My post yesterday on the upcoming changes in the Firefox download manager reminded me of a little story I wanted to tell. A few weeks ago, I said that uploading and downloading are seams in the web experience, and this story provides a good example of what I mean by that.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting in my room (probably at my computer), when I heard my roommate call me nervously from upstairs.
“Pat….?? Can you help me?”
I’d heard that tone of voice before.
“Is it about about your computer?”
So I went upstairs to help. Here was the problem: last night, she opened a Microsoft Word attachment from GMail, spent an hour or two editing it, saved it, and closed Word. Now, she was looking for the file, and it was nowhere to be found.
This has happened to me before, and I’ll bet that it’s happened to most people. When you download a file from GMail, you are prompted to either save or open the file. If you choose to save, the file will be downloaded to the desktop or your downloads folder (assuming you’re using Firefox). If you choose to open, the file will be downloaded to a temporary folder and opened from there. The problem is, if you choose to open the file, there’s nothing stopping you from merrily making all the changes you want and saving them back to the temporary file. Which is almost certainly not what you want to do.
It’s a tough problem, and probably not something that can be fixed in the web browser alone. But as we start relying more and more on web applications, I think it’s becoming an important problem to solve.
So what’s the right answer? First of all, I wonder if you should even be asked to choose between saving or opening the file. If you’ve clicked on it, don’t you probably want to open it? Once you’ve opened it, if you want to save it somewhere, then you can make the decision. This is the way that it works with PDFs if you’ve got Acrobat Reader installed.
Second, you shouldn’t be allowed to make changes to temporary files. If you are viewing a Microsoft Word document and then you try to save changes to it, it should then prompt you for a place to save the file, instead of silently saving the file to a temporary location.
Those are two possibilities that I can think of off the top of my head that might help fix this problem. Comments? Thoughts?
Oh, and just so I don’t leave you hanging — I helped my roommate rescue her changes from temp directory.