and economics. The 256K that explorer.exe takes on my windows box would be unreasonable 5 years ago.

To reach the current state of GUI file managers, they (the same they that you were referring to.) that basing the system on recalling visual cues over remembering commands gave certain advantages to a certain group of users. I'd consider this an experiment in whether a spatial cues help or hinder the users navigation of the system.

By the time this research manifests itself as a marketable product, it might not be a 3D browser any more. It might just be that some facet of this app makes someone figure out how to create a single paned view that can show disparate parts of the file system hierarchy.

This reminds me a bit about an argument I had with a friend of mine about Lingua::Romana::Perligata. [] He couldn't see the package as anything but a waste of time, programming in a dead natural language. The point that I tried to make about the library isn't simply to write programs in latin. It could be viewed as an experiment in determining whether programming languages are required to be positionally dependent. If the results from Lingua::Romana::Perligata showed that there were significant advantages from determining syntax from inflection rather than position, a new syntax (not based on dead languages) could be developed by someone creating a commercial product.

Re:Erm, right... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3157580)

The 256K that explorer.exe takes on my windows box would be unreasonable 5 years ago.

Just for the record, there is no way explorer runs in 256k of ram. If your task manager says that (i'd look, but i'm not in windows at the moment) it's because many key parts of explorer have already been loaded by the OS. It's lies; what it basically comes down to is that explorer's ram use is in the MB and not the K.

It looks fun... (1)

Daniel Wood (531906) | more than 12 years ago | (#3134812)

...but not very practical. Much like you saw the girl in Jurassic Park looking and hoping to find the security program. This would probably be wonderful for novice users(that, or a nightmare). I think it's meant to be more fun that useful.

hmm (0)

mar1no (559482) | more than 12 years ago | (#3134834)

it seems that MGMs Hacker movie is becoming more and more realistic! remember how they browser file-systems in that 3d environment? *sigh*

FSV (5, Informative)

Picass0 (147474) | more than 12 years ago | (#3134879)

Or you could use the FSV browser for other unixes.

Screenshots []

Re:FSV (1)

rjamestaylor (117847) | more than 12 years ago | (#3134895)

Definitely not as cool as the OS X screenshots.

Re:FSV (1)

bwulf (325) | more than 12 years ago | (#3134918)

But much older, at least as old as 1993 [] (speaking of the original version [] here)

Re:FSV (1)

BiggyP (466507) | more than 12 years ago | (#3145817)

well, the original may be much older but FSV really isn't much like SGI's original FSN, FSV is quite a drab experience and although it is pretty and 3d it's far from usefull for most things, at least it wasn't when i last ran it a year ago, would it be at all possible to port 3DOSX to any other platforms?

Re:FSV (2)

robertchin (66419) | more than 12 years ago | (#3211247)

It's possible to port 3DOSX to UNIX via GNUStep. The entire application is written in Objective-C using the Cocoa API, which GNUStep attempts to duplicate (Cocoa is based on NextStep which GNUStep's original goal was to emulate).

Re:FSV (2)

cosmo7 (325616) | more than 12 years ago | (#3135080)


slashdot caps karma at 50 points, so 50 +1 = 50, then 50 -1 = 49. but you knew that already, really.

Looks coole but not all that useful (1)

Tokerat (150341) | more than 12 years ago | (#3135051)

I haven't downloaded and tired it yet because my OSX box isn't hooked up at the moment, but from the screenshots it looks like a good idea but not every well implemented. IE it looks cluttered and hard to really view anything but the file that was right in your face.

i have yet to try it tho.

I really think 3D envirpments (a Window Manager too, not just the File browser) could make computers more useful IF DONE RIGHT. that FSV thing looked great, , now just make my windows move and order themselves in a 3D ring as i change Z order and things will be just fine :-D

Stick with fsv (2)

dh003i (203189) | more than 12 years ago | (#3135107)

This thing looks neat, but it seems even less functional than fsv. A truly useful 3D browser will integrate the feature's that we're already familiar with in 2D browsers -- and which are useful in 2D browsers, into it.

Re:Stick with fsv (3, Insightful)

PurpleBob (63566) | more than 12 years ago | (#3135327)

I'm wondering if there can ever be a truly useful 3D browser, at least on an ordinary computer monitor.

Monitors are 2D. Thus, showing windows, icons, and text in 2D is the optimal use of space. Observe that in a 2D interface, you can read size 8 text with no problem at all. In the 3D interface, the text is generally much larger, but since the vast majority of it is rotated into the background it's harder to read.

In 2D you can arrange lots of icons in a grid. In this 3D interface you can only see a few icons at a time, and even so they end up on top of each other (the front of the platter vs. the back).

Finally... (3, Funny)

luckbat (450567) | more than 12 years ago | (#3135187)

When you see a file browser like this, can you doubt that we're now one step closer to navigating the Internet in the manner Johnny Mnemonic insisted we would?

(I mean just look at those 3DOSX screengrabs. The technology was clearly designed by superintelligent cyborg dolphins.)

Size isn't important (3, Insightful)

Account 10 (565119) | more than 12 years ago | (#3135204)

Not sure if this Mac one does it or not ... but all previous 3D filemanagers I've seen (including ones linked to in other comments) sort files by size.

The biggest directory on my system is \winnt\system32 and, in a 3D view dwarfs other directories. How interested am I in system32? Bugger all.

The files I am interested in ... the ones I want to work with today ... are minute in comparision.

And this makes 3D filemanagers ... implemented like these ones ... utterly useless.

Re:Size isn't important (1)

rjamestaylor (117847) | more than 12 years ago | (#3135438)

That's what Everest is - Earth's system32. Of course, K2 is Earth's My Music.

Re:Size isn't important (3, Informative)

Sentry21 (8183) | more than 12 years ago | (#3135829)

Actually, this is insanely handy when you're having one of those 'where did all my space go?' days. The interface used in Jurassic Park shows large files as large, so it's easy to see a 3 gig logfile, even way off in the distance.

This would have saved a coworker and I a lot of worry and filled drives several times. *sigh*


Re:Size isn't important (2)

rjrjr (28310) | more than 12 years ago | (#3145699)

You might have found OmniDiskSweeper [] handy too.

It could be imroved slightly (1)

eet23 (563082) | more than 12 years ago | (#3135357)

It's completely unusable for me, partly because you can't start typing a filename like you can in the Finder. I really don't have the patience to scroll through the 250 items in my downloads folder one at a time to find what I'm looking for. 2D file manager work fine for me at the moment.

Remember Hot Sauce? (2, Informative)

cei (107343) | more than 12 years ago | (#3135470)

Apple had something similar as a browser plugin years ago. Hot Sauce Meta Content Format [] . Don't know if it predates the SGI's or FSV or anything.

Remember TurboGopher VR? (2)

Infonaut (96956) | more than 12 years ago | (#3135746)

TurboGopher VR actually came out around the time of Mozilla, if I recall properly. It was quite slick, but ultimately not all that useful. I think much of what they learned in implementing TG VR went into the development of HotSauce, which I thought was (like OpenDoc [] and Cyberdog [] ) essentially ahead of its time.

Re:Remember TurboGopher VR? (1)

sabi (721) | more than 12 years ago | (#3136107)

One part of what makes 3DOSX useful are those gigantic Mac OS X icons... you can actually make them out from a distance and they help you to see where you are in the filesystem. Compare this to the Stonehenge of TurboGopher VR and you have a much more usable system.

another "virtual" browser - xcruise (1)

Zane Edwards (562074) | more than 12 years ago | (#3135480)

I just got xcruise, a file browser that creates your fs into a galaxy, to work to work on OS X (need to have x working). I discovered it while sleep deprived at 3am and found myself getting lost in /usr. Though practically useless, it is pretty impressive. No 3D libs needed.

screenshots []

xcruise files []

Thanks for the feedback guys (5, Interesting)

Have Blue (616) | more than 12 years ago | (#3135683)

I am one of the people who wrote 3DOSX (UIUC MacWarriors [] ). In response to everything posted so far:
  • Drag-and-drop support was the #1 feature that didn't make it in time for this release. We are currently deciding whether to continue to work on this (say, for an updated release at MacHack). We would add dragging, more file management functionality like renaming, and themes (support is ready, theme creation tools are not).
  • If you are having performance problems: Make sure that the window is small enough that the dock, and any other translucent windows you may have open, do not overlap the GL context. Also, if you have less than 16MB of VRAM, reduce the window size (preferences) and relaunch the app. OS X appears to fall back to software rendering if the hardware is inadequate.
Thanks for the comments!

Re:Thanks for the feedback guys (1)

iPaul (559200) | more than 12 years ago | (#3136035)

Loved it. Very cool. Is there source access so others may help?

Re:Thanks for the feedback guys (1)

sabi (721) | more than 12 years ago | (#3136099)

Yes, of course, there's source, check the same page you can download from. :-)

--Nicholas (also 3DOSX co-author, but not a major one)

I'm a little leery of any product with... (4, Funny)

ellem (147712) | more than 12 years ago | (#3135933)

DOS right in the middle of it. 3DOSX just gives me the willy's!

Top View (2, Insightful)

cappadocius (555740) | more than 12 years ago | (#3136611)

My feature recommendation: Since you can shortcut to a platter you can see by clicking on it, there should be a top view option that lets you look down on all the open platers

All I wanna know is... (1)

devross23 (565469) | more than 12 years ago | (#3137199)

Why does all this 3D file browsing take place under water in a swimming pool?

Re:All I wanna know is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3138887)

It's the "Aqua" user interface! ^_^ clever!

Features that seem to be missing.......... (4, Insightful)

ronabop (520121) | more than 12 years ago | (#3137700)

1. The same kind of options that 2D browsers have for UI preferences.... some people like sorting alpha, some by creation date/time, some by access date/time, some by size, etc. Rather than force one or another on users, why not let users pick a default, with a custom setting per window?
2. Storing state. Okay, I quit the app. I launch it 5 minutes later... where is my carefully crafted view? I have to rebuild it?
3. Okay, I'm looking at a platter with a set of files... but nowhere on the platter is the name. How do I know if this is tuesday's set of these files or wednesdays set? To see the name of the platter (so to speak), I have to go a level "down" or to my "platter" menu.
4. Maybe a bug, maybe a feature... go to root platter. Click on hard drive. Move out a bit, go back to root. Click on same drive. Move out a bit again. The "Platter" menu now has multiple drive listings.
5. Font selection?
6. Pulling platters to their own locations.... this may be a hard one to explain, but it would be nice if I could move a platter I used frequently "away" from the others... say, halfway across the pool.
7. (Adding on 6), even better, some custom "starting points" beyond the root. Say, two or three starting platters match my working style (/, /Users/username, and /Application...)
8. Ability to adjust Icon "density" for folders with lots of files. Imagine the dock concept, where, the more objects to represent, the smaller each object becomes.
9. Dimming/fading/darkening non-active platters... maybe increasing fog intensity for "distant" objects would do the trick?
10. Some other navigation, non-platter based. How about some keys for 'fly-around" control, so I can get an overhead look, or move around without using platters as the reference point?

Overall, a great piece of work, though. Much nicer for my working style than my usual 25 stacked windows.

Re:Features that seem to be missing.......... (1)

jbtule (565639) | more than 12 years ago | (#3141351)

Wow, alot of these things we already were planing on implementing, (and that bug by the way is fixed in the source right now we don't have a new compiled version yet expect a minor update this week) but we hadn't thought off dimming non active platters, it sounds like good idead especially when we get to drag and drop. -Jay Macwarriors co-chair

not getting it... (1)

wickline (93513) | more than 12 years ago | (#3137792)

I couldn't find any way in which this was better than columns view with the "path" widget showing on the window toolbar.

Sure it looks cooler, but it's slower to use, so it won't work for me :/


if it just... (1)

Kaoslord (10596) | more than 12 years ago | (#3137927)

cool... i wish you could like change the textures and images though... if you could make the BG wireframe (glowy green wires of course) and then have the connections look like a red laser thing and stuff like that youd have something straight out of hollywood

Re:if it just... (1)

jbtule (565639) | more than 12 years ago | (#3141095)

you actually can change the backgrounds, one of our macwarriors group members is working on a theme generator app, but it's actually quite easy to do manually, using a bundle with the images and a plist, but it's quite possible that how themes work may change, that's way it's not really mentioned or description forth coming ;-) as apple calls it.

Re:if it just... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3153612)

i was wondering if you could explain how to do this more thouroughly. I want to try it but im not sure how to do what your talking about. Yur help would be greatly apriciated

Re:if it just... (1)

jbtule (565639) | more than 12 years ago | (#3164266)

i'm not the one who implemented it, you can post your questions to our new web board [] i've already created a thread

my first /. "big flash ad" experience... (1, Offtopic)

deander2 (26173) | more than 12 years ago | (#3142376)

It was for IBM, and placed directly after the story text before the comments section. Not too intrusive, since that tends to be dead space anyway (unless the article is long).

It's disappointing though. /. usually has ads I find USEFUL, but this was the plain vanilla IBM (e)-business ad you find on

Oh well, I'll live. :-)

Revenge of the Pie menu... (2, Interesting)

earthy (11491) | more than 12 years ago | (#3143423)

It is very interesting to see the fairly old technology of Pie menus [] implemented yet again. Somehow, one would think that there should be a lot more implementations,
given that pie menus show up again and again...
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