Today I double clicked on a CSV file on my Mac, and I proceeded to watch the Excel icon bounce up and down in my dock for about 15 minutes while it churned on the document. I was then presented with a spreadsheet with all of the data contained in one column. Excel had blown it. I was upset. I hate Microsoft Office, and it totally sucks. I don’t want it to defile my computer with its presence unless circumstances are dire. But, it has asserted to the operating system its great ability to open CSV files. Unfortunately, that ability is limited to the “import” function in the file menu, and it is not smart enough to perform an import when it overconfidently attempts to open a file through the Finder. This led me to reflect on the annoying feature that is file associations (or whatever your platform chooses to call them).
File associations have always been annoying. Programs fight over them and they always end up being what you don’t want, but changing them to what you do want is a giant farkle festival that would only be enjoyable to the most serious nerds. So, in my frustration I came up with an idea. Programs should be registered according to their ability as well as their “goodness” at opening files. For example, Microsoft Office’s ability to open a docx file might be 9/10, whereas OpenOffice would be like 5/10. In this case, when a user clicks on a docx file, the computer decides to go with Microsoft Office.
Obviously, overconfident software vendors like Microsoft and Adobe would always set their values to 10/10 for every file time. That’s where the power of the Internet comes in. A community based web site could be created to rate the abilities of programs to open files. Maybe on a spectrum of different characteristics (correctness, annoyingness, memory hogging, etc.).