All things being equal, your mom probably has an easier time with case insensitivity than not

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2007/10/26 10:31 -04:00, original URI:

So, response to the recent In Case you have problems that you might think are ǸȦȘȚȲ, Jeff (I suspect in frustration or surprise) commented:

Holy crap. Wouldn't it be just easier (and more useful) to be case sensitive?

I've had it invisibly destroy data, where the files happened to be the same characters, but different case.

Why be a throwback to the FORTRAN days of 5-bit characters?

Allow me to channel my inner Stanley Tucci from The Devil Wears Prada to retort.... :-)

Jeff, be serious.

You're not suggesting, you are whining.

What is it that you want me to say to you, huh? Do you want me to say you're right, Windows shouldn't be case insensitive.

Wake up, customer! It's just doing it's job.

Don't you know that you are using the OS that published some of the greatest geeks of the century? Cutler, Wood, Zbikowski.

And what they did, what they created was greater than art. Because you live your life running it.

Well, not you, I guess. But some people. 

You think this is just an operating system? This is not just an operating system.

This is a shining beacon of hope for, oh I don't know, let's say a single mother growing up in Rhode Island, with three children, pretending she knew about computers before she started the job, learning Windows late at night with a flashlight on her oldest son's laptop and so happy that A and a are the same thing, just like she learned them.

You have no idea how many legends have placed files in these directories. And what's worse, you don't care. Because this place, where so many would die to save their files, you only deign to save your files.

Okay, it doesn't really work. It seemed like a really clever idea but it didn't pan out.

I'm too lazy to start over so hopefully somebody sees a spark of usefulness in the exercise. :-)

But you know what I mean right?

I mean it's like trying to explain Shell number sorting to your mom. It is easy to explain to a geek that ABC.TXT and abc.txt are two different files, but is your mom really going to think that makes sense?

Getting computers everywhere is not about changing people to understand computers; it is about getting computers to better understand people.

And for all its flaws, for all of the problems that developers have trying to get their heads around it, case insensitivity at its most fundamental level makes more sense to more people out there....


This post brought to you by and (U+1e14 and U+1e15, a.k.a. LATIN CAPITAL and SMALL LETTER E WITH MACRON AND GRAVE)

# John Cowan on 26 Oct 2007 1:43 PM:

My Mother had no Trouble distinguishing between "polish" and "Polish", and in her native Language all Nouns are capitalized, thus making them distinct from the Verbs or other Words similarly spelled.

Case-Insensitivity is an i18n A8n.

# Jeff on 26 Oct 2007 7:46 PM:

Heh. Well, that's a shock, seeing an off-the-cuff moment of frustration become an actual post subject.

OK, so you're actually going to go there... I wasn't, as I hate the Linux weenies popping up on anything Windows-related and saying "you're doing it wrong"

Well... actually my mom was writing Honeywell EasyCoder and cooking up IBM accounting-machine patchpanels in the '60s, so she considers "confused-case systems" to be a little retarded, and she's the one that would make the "hey, look, they reinvented FORTRAN" crack, or "What... did they save an extra buck leaving out a chip somewhere for proper case support?".

And she really gets pissed when filename extensions disappear or double, like when some Windows machine at work was insisting on saving something as foobar.xls.xls, or File Explorer insists on not showing extensions.  I thought Mr. Hammer was going to be making an unscheduled percussive hardware maintenance visit.

She does not need to be "saved from the machine" and she considers it insulting.

And she taught me to flowchart before I ever saw a computer, and bought me a TRS-80 Model I for Christmas.

And actually... she uses Debian at home. And writes Python scripts for her Nokia N800.

So...  it always amuses me when somebody says "but would your *Mom* understand it?"

(Is there ANY question I would end up in the computer industry? I didn't think so...)

Anyway, the basic point is losing data is EVIL. And when I lost a bunch of pictures transferring stuff from an old machine because Windows can't deal with filename case, I was very upset. Then when I see the amount of effort that it goes to, to avoid dealing with filename case, I was just gobsmacked.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 26 Oct 2007 10:16 PM:

I guess that gets back to the point of the Stanley Tucci channeling -- not your mom, but some peoples' moms. :-)

# orcmid on 27 Oct 2007 3:47 PM:

Interesting problem.  I would love case insensitivity if it enforced case.  That is, however it was written, it gets used that way everywhere.

I know that is strange.  (Stranger yet, I caught myself channeling Michael Kaplan the other day and I had to walk away from my keyboard, but then the phone rang ... .)

Let me back up.  I develop my web sites using a private IIS on one of the machines on my household LAN.  I use VSS to version control the web pages.  I use FrontPage extensions and FrontPage 2003 to edit the site.  (I will get to Expression Web someday, maybe.)  This is basically a manual version of the old SiteBuilder model.  It works great for me.  I even have a backup of my sites on my desktop and I use Desktop Search to find stuff in my blogs, etc.

A while back, I discovered a hosting provider that provided add-on domains.  That is, one site, but with different domains being able to target different parts of the site and they behave exactly as independent domains (the URL doesn't change).  I have been longing for that for years.  I don't have so much content that I can't get it all on one site, but I have several domain names I use.  So I jumped on this opportunity to consolidate and have better results than just web forwarding.

OK, one site, very economical, also inexpensive registrar for all of my names, so I made the jump.

OK, it is an Apache server.  I'm not proud ... but ...

The web server is case sensitive.  I didn't know I had case differences and that some of them are *created* by some of my tools that changed my mixed-case spellings to all lower case some of the time but not others, etc.

I'm slowly working my way out of it.  It is tough because I have case insensitive tools that are careless about how filenames are spelled and create case discrepancies, and it is very hard to train them not to do that.  (I am learning how to enforce consistent casing through the tool chain, but it is all by being obsessive about it.)

In the few cases where there is no single spelling that I can converge on, I have to create server-side redirects to repair the situation.  There's another solution involving URL rewriting that I am loathe to attempt.

The collision here is between a technical situation (URLs are sorta not meant to be written by hand, but domain names are case-insensitive and those we often do remember and type from memory, and it kinda all works), and a human situation.

I agree about mom.  But there are times (as in programming languages) where we don't mean native-language grammar and spelling rules.  Unfortunately, sometimes what works for one of the communities happens to leak into the other and foul up the works.

Drat.  I don't have an ending for this either.  It is unsatisfying and it may be one of those no-technical-binary-choice-solves-all-human-cases deals.  Which makes me thankful that I don't have to think about the real complexities of fonts and Unicode and RTL and all that stuff.  Well, I persist in the illusion that I don't have to think about those, at least for now.

# Dean Harding on 4 Nov 2007 7:11 AM:

I think the thing with case-insensitive file systems are really a hang over from the non-GUI days. In Windows, when I want to open a file, I double-click it. Or I select it from a "recently opened" menu. I hardly ever type the name in (or if I do, the name auto-completes anyway).

It's only when I go to SAVE the file that I type it in, and I guess that's where you might run into problems (saving a file twice with the same name differing only by case) but (assuming a time machine were available) that could be handled at an ever *higher* level than Win32 -- the "File Save" dialog!

Still, I think it's probably more of a "you're used to what you're used to" thing...

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