Overview

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modified: 2013/08/2

OverView is a tool in my history of attempts to create tools that allow us to deal with large amounts of information, and navigate them more efficiently.

The idea behind this tool is rather simple: lay out the entire contents of the harddrive on a 2d plane, then allow the user to smoothly zoom into it (OverView uses OpenGL and animates the zoom actions):

overview1.jpg

A normal folder browser requires you to open & close folders repeatedly, in OverView this is replaced by zooming in & out entirely. For deeply nested folders however, this could result in a lot of zooming.

To improve on this, overview allows you to designate the relative importance of folders, so you can more quickly find what you're looking for. In the above shot, the “W” folder is biggest, as it contains current projects. Inside of that, the overview folder is made bigger, in fact it takes up much more space than root folders like “Program Files” which are accessed infrequently by the user.

OverView persists all this information, so unlike opening folders which you do again and again, increasing folder importance you do just once. And once a folder becomes less important, shrinking it is just as easy.

overview2.jpg

OverView has builtin support for some file types, like images. It first loads a thumbnail, and when you keep zooming, the full res image. It caches thumbnails to attempt to speed up zooming.

overview3.jpg

It also had a working simple text editor, allowing you to see large texts without scrolling (you can make any file or folder bigger in X and Y directions independently). To move around in a large text, you do a zoom out, and then back in again, which often is much quicker and less disorienting than scrolling.

As cool as OverView was, it has some major usability issues, which made me decide to go with a different approach, ultimately leading to TreeSheets. The primary thing was that even though zooming was fun and intuitive, you always end up looking at your data at the wrong size, i.e. text was always either way too big or unreadable, and images almost never looked sharp because they hardly ever correspond to 1:1 pixels. For productive work with data, seeing stuff instantly at their ideal resolution works much better.

Another issue, which can be solved to some extend but not entirely, is that when you zoom in you potentially ask the system to load a LOT of data at once, leading to delays when data is not cached yet.

If you absolutely insist, you can try out overview here. Note that it is useless for anything at this stage except for seeing the zooming in action. You need a fairly beefy PC and GPU to make this run smoothly, and even then it will stutter at time when zooming into heavy folders. It will crash. There is no support for this software. You have been warned.

boar_zoomed_out.jpg

The zooming mechanics of OverView were meant to be used in a visual programming language codename “Boar”, above what a zoomed out view of the prototype looked like.