To me this screams "hey! Our data says 'X'! Let's apply it in the simplest way possible, with little to no editing or afterthought, and then bask in the false confidence our data provides."
I'm not saying that their approach is a bad idea, but they've allowed their execution to falter. They're still in the idea phase. This is not a 'product' phase.
1. It's visually noisy. The problem is not necessarily that there are shitloads of buttons, but that they're everywhere. We have an area for buttons on the top right, then an area of tabs, then an area of large, poorly-gridded buttons, then another row of buttons on the address bar area. Oh, and the freaky tab-above-the-tabs thing on the title bar. There's no visual organization or hierarchy. The whitespace and value is all monotone. When you squint your eyes, all you see is buttons, and no organization behind them.
2. Look, I'm sorry, it's ugly. I'm not saying you need to go stick-up-the-ass Apple brushed metal. Just...after you've worked out the usability aspects, hire a graphic designer. They're really good at all those tiny little visual tweaks that can make the difference between 'eh' and 'great'. UI/UX people usually don't have the chops to accomplish that - you need a dedicated artist.
3. In the words of Dr. Malcolm, "Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." All right, your solution appears to be "more buttons". Take that a little farther. How many is enough? Can you have 'too many buttons'? (hint: yes) Do you want to distinguish visually between commonly-used and uncommonly-used buttons? Is it safe to draw this conclusion from your data? How representative of the average user's needs are these after-market add-ons that will probably only be installed by power users?
Look, data is useful, but poorly-analyzed data is dangerous. If you're not careful it will sing you whatever song you desire, whispering "yes, yes, more like that" in your ear as you dance down to hell.
For example, the "Command Entrypoint Usage" graph, shows the Context Menu as the most prominent means to perform tasks and the "Menu Bar" as the least. Whereas they read this as "We need to make the menu bar easier to use", I would interpret that as a strong indicator that the context menu needs more attention.
Arguably, to look at the data and resolve to tune the context menu would be similar to getting data that most people are climbing up a drainpipe to get into their apartment, instead of using the lift, so to improve their experience we should signpost the drainpipe and build a nice ladder up the side of it. (BTW I use the drainpipe - it's quicker)
The menu bar is just not near enough to the "context" of managing what you want to manage. None of us would really like to click on hyperlinks in a webpage, then go up to the menu bar and click "open/copy/paste" to use said hyperlink. Just as the majority don't seem to like doing the same with files.
Look. Context menus are useful but lots of people don't find them. In fact, MS added something to apps such as Outlook that addresses your comment about commands being near to the content that they work on, but presents the UI in a more discoverable form. Not sure what it's called, but it's a popup toolbar that fades into view next to your text selection, allowing access to text styling such as bold, italic, etc.
I find that in practice, I know where these commands are on the ribbon - they never move - and have no problem moving the mouse pointer to there, to click them. So, I tend not to use the contextual popup.
For nearness and discoverability, perhaps MS could try this UI again with Explorer and see if people liked it.
Your example of the 'popup toolbar' is exactly the sort of thing I might expect to make the context menu more discoverable; but if it's been tried and didn't work, then the point could be moot. Perhaps utilizing some space next to the filename for the most common actions would suffice. I just think having the available actions closer to where you're working, on-screen, would provide a better experience with less scanning and less movement.
In any case, I'll continue to hide any such menu bar wherever possible :)
If you read the previous post they also do a lot of user testing and iterate it down.
Have you read Jensen Harris' exhaustive blog posts on building the Ribbon for office?
Calling the ribbon poorly analyzed is jumping to an unsupported conclusion. Some of your specific suggestions were tested during the building of Office and found wanting.
*Oh, and the freaky tab-above-the-tabs thing on the title bar.*
You know, I like the ribbon and I think it’s great UI design, at least for certain tasks, but it is very, very ugly. There has to be a better way to put the elements together.
I like the idea and it makes sense design-wise (as in the hierarchy of commands from the most used to the not used at all) but after all these years I'm still not sure how I like it. I feel lost even with apps I use all the time (Excel or Word). But it's way better than what they had before ("millions" of buttons).
Now, we'll see what their attention to detail is when I try my favourite shortcut... Holding CTRL while clicking on the up arrow. This used to open the parent folder in a New Window and it seems that MS forgot this shortcut in recent Windows versions.
AFAIK Alt was same since WinXP but can't confirm.
Ctrl is right now used for doing multiple selections in folders.
Ctrl + Click is one of those shortcuts that should be standardized; in addition to middle click - these "links" should always open in a new tab/window.
I'll like that too, but I have faith that MS will screw this up somehow. Some of the ways you wind up interacting with Explorer (the Open dialog, say) won't use your customizations, or Explorer will forget them every few weeks. Or something else. That's always been their way.
- Win 8: http://cl.ly/321a2D0b1M1G1v1o2r3F (from article)
- OS X: http://cl.ly/290D3q2Q06203b181C2b (random Google Images search)
I think Microsoft's ribbon approach is horrible for usability. It takes a long time to visually scan all those words/icons to figure out what I want. With OS X, the interface is much cleaner. There are only a few buttons and no extraneous visual noise. Finder stays out of your way and lets you get at your files.
I draw this comparison not to start a Mac vs. Windows flame war but to show how wrong-headed I think Microsoft's UI is.
Also, refresh accounts for > 6% of Explorer commands. Why don't they just make Explorer refresh automatically and get rid of the need for the command?
One thing I do like about the redesign is the prominence of the "copy path" button.
Not only can you hide the buttons in the ribbon (which is nice if you typically use keyboard shortcuts), but the experience is consistent with other recent Microsoft applications. I'm not sure a computer novice or even 50% or more of non-power users would have any idea what the buttons on Finder do (does anyone know what that eye button does before they click on it?), and I think that's the target demographic here. Power users know how to hide unwanted buttons or the text that goes with the buttons.
Some people swear by Miller columns for efficiency and are lost at sea without them. It's entirely a personal preference - if you don't like it, click on one of the other available layouts in the finder.
If so, that view has been available in Finder since at least the first version of OS X I've used which would be 10.3 Panther. These days there are 4 different view you could browse files with in Finder: regular icons, cover flow (does anybody use this ever, by the way? it's the most long-winded, annoying and imprecise to browse anything including photos), column view and hierarchical view.
And yeah - cover flow - classic eye candy bollocks UI.
Also, how do you drag and drop to a terminal that's fullscreen?
Works like a charm.
I don't like ribbon ui at all, though. But for newcomers it's probably going to be an easier way to manage files. Small anecdote: my grandmother had never used a computer until 6 months ago. One of the hardest things to explain to her was windows context menus. With buttons in the ribbon it would have been so much easier.
Refresh is done automatically on any filesystems that support it. I think most people do it out of habit, from way back when that wasn't the case.
It's pretty funny, people rant about the ribbon, but it is certainly by far the best usability innovation I've seen in recent years. The only thing that remains is the logical step of pushing ribbon headers into the title bar (Office already does this for contextual ribbons, but not for all of them) to take advantage of the infinite height when the window is maximized.
I'm not sure I would hold the OS X finder up as an example of good design:
Complaints about the finder are numerous and common, there are more finder replacements than just about any other system utility. A google search for "OS X finder" reveals that in the top 10 results (excluding images), #2, #3, #5, #6, #7, #8 and #10 are all either complaints about the finder, replacements for the finder, or commentary on complaints about the finder.
The titles are things like "How to Make the Max OS X Finder Suck Less" as if it's a given that everybody understands it sucks. "n replacements for the Finder". It's even one of those rare topics that Gruber can find it in himself to complain about Apple. http://daringfireball.net/2002/11/that_finder_thing
Also, once I got over the loss of the investment of brain space to memorize every possible menu item in the MS-Office suite, I've actually found the Ribbon interface to be very enjoyable to use, just as fast for things I know about, and many times faster for things I don't because it makes them easily discoverable.
But let's assume for a second I step up to each computer with no idea how to use either (but am familiar with very basic metaphors like a hierarchical file structure).
Looking at the OS X finder, I have virtually no idea what any of the buttons do. Left to right:
arrows going both directions, one is grayed out. Knowing that files can be organized hierarchically, do those buttons let me jump between siblings?
4 pictographs of no discernible relation to anything to do with file management: e.g. does the second one open up a text editor? the fourth one may have something to do with audio volume or screen brightness
there's an eye, does that control my camera? open up a file? only view a file?
a gear/light flash/different sort of eye glyph from the one before. if it's a gear maybe this lets me adjust some sort of setting
at the interface itself:
what is a device vs. a place? what is the relationship to each other? is a place on a device? or is a place something different?
Why do I have two columns of what look like folders? are they related to one another? if the rightmost column is supposed to be what's inside of the selected library folder in the second column, does that imply that I can only go one folder deep?
then at the bottom I have something that looks like a hard drive (but I wouldn't know that having never seen one), a folder called 'users' (why are there more than one! it's my computer, I'm the only one!), a house and then finally another folder.
I'm left with more outstanding questions for what's not on the window. How do I create folders? How do I delete things? How do I rename something? Provided I can figure out that this is a representation of the hierarachical file structure, is there a way to copy or move files between different parts of the file system? How do I add or remove "places"? etc.
The principle problems are that the finder is simultaneously underpowered.
It also hi-lights something that's sadly becoming more and more common in Apple's interfaces, a lack of discoverability. Sure, the disconnected toolbar up at the top of the screen (or perhaps on a different monitor) may answer some of my questions, and I could hover for tool tips perhaps, but realizing that those things are even connected is a serious interface problem.
The new explorer isn't without it's faults:
why is there a "File" menu when I'm clearly looking at files, is that something I push to "file" away something?
it's got the weird left right arrows and even a weirder up arrow
why is there a manage meny? aren't I managing my files right now?
But for the most part it achieves discoverability, while also having (or at least doing a better job of revealing) power.
Oh! So you push the button clearly labeled "move-to" to move a file to someplace!
Oh! There's a button called "open" with a picture of the MS-Word logo, that must open that file in Word.
"Also, refresh accounts for > 6% of Explorer commands. Why don't they just make Explorer refresh automatically and get rid of the need for the command?"
It does, just sometimes not fast enough for most users. It certainly works better on OS X.
I solved the problem with a little AppleScript I call with a Terminal command (pwdff) that copies the full path of the topmost Finder window to the clipboard. Ugly, ugly hack.
I think Finder's design is targeted at naive users, not power users (hence all the power user Finder replacements). I disagree with the parent post that Finder would be hard to use for a new user -- I've helped a number of people switch from Windows to Mac and never had a single question about performing file management tasks in Finder.
I do most of my complicated file management in Terminal on Mac. I would do the same thing in Windows if cmd.exe wasn't completely unusable (why can't I copy/paste normally into cmd.exe???). For everything else, I want the OS's file management app to get out of my way and let me access my files. Finder's minimalist design does that ok. For me, this ribbon thing is an aesthetic/usability nightmare.
Someone might have a better feel for temps in degrees Fahrenheit over degrees Celsius. That doesn't mean Fahrenheit is inherently better than Celsius.
- Assessing a window manager in isolation from the rest of your workflow makes no sense.
- Based on my experience with ribbons in Office, I think they are much less user-friendly than any other existing system of accessing commands. Primarily, I think this is because of the visual noise: there are lots of icons and words in an arbitrary layout (not rows or a grid) you have to parse through to find what you want. I think the same principle applies as with web forms (http://www.cxpartners.co.uk/cxinsights/web_forms_design_guid...) -- the ribbon makes you jump around between a whole bunch of icons before you find what you want.
- Spending more time with ribbons don't make them easier to use in practice. For example, I use conditional formatting, autofiltering, and sheet/worksheet protection all the time in Excel. I still am not able to remember which tab they are in on the ribbon (how does putting sheet protection on "Review" tab make any sense?).
> Someone might have a better feel for temps in degrees Fahrenheit over degrees Celsius. That doesn't mean Fahrenheit is inherently better than Celsius.
I'd say a better analogy would be between the US system of measuring volume (gallons, etc.) and the metric system. I've refused to learn the US system because the relationship between the different units is totally arbitrary. The arbitrary feel of the design of the Win 8 Explorer ribbon strikes me the same way.
They actually use a containment metaphor vs. a list or grid metaphor for orgnaization. Though I have to agree that once they're in the container it all goes to hell. And I can't for the life of me reliably remember which container contains what.
I use my "cdff" command much more often, which changes the directory in Terminal to the frontmost Finder window. (And if you already have the folder up in Terminal, "pwd | pbcopy" is essentially the same as "pwdff".)
First, everyone reviewing the ribbon interface online is more than competent with the old menu bar.
Second, everyone who is competent with the menu bar finds themselves in the awkward purgatory of "I know there is a Find function, but where is it hidden in these menus...".
In other words, the reason people don't like it is the same reason most every person has resisted improvements in interfaces for the past forever.
> In other words, the reason people don't like it is the
> same reason most every person has resisted improvements
> in interfaces for the past forever.
I think you'll find people aren't resistant to interface change, they're resistant to change that makes them immediately less productive with no immediate benefit. For instance, the Start Menu, way back in the day, was pretty widely considered a good idea.
But I've found that the vast majority of regular old users invest an incredible amount of themselves into learning an interface. I know people who still use WordPerfect for DOS because they couldn't move beyond their investment in the interface and moving to not just MS-Word, but WordPerfect for windows was too much of a jump.
Outside of the tech-sphere, users don't click buttons or dig through menus to figure out what they do or where things are, they might mouseover for a tooltip if your lucky. But most users don't explore. They learn and regurgitate procedures. Do this to make something bold, do this to indent a line, do this to insert a picture, etc.
There's no reason for MS-Office classes, yet they abound everywhere because non-tech users simply don't do these kinds of things. Putting as much up front as possible, with labels on as much as possible is about the only way you can get users to see that, yes, this software can do something.
It's mind-numbing and frustrating as an interface designer to spend hours thinking of optimal workflows, and minimal menu depth and all that, only to have users simply not use those things because it doesn't follow a procedure they happened to have learned a decade prior.
What is interesting is that the Ribbon is an improvement, but only for novice to average users. In various surveys and studies the only segment of the population that seems to have a problem with it are relatively advanced or technical users. High-end users report a loss of productivity. But increasing the capabilities of novice and average users was the goal of the interface and thus it has succeeded.
I agree with this but I think the effect is only temporary. Moving from the menus to the ribbon is a change and you lose your muscle memory and your sense of the "logical" place for things. But when you get used the new system, you're equally effective. After a while I came to appreciate the ribbon in Office because everything you could do in the current context is right there -- nothing is hidden deeper down. If it's not in the ribbon, you can't do it.
The only solution I've found to this is the Help function on recent versions of OS X. Press cmd-shift-/ and you can search for any item hidden in a menu.
If Microsoft added a feature like this, the ribbon wouldn't matter -- I could just turn it off and use keyboard shortcuts/search for everything.
>use keyboard shortcuts/search for everything...
But the quick access toolbar matters imho. Being able to e.g. add 'show/hide hidden' files is great and beats thousandthreehundred times the castrated Finder (which forces me to go to the terminal (and not even provides a context menu for this - lame)).
I have to agree to some point. This fails the discoverability principle, but it an awesome interface for power users who know what they are looking for a priori.
One OS X feature I totally love: http://lifehacker.com/5592856/use-os-xs-application-help-men...
I thought it was really obvious what the eye button does, though. It's my favorite thing about finder.
It seems you're trying to say that any UI without textual labels on everything is not discoverable. That doesn't fit with the usual meaning of the term, and seems to be too strict a standard to be actually useful.
You and I have different definitions of the word 'literally'. He has a number of questions for things that aren't apparent on the gui ("How do I create folders? How do I delete things?" etc)
This new Explorer UI is just waaaay to damned cluttered. Putting the Ribbon UI on Explorer is not necessarily a bad thing, but I really thing they could trim down the number of buttons present by default on the "Home" tab of that ribbon. IMHO, this is gonna be intimidating as hell to most casual/non-savvy users.
The "Copy path" button just saves you a few keystrokes.
>I think Microsoft's ribbon approach is horrible for usability. It takes a long time to visually scan all those words/icons to figure out what I want.
A huge percentage of people are repeat users of Explorer. While it may feel cluttered in the beginning, it will soon become second nature once people get used to it, and it's extremely friendly for newbies since it exposes functions instead of hiding it 3 levels deep in some menu. Are you a regular user of Office 2007+?
My concern is that it takes up valuable vertical space on the 16:9 monitors that we are getting these days, especially on netbooks. But you can minimize the ribbo and declutter it. See http://www.winsupersite.com/content/content/140353/win8_expl...
I double-click on it a lot when working with Office to get focused. When you hide it, if you hover it it will show without taking up all the space it does when it's open.
Yes, I hate it. I use Excel 2010 (PC)/2011(Mac) almost every day and I can never find anything in the ribbon. On Mac I use the Help/Search function to jump directly to the menu item I need. On Windows, I'm stuck looking through those awful ribbons.
Help/Search does seem like a great feature, though.
What I found interesting is what tested best with power users -- whatever they were currently using. Even if they didn't really like it, they always liked it more than then next thing.
One of the worst places to get UI feedback, for something like Explorer, is from people who would read such a blog. I hope MS is mindful of this.
With every version of Windows, I must work a little more, if at all possible, to go back to the Windows 95 Explorer. With every version of Windows they add some "innovation" or "enhacement" that degrades a little more my user experience.
Buttons and bars that add nothing useful and take screen space. A couple of minutes looking for the options to revert the changes... the options BTW also move. Windows 7 makes it specially difficult to restore the menu.
"Simplified" folder managing prevents me from seeing two sibling folders in the tree at once. That was Vista I think,
The Windows 7 "libraries" are terrible and impossible to disable completely. The "classic" start menu has disappeared from earth's face.
And so on. Windows 8 may be a little more difficult. I don't know if beginners are happier. I don't care.
I don't think its people with no idea, but rather people who aren't power users. I suspect almost all of us on a site called "Hacker News" are likely power users in our OS of choice.
When Windows changes, I'm inconvenienced for an hour or so as I relearn where various things are. But as a power user, I relearn these things pretty quickly (if I'm so inclined). "Oh they've added something called a registry. Let me take a look at this... Hmm... so there is where the files are registering this data. What if I..."
This is what we do. We're going to figure it out. And to be honest, I find Win7 way more user friendly than XP. For example, with multimon and the ability to quickly snap windows into place with Win-L and Win-R -- that right there makes me feel naked on XP (or Vista).
So you make look around and say there are 250,000 Windows power users out here (and you're probably surrounded by them)! There are 300 million who aren't.
"Note that we haven’t finalized the exact number of commands in the ribbon yet. It will likely end up between 198 and 203 when we’re done."
The ribbon replaces a traditional menu. How many commands do you count in your file manager's menu? (Probably less than 203, but I think if they can organize them well, more power to them)
I think they're overlooking the fact that it's often a smaller & quicker movement to get to an entry in the right click menu than to mouse up to the toolbar and click there. Fitt's Law applies.
>And what user data prompted them to create 203 buttons if some of the (far less than 200) commands they have now don't get used in more than 1% of user sessions?
You say that as if the 200 buttons were on one screen. They are spread out over different contexts and tabs. I believe they were trying to make the commands more discoverable from the previous versions.
If the commands are things that were previously available and less discoverable, then that's one thing. However, I felt like it was a jump to go from having so few commands available menu to having around 200. Do they expect the new commands to be used frequently? Were they actually needed? That's what I was trying to ask.
The 'up' button is back! As they said, it's the most requested feature in explorer. I even put back the 'up button' keyboard shortcut via Auto Hot Key. Also 'Open command prompt' is in there now. (Finally!) Plus they plan on having shortcuts for every command. I think by listening, including these additions, and reintroducing customizability, they took a big step forward in usability.
I wonder how many others knew about the "open command prompt" who really did need it. Revealing it in the Ribbon is a double-win then, because now you immediately know it's there and you can now also use a keyboard shortcut.
Difference is that doing stuff with files is not a profession.
I think if I still had that kind of job now I wouldn't care much about the command/menu bars vs. the ribbon - the former were pretty useless, so at least there's not a lot to lose - but I'd be very happy to see them implementing drag-and-drop from/to the breadcrumb bar.
I think windows is so set in how they do things that they can not think out of the box ( window ) at all.
With 3d and ssd becoming standard there are plenty of new ways to visualize the files on your drive.
Even photosynth an ms product would be a cool bolt on to file explorer.
In Windows Explorer though? It just looks like clutter. I'm no 'novice' but even I have trouble with the thought of getting used to that mess.
However I think they need to stop looking at positioning and layout and more at function and whether-or-not-this-should-be-there-at-all. There are things about the Explorer UI that I find non-intuitive and redundant. The bottom bar showing the file's information, for example, is useless when the user is in the "Details" mode. It should automatically disappear when its purpose is recreated in the main view. Even right-click > hide on it only works until you open a new Explorer window and there it is again! And I have never once used the "Burn" button, yet it's ALWAYS there even when there's no CD in the drive to burn to. It instead pops out my drive and tells me to use a CD. I don't think any user, no matter how bad they are with computers, needs that amount of instruction.
I hope they take a lot from watching their users in supplement to this quantifiable data. I once thought I lost an important folder when I tried dragging it to the Favorites bar, until I later realized in relief that because I didn't hold down Alt Windows actually moved the folder in question into my Favorites folder.
You know, just things like that.
But what's missing is recognition of the leaps forward in the iPhone / Android's general consumer interfaces.
iOS obfuscates the explorer interface and replaces it with simple contextual commands which seems fitting here - the 80% like new / copy / paste / etc.
If they approached it like iOS the question wouldn't be how to "improve windows explorer" but how to eliminate it.
Sorry for the convoluted take on the article, but I figured I'd take the Microsoft approach when mocking Microsoft.
2. Type what you want to find.
I think that tailor made libraries that leverage metadata are the other part of the answer. All modern music players and photo library apps already do this, they have a tailor made interface specifically for browsing music and photos. It’s not necessary to ever touch a music file or a photo in the file system.
I do think, though, that this is a problem most casual users will never encounter. Just add a document library to Office and most people would be set.
Anything can be built on top of hierarchical filesystem. Windows already has libraries. Some alternative file managers support file tagging and user catalogs.
It's apparently hard enough that no one's been able to provide a better solution to the general problem yet, only specific instances. (No, the iPad doesn't count because it doesn't even have a USB port.) So instead of researching pie-in-the-sky solutions (which is incidentally what MSR does), they've decided to invest resources in something that we know works to the extent that it does.
I could give a flying f about the eye candy.
P.S. I'm glad to see that "gnarly" is in this browser's spell check support.
P.P.S. My Windows machines are still on XP, so maybe I've missed something. Others' gripes, seen here and there, make me think not, though.
Big plus for the "command-line here" addition. I've been using a registry mod to get that into my context menu but it's good to see it in the mainstream.
Well, in Germany we say "The last thing that dies, is hope".
This video about Win8 has more than 5 million views already: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p92QfWOw88I
I am curious how much hype around Win8 they will have built when they ship it.
I think the last time I felt so excited about Windows was in the Longhorn times. (I use OSX)
I tend to dislike the ribbon in general because it feels like their designing software for the user who likes to click things and not for the user that uses keyboard shortcuts.
I disagree strongly with the whole "too many buttons/clutter" sentiment. This provides an awesome learning curve for users. The tooltips for the ribbon expose keyboard shortcuts. A first-time user will click the button, then eventually try the keyboard shortcut, learn it, learn all the shortcuts they need from the ribbon, then learn to hide the ribbon. This opposed to the crappy menu or context menu system which is much less conducive to exploratory UI learning.
I guess the vast majority of users like clicking on things.
>I tend to dislike the ribbon in general because it feels like their designing software for the user who likes to click things and not for the user that uses keyboard shortcuts.
Did you read the post fully? They have expanded the number of keyboard shortcuts and there is a way to minimize the ribbon. I don't see what you're complaining about, are you saying that they should force all users to find out and use arcane keyboard shortcuts instead of exposing the functions via the Ribbon UI?
Things they still don't seem to be addressing:
* Drive letters. It's 2011.
* Inability to make hard links to non-local storage. This infuriates me and makes it extremely difficult for me to manage my media in a clean way. On the Mac or Linux, for example, I can map my music folder to my Terastation. When I'm traveling, I can map my music folder to my external USB drive. Can't really do that for Windows, though.
There are countless other minor issues I have with Windows, and I see no sign that they're doing anything to improve on them. This is looking an awful lot like more superficial changes, which seems to be Microsoft's forte of late. Why do real work when you can rebrand, reorganize, change the website layout, etc. ?
I managed to get it working smoothly, with one glaring problem - I couldn't hide the junction point from the filesystem view. The junction point looked like any other file, and refused to be hidden (they're supposed to be), meaning that it was possible for them to be accidentally moved by an errant command - which would then lose the connection to the user dirs and screw up the system. So close and yet so far...
shouldn't a fopen work seamlessly with symlinks? Shouldn't it be dealt with at the filesystem level instead?
On Windows, there are hard links, junction points (I believe they're the same, junction points are for directories), symbolic links, and shortcuts. Junction points only work for local NTFS drives. Shortcuts work on anything, pointing to anything, but they're just .lnk files and an app has to know how to process them.
Here's the kicker: you basically can't create a symbolic link in Windows unless you're running as Administrator! There's even an option to enable symlinking in the Local Security Policy, but it doesn't actually work (a known bug since, I believe, Win Vista)! The 'runas' command (basically, sudo) can't really be used, though perhaps it works if you create a 'real' Administrator account (by default, there isn't one that you can log into).
So, you can create a symbolic link to a file on a network file system, but not to a directory. And you'll have to run as Administrator to make it happen at all.
I'm sure that's more than you ever wanted to know about Windows and links. :-)
How to Include a Network Drive or Folder in a Library in Windows 7: http://www.sevenforums.com/tutorials/4617-libraries-include-...