Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Folder or Directory?

Well, I have a (probably bad) habit of using word folder (and it's Czech translation) when talking about computer directories, and sometimes I get corrected by the listener. So I wondered which is the correct usage - should I use folder, directory, or is either fine? I must also confess that the Czech equivalents for folder (složka) and directory (adresář) are causing me the same pain - I don't know which one is the correct. So I picked up my English dictionary (I don't have a Czech one, therefore I picked the English one) and looked up the words:

folder noun 1 a folded cover or large envelope for holding or filling loose papers. 2 a computer directory containing a number of files. 3 NAmer a leaflet or brochure

directory noun 1 an alphabetical or classified list, e.g. of names, addresses, telephone numbers, etc. 2 on a computer, a list of the files contained in a disk. 3 formerly, a book or collection of directions or rules, esp concerning forms of worship.

Now, the Czech counterpart for folder has more or less the same meaning (etymologicaly) as the first meaning of folder, and the counterpart for directory means basically a list (sorted) of addresses - it's even created from the word address, in Czech adresa.

So if I look on the original meanings (or in case of directory its current meaning outside of the computer world) of the words both in Czech and in English, I come to a conclusion that usage of folder is more meaningful than usage of directory, yet in linux it seems directory is the word of choice. I guess I am as confused as in the begining...

Any thoughts on this matter?


Michael said...

In US English, "Folder" was originally largely used by Windows, and has since been adopted elsewhere (like OS X) as what "users" think of when storing data in pointy clicky programs.

"Directory" is more generic, and is generally what we use in Linux. Unfortunately Nautilus is starting to say "Folder" too.

It sounds silly to say "Folder" when talking about command line apps and daemons, so in general, "directory" gets more use. "Directory" is more appropriate when talking about non-GUI applications and can also be used to talk about GUI applications, though users may not understand the word, anymore, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

Folder is just one step closer to the methaphor. Just take a look at the icons for the "folders".

Martin said...

Thank you guys for your comments. I feel like I understand it more know... Also thanks to you, michael, I discovered that the habit of me using folder might be based on the fact that in gnome, folder is used almost everywhere, which I didn't noticed before :-)

nicu said...

As I started started with DOS on the PC (the computers/OSes I used before that didn't had this concept) I got accustomed with the "directory" term.
Later when Windows tried to force the new "folder" term down on my throat I stubbornly refused to comply and still use "directory" then talking about the file system/ But it happens to me to say "folders" when talking about the sub-divisions of my inbox in Thunderbird.

絵師かいお said...

Thanks a million for your comment Martin! I'm so glad that since I joined this planet amount of comments kept accumulating. :)

Nathan said...

A "folder" is something users see a picture of, on the screen. A "directory" is an arrangement of bits that is really, physically on the disk.

A folder usually represents a directory. Sometimes folders represent things other than directories. Sometimes there's no folder representing a directory. (Sometimes there's something else that doesn't look like a folder.) Hence, they're not interchangeable, and we can't abandon directories.

If you're talking about the users' documents, say "folder" (or whatever the hell the picture looks like). If you're talking about the computer itself, say "directory".

Yogee said...

Microsoft itself is very confused about this. In .NET framework, I see more use of word "Directory". But we also have a function called Environment.GetFolderPath(...).

Best way out is to stay stick to one of this word. This will avoid confusion for audience.

I used Unix like system for long time so I am comfortable with use of "directory"