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Ask Slashdot: Is the Recycle Bin a Good GUI Metaphor? 465

dsginter writes "During a recent Windows 7 upgrade, I disabled the 'Recycle Bin' from appearing on the user desktop. Why? Because this allows the users to retrieve errant deletions. While this was the goal of the 'Recycle Bin' in the first place, most people (including myself) are in the good habit of keeping a tidy workspace and 'taking out the trash' when they see that it is full. For some people, their OCD meant that deleting a file was a two step process: delete the file and then empty the recycle bin. By disabling it from view, I have found that the original function is restored for the smattering of times that it is actually needed. Why are we wasting pixels on such a poor metaphor?" Going further, is there some combination of metaphor and method of use that you'd find more useful or natural?
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Ask Slashdot: Is the Recycle Bin a Good GUI Metaphor?

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  • Autocratic Admin? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Saturday February 26, 2011 @02:03PM (#35324682)
    I think you are out of line *forcing* other users to abide by your view of how the desktop should operate.
    • Or maybe, as a UI bonus, it can be used as a FIFO for disk space: when it's full, it deletes the oldest file first. Except that would fragment the file system to hell.

      • You could avoid it creating fragmentation with a bit more intelligence. Keep deleting the oldest files until a suitably large contiguous block is available for what's needed.

      • Re:Autocratic Admin? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Saturday February 26, 2011 @02:20PM (#35324854) Journal

        Fragmentation of the file system is no issue in our times.
        Hard Disks are so big, you basically always have a big enough chunk to save a file.
        E.g. if you save a movie ... no modern OS is spreading that big file over lots of small groups of blocks.
        Open a big word document, save it again. You can basically bet that the file is saved in a new location on the hard disk and not on top of the old file. That is the reason why "restore lost files" tools work.


        • That is true if old files are always deleted by emptying the trash. But if all the files are kept until the disk is completely full and only then deleted one by one to make sufficient space, fragmentation is going to be terrible unless some kind of defragmentation is done at that time (which will slow the file system to a crawl whenever you save a big file). Or is your disk big enough to contain every file you'll ever make?
          • by Nick Ives ( 317 )

            That will always be a problem if you use your disks to capacity. The solution is to not fill your disks to capacity if you plan to be using them as random read / write media.

            For home desktop use, you should really be be upgrading your storage solution at around 80% full. You should also be using a SSD for the drive your OS is installed on.

        • Fragmentation hasn't been a problem for a really long time, it's just that some filesystems like NTFS don't spend the time to place files in a way that prevents it. I don't think I've ever seen a UFS filesystem with more than a couple percent fragmentation that wasn't practically completely filled up.

          • Ergo, fragmentation is a problem. The majority of users use Windows, therefor NTFS and defragmenting is a must.
            And because Windows throws everything into one partition re-arranging files is a must too. We use MyDefrag [] to speed up customer's pc's when they come in for maintenance because they're slow.
      • by FutureDomain ( 1073116 ) on Saturday February 26, 2011 @02:24PM (#35324886)
        I've always wanted this feature. Eliminate the "Recycle Bin" and just have a feature like Time Machine that will let you retrieve earlier versions of a file and previously deleted files. A Log-structured file system [] would eliminate the fragmentation issue, make the implementation of this feature easier, and also provide some performance enhancements.
      • With the "previous versions" feature, does Windows 7 even require a recycle bin? Seems like it would be almost completely useless. I haven't used the recycle bin in years. I'm quite confident when I delete a file, that I really wan to delete it. I almost always use SHIFT+delete when deleting files.
        • Same here, but requiring that extra key is a good thing, it means that you're more likely to be sure you want to get rid of it than if you accidentally fat finger the delete key.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rinnon ( 1474161 )
      I disagree. In the workplace, you're not the owner of your machine. I've never worked in an office that allowed me to do whatever I wanted with a computer. Maybe certain websites were blocked, maybe I couldn't install stuff. Maybe something I would have liked on the Desktop wasn't there. In a lot of cases, Admin can setup your computer however they want, because THEY are the ones who have to fix it when it's broken. I think he's well in line with what he should be allowed to do. The very first time someone
      • by mysidia ( 191772 )

        I disagree. In the workplace, you're not the owner of your machine. I've never worked in an office that allowed me to do whatever I wanted with a computer.

        I am forced to agree with the OP. Removing tools from users' desktops based on admins' personal opinion about how they should delete things is autocratic and out of line.

        While it's true in the workplace you're not the owner of the machine, neither is the "admin", you have a job to do, and a computer is assigned to you for you to do your job, that j

    • by jimicus ( 737525 )

      That's the admins job - essentially to save people from themselves.

      It's why so many companies lock down the desktop to a varying degree - Windows (to be fair, any desktop OS) has a whole plethora of ways that the innocent can shoot themselves in the foot. One of the aims of locking down the desktop is to reduce this, and hence reduce helpdesk calls.

      Regarding the recycling bin - you heard the (probably apocryphal) one about the secretary who used the paper recycling box on her desk as a "pending" tray? The

  • by NemosomeN ( 670035 ) on Saturday February 26, 2011 @02:05PM (#35324700) Journal
    Stop being a pussy.
    • That's a bad habit that I got into. My best option was to make a normal deletion "easier" by disabling the notification when I hit the Delete button. I mean, that's what the Recycle Bin is for; to save your ass from accidental deletions. Notifications are just another layer and should be limited to the more "permanent" deletions, like Shift+Delete.

      Sure, there are free recovery tools to really save your ass, but you run a greater risk relying on those over the Recycle Bin.

    • Yup, I never use the bin, and there's no real reason to delete anything anyway unless it's software that I don't want to use anymore, and that can easily be re-downloaded. I wouldn't really care the bin was just hidden from me until I need it as specified in the summary, but I don't think I'd need it personally.

      Versioning on the other hand is much more important, but for that I just save as a new file every time, I don't especially need a file system designed for it, that seems too abstract a concept for
    • Thank you. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by msauve ( 701917 ) on Saturday February 26, 2011 @02:39PM (#35325020)
      Much more useful to Shift-Delete files you really want (albeit insecurely) gone, and don't worry about the ones in the Trash, which are only taking up otherwise unused disk space. From the summary:

      Why are we wasting pixels on such a poor metaphor?

      It's only a poor metaphor for the few really anal retentive people who can't be bothered to learn how and why their OS works. But that's not right - the metaphor isn't in error - Trash works just like a trash can. Put stuff in and take it out, empty it when it's full or stinks. What the writer wants is an incinerator.

      • What the submitter wants is a garbage chute that the users can throw files in and not be bothered by a trash can that they can see. (Actually a garbage chute for each user... not like one shared in an apartment building.)

        Maybe you're right and only a few overly anal people compulsively empty their trash cans, or maybe the submitter is right and this affects most computer users.

        Either way, I just wanted to point out that he's not asking for an incinerator: which would destroy files immediately. Submitter wan

    • Shit+Delete Stop being a pussy.

      There, fixed it for you.

  • by mwandaw ( 1276328 ) on Saturday February 26, 2011 @02:07PM (#35324714)
    I understand that we should always try to improve on the current state of affairs. However, in this case, I think the the "solution" is the answer to a question that no one has asked.
  • by gavron ( 1300111 ) on Saturday February 26, 2011 @02:08PM (#35324728)
    Yes, you got a stupid one past the editors at slashdot.

    Let the resume' building commence.

    You so smart.

    No, really.

    Here's a pixel for your effort: .

  • OK, people don't use their computers all in the same way. I don't know what made the author think that the majority deletes everything immediately after dropping files in the recycle bin. I don't. Can't tell if I'm with the majority, but I can tell that my behaviour changed as the hard drive space increased. With my current PC, it is not unusual that I have several gigabytes of stuff in the recycle bin. Occasionally I see total free space getting low-ish and I remember that I haven't purged the bin for mont

    • by schnablebg ( 678930 ) on Saturday February 26, 2011 @02:41PM (#35325054)
      It doesn't even "waste" any pixels unless you are using the entirety of your desktop to keep files or shortcuts, in which case you much bigger problems than a freakin' icon metaphor.
      • by houghi ( 78078 )

        I never understood the idea of icons and/or things running on the desktop. To see or access anything, I need to move or minimize or do whatever to access that. And then those that have several million (ok, a few less) icons and files on their desktop.

        Sure you can use a some shortcut to show it, but that is a workaround. I rather have a second, third ... Xst 'start' button to show those icons. e.g. one start button for main programs, one for main folders, one for last files and one as it is now.
        Luckily I am

  • Super+X to spawn a VT, rm filen[tab], enter, Ctrl+D.
    • Super+X to spawn a VT, rm filen[tab], enter, Ctrl+D.

      And if it was important, it was in SVN anyway, so I can always get it back from the server if I deleted the wrong thing. The Recycle Bin exists because Microsoft wanted to emulate the Macintosh as much as possible in Windows 95. The Trash can exists because the designers of the original Macintosh wanted to build one of the only general purpose computers without any sort of command line.

      And, in a nod towards elegance over safety, the original trash can wa

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 26, 2011 @02:10PM (#35324748)

    Even if I delete a tiny little file, the trashcan icon goes from completely empty to totally full.

    Perhaps the trashcan graphic could show the actual size of the deleted files relative to the space allocated on the hard drive for said files.

    That way you would only need consider taking out the trash when the can is actually full.

    • It goes from empty to full because it's hard to tell on a modern screen if it's a couple percent or completely full. Plus the whole point of it is that it's not empty. They're not trying to tell you how full it is, they're trying to tell you that it's full enough to empty.

    • by antdude ( 79039 ) on Saturday February 26, 2011 @04:40PM (#35325888) Homepage Journal

      I remember on my roommates' old PowerMacs with old Mac OS (not X), they had programs that showed how much was in the trash can, but with a liquid state. I would love to see that today in all OS' including Windows. Do they exist?

  • I don't see why you can't just symlink it to /dev/null. If you are going to delete something, delete it already. If you might want to save it, save it. For all the rest (accidental deletion) there are snapshots, versioning systems or backups. The 'Recycle Bin' or 'Trash' is not used properly by anyone because it adds an unnecessary step. I loathe taking out the trash at home and I wish that everything you put there could automatically go wherever it goes when I put it on the curb. Computers are supposed to

    • For all the rest (accidental deletion) there are snapshots, versioning systems or backups.

      What about accidental deletion before you do snapshots, versioning or backups?

    • I tried looking for that file and couldn't find it? Where do I find this /dev? Is it on my C drive?

  • out of disk space (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LordKronos ( 470910 ) on Saturday February 26, 2011 @02:12PM (#35324778)

    Why are we wasting pixels on such a poor metaphor

    Because, I actually want to have an easy way to empty the recycle bin. It's utilization of disk space wasn't a major concern for many year, but now with the introduction of SSDs, and the fact that huge SSDs are not yet affordable, I find myself running out of space on mine quite often. When I do, I tend to find I've got some large files sitting in the recycle bin.

  • by westyvw ( 653833 ) on Saturday February 26, 2011 @02:13PM (#35324780)

    Why is the Windows trash can a folder, yet I can not just browse the contents? In KDE I can just look in the folder and treat it just like any other, and I can purge by date to clean it up. All files are exactly what they were before but with the one additional option to restore it.

    • Wait, it's not? I open mine and I get an explorer list of everything in it. Sure, I can't view the actual files, or go into subdirectories, without restoring them. But I can sort by date modified, size, date deleted, container type, name, or location - and those are just the default columns.

      • You just answered your own question - if you can't view the files or navigate subdirectories then it's not a folder, it's a special-case that opens a window that happens to have the same GUI decorations as a standard Explorer window with the one function of selecting files in order to restore them.
        • by joh ( 27088 )

          This is just because otherwise people would use the bin as a directory/folder as any other.

    • It's a special folder. The way that deleting things on Windows works is that it renames the file and moves it to a directory within the recycling bin. I'm not sure how it determines the name for the file, but I'd suspect that it has to do with the name and path of the file. It likely has to do with naming conventions and wanting to combine multiple drives deleted folders into one bin.

  • I know an Outlook user at work who uses Deleted Items as a place to *store* emails. We've always been tempted to ask him if he stores his lunch in his trashcan.

  • I like the idea of a recoverable deletion bucket. But, it should be less intrusive. Deletions should occur without prompts and if users want to recover files, they know where to go. Additionally, the system should treat the deletion bucket like a stack where deleted files are permanently removed as more disk space is needed.

  • by Y-Crate ( 540566 ) on Saturday February 26, 2011 @02:17PM (#35324818)

    How could this possibly be a good idea? And how can you implement this and then accuse every other Windows user of having OCD? Pot. Kettle. Black.

    This is an absurd personal preference to force on your users, and a good example of an admin crossing the line from "ensuring the system works well" to "forcing the users to compromise their workflow because of the personal whims of the admin". Admins are supposed to keep users from interfering with the operation of the system, but it's equally important that they don't interfere with what the users are doing more than they absolutely have to.

    This is right up there with admins who don't set the time properly / leave the display at a ridiculously low resolution, then lock down the preference setting so it can't be adjusted.

    • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Saturday February 26, 2011 @02:29PM (#35324940) Journal

      On the contrary, he's streamlining the system so that it works for his users. I seriously doubt that the users like to have to delete, confirm a delete, and then empty the bin. They're also probably pissed if they accidentally get rid of a file and he can't recover it because they've emptied the bin.

      There's no great use to having the bin icon on the desktop. It's a convenience if you happen to frequently delete a lot of files you meant to keep (huh?), but otherwise it's probably a "me to" remnant of some UI designer that though the apple trashcan was a good idea.

      • But is the business paying for the time it takes to retrain users how to handle the lack of a recycle bin? I think that's the point, that if the company isn't asking for the retraining on something like this it shouldn't be given. All it does is cause headaches for end users who can't or won't learn to use their computers properly.

  • Fuck whether or not N=NP. Can users handle the power and responsibility of a recycle bin icon on their desktop? This, THIS is the most important open question in Computer Science. Naturally, this too is equivalent to the God Poutine question [].
  • Frankly, the "Recycle bin/trash" is a good(but not perfect) UI convention for a great many common computing situations. It serves as a reasonable recovery point/"in retrospect I fucked up" self help tool. It also imposes basically no requirements on the system/filesystem architecture. Would minor little additions(like having it automatically sort items by date/time of deletion) make it better? Sure. Is there anything fundamentally wrong? Not really.

    Now, in high-resource environments, there is a much str
    • Why can't I traverse a high-granularity timeline of every change made to every file I deal with?

      It's coming in OS X Lion. With Time Machine on hourly backups to a local drive or over a fast network it's practically there now. [/fanboi]

      • Arguably, it has been "practically there now" for ages. Google Docs has it, Assorted revision-control systems have taken a bit of setup; but have had it(and boatloads of features besides) for years. VMS had it at the filesystem level back when a VAX was some pretty bitchin' hardware... NTFS volume shadow copies are in something of the same vein, as are the snapshotting features provided by most SAN vendors, Sun's ZFS, Oracle's BTRFS, etc, etc.

        Obviously, the engineering challenges of doing robust version
        • If you believe the Apple PR machine, then Lion will have exactly what you describe - a universal, transparent, application-level revision control system with a pretty GUI. I'm sure this will require specific implementation by each developer rather than being an OS / FS level interface, so will take some time to appear fully and may never be implemented in some apps. What will be interesting is how (if at all) it interacts with Time Machine. If the Time Machine interface can intelligently handle these rev
  • Really -- you're focusing on lost desktop space and some kind of extra effort to delete files "permanently"?

    IMHO, the bigger issue is that the Trash (MS called it Recycle because it sounded more PC and Apple already had a Trash) metaphor combined with large disk drives allows people to turn the Trash into a storage place (like Outlook's Deleted Items).

    OK, this is and of itself isn't an issue, but periodically the trash gets emptied and then usually someone (sorry, women in marketing, but you're the most com

  • The recycling bin is wrong for several reasons:

    - It is an icon, and all icons except this one represent applications. It breaks the metaphor.
    - The concept of an undelete-store has some merit, but it absolutely needs to have a limited lifetime for its content.
    - It is hard to find as it has no fixed location. And it eats icon space without good reason.
    - Because it has no fixed position, the notion of drag&drop to it is fundamentally broken. Delete has to be a fixed gesture or command, not a variable one,

    • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

      > - It is an icon, and all icons except this one represent applications. It breaks the metaphor.

              Where are you from? Mars.

              Icons can represent more than just applications and it's always been this way.

    • "all icons except this one (Recycle Bin) represent applications."

      ??? Maybe on your desktop. Icons on a Windows desktop can be, or be shortcuts to, applications, files, filesystem locations, URLs (smb, http, ftp). The Windows Desktop is simply a filesystem directory like any other.

      I suppose in one sense those are all OPENED by applications, if by applications you mean passing the link to explorer.exe to handle - but in that case then the Recycle icon opens the explorer.exe application to a specific
    • Icons also represent documents, folders, and "the Desktop", whatever that means. I think the Recycle Bin is supposed to be like a folder, which is why it can be moved around, although in reality it's a special case GUI function. I prefer the Mac metaphor where it has a fixed location although it's annoying that there's no way to get a link to it on the left bar of a Finder window, which means always dragging all the way down (or across in my case) to the edge of the dock. It's redundant really, because y
  • by brokeninside ( 34168 ) on Saturday February 26, 2011 @02:40PM (#35325042)

    I thought that was THE metaphor for deleting files, dragging them to the shredder.

    Plus, my wife edited a .wav of a chainsaw buzzing followed by a scream and associated it with the action of shredding a file. That added to the effect, you shred a file, hear it get cut up and scream its last. The message it re-inforced was FILE DONE GONE!

  • by Twinbee ( 767046 ) on Saturday February 26, 2011 @02:40PM (#35325046) Homepage

    I've only just skimmed the summary, but I completely agree, it'd be wonderful to have multiple recycle bins, each a different colour so I can organize my trash. I put red files/icons in the red trash, and green ones in the green etc. I'm pretty sure this helps the OS with housekeeping, because it makes it easier to restore the bits for future files. Sometimes, the colour is not seen before, so I've set up a system to pick the trashcan colour from a colour wheel - this helps organization further.

    On top of this scheme, I have various levels of trash: shallow, deep, and megadeep. When I first delete a file, it goes into the shallow trash so that I can restore the file immediately if I've made a mistake. If I'm really sure I don't want a file, or I need more disk space, every so often, I dig into the shallow trash, and move them into the deeper trashcan, and again with the other levels, finally to be deleted at the end of the chain. It's cumbersome, but this way I can make sure I won't delete very important files too easily.

  • by TheNinjaroach ( 878876 ) on Saturday February 26, 2011 @02:43PM (#35325082)
    The problem you describe lies with your need to empty the Recycle Bin.

    Leaving it on the Desktop is nice for the times you really *do* want to permanently empty those files as well as the times you want to undelete.

    Off topic: Why force your personal preference on the users of your company? I think that's poor form. Let them decide how they want to use their own workspace.
  • You've just forced the users to change their desktop and the way they interact with their computers because for some personal reason you don't want the icon on your desktop.

    Some people make mistakes like this. Of those, some eventually learn. I wish you luck on your journey.
  • Windows doesn't have one, it has been totally subverted. Windows has an "application launching" metaphor.

    Nobody uses the desktop metaphor on Windows, they use the start menu to find the application they want then they open a file and find the file they want from within the application.

    Or they click on the application icon on the desktop... Now there's a WTF. Then open a file using the application.

    I don't know anyone who uses the Windows Desktop as a desktop...

    Apple, Gnome, XFCE OTOH all get it right. Last t

  • For people that have massive OCD like me, that meant that deleting a file was a two step process: delete the file and then empty the recycle bin.


    Seems like the person who wrote this 'story' is in denial about their OCD.

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder leads to get another Windows "administrator" deploying policies to make the system less user friendly. Bravo!

    Want the recycle bin cleaned up? Try doing it properly - deploy powershell and create a service similar to the temp cleanup script on better systems (like UNIX and UNIX clones) where temp files, or in your case, the recycle bin is cleaned up automagically after (n) days. Or, just leverage the cleanup utilities built into Windows. Or, better yet, if you want a single-st

  • You should never actually need to empty the recycle bin, ever. You can adjust the size of the recycle bin and Windows will automatically delete the oldest files once the recycle bin is at capacity, allowing you to retrieve recently deleted files you realize you want back. That is the purpose of the recycle bin.
  • by junglebeast ( 1497399 ) on Saturday February 26, 2011 @07:53PM (#35326974)

    You are correct that it is pointless to delete things twice. However you are wasting your time and defeating the purpose of the system by emptying your recycle bin.

    Unless you are running some ancient relic of a home desktop, storage space should hardly be an issue. When deleting extremely large files they bypass the recycle bin and are directly there is no need to pedantically empty it. As you noted, it is a waste of user time to do so.

    However I can't tell you how many times I have found occasion to desire something that was previously deleted...perhaps months ago. Sometimes we make stupid decisions. Sometimes when going through and cleaning up files we accidentally delete the newer version and leave the older version. Sometimes when working ona project we make changes that later on don't end up working out so well and we decide we want to roll back to a later date. There are countless unpredictable reasons why we may want to retrieve a previously deleted file.

    The correct way to use the recycle bin is to delete things and then forget about them. If you ever need that space, which you won't, you can manually empty it. Until that time, it is a waste of your time to empty it, and will probably come back to bite you someday when you realize it was a providing a function that's actually useful.

    I think anyone who swears theyve never needed to recover a deleted file is either full of it or has a bad memory.

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