Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Why can't my computer copy multiple files?

Dear Apple and Microsoft,

(And all others who don't feel confident about their operating system after reading this.)

Recently, I prepared to re-install a computer by backing up files to my NAS (network attached storage), and dragged-and-dropped all personal folders to a new folder on it. After calculating how long it would take to copy the files, copying began with an estimated duration of a couple of hours (there were a lot of files to copy), and I left the computer alone to work.

After a while I returned to check how the computer was doing, and it wasn't doing good. A dialogue told me that a file couldn't be copied because its name was too long or held an invalid character. I clicked OK (or something like that) to accept the situation, and the dialogue box disappeared and copying stopped.

However, copying wasn't finished - it was broken! After the file with an invalid name, nothing more had been copied. To continue copying the remaining files, I had to browse to the last copied file in the last copied folder, and manually copy them to the NAS. I then had to repeat this for every folder all the way up to the root folder for the backup, before I could continue with the other folders that hadn't been copied.

Then, copying broke again, and I had to repeat the procedure once more. And it broke. And I continued. And it broke. And I continued. And I don't know how many times copying broke, but eventually I got all the files backed up. Except those with an invalid file name.

Now, the interesting thing here isn't that copying breaks, but that it continues to do so more than 25 years after the computer became personal. I really don't understand why computers can't deal more gracefully with errors like this.

Here's how it could be:

When a file cannot be copied, log it and continue with the next file. After an attempt to copy all files has been made, bring up a dialogue with the log of erroneous files from which the user can investigate each file, for example by opening its folder and take a closer look at the file name. Or even better, assist the user on how to correct the error - if the file name is invalid, give the user an easy way to change it! When the user has corrected or selected to ignore the errors, let her/him make another attempt at copying the remaining files. Repeat until the user has corrected or ignored all errors.

This way, the user gets control of the powerful tool a computer can be, but isn't as long as it cannot cope with simple situations like copying multiple files in a useful manner.

And finally: It shouldn't take 25 years to correct this. 25 hours would be more like it.

Kind regards,
Asbjørn Floden

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