First Person File Manager Concepts

(See the progress I've made on this here.)

3D doesn't make a lot of sense for something like, say, writing text. Text is inherently a 2D operation (technically, if you think about it, it's almost 1D) and 3D doesn't add much to it.

But computer filesystems are not inherently 2D at all. Indeed, they are multidimensional and don't really fit even in the limitations of 3D. But we can capture and express a lot more information about them in 3D than in 2D, I think. What follows is a design proposal for a 3D file manager that I am (slowly) working on. If you want to take a stab at it, or steal any of these ideas, feel free.

I like Unix in general and Unix has probably the richest set of file types and filesystem concepts of any operating system I know of. There are things it doesn't do (like, say, the MacOS's "resource forks", or Windows' "alternate data streams") but (a) I'm not sure I care, and (b) those aren't even seen by most users in practice.

So the following design is slanted a bit towards Unix but most of the concepts map pretty well to other operating system families.



A file is a solid column. The shape of the base tells you what type of file it is. (Note: the most common file types have the fewest sides - helps render speed.)


The height of the column is the logarithm (base 2) of the size of the file. More simply, each unit of height indicates double the file size. A file three units high is 8 bytes in size. Ten units is 1K, sixteen units is 64K. Twenty units is a MB, thirty-two is 4GB, etc. (Will experiment with different 'eye heights', but for now will set it at 24 units, or 16MB.)


The color of a file indicates what permissions the current user has on that file. The permission 'spectrum' is as follows:


The texture of the surface of a file maps to the detailed type (e.g the MIME type) of the file. A word-processor file might be wallpapered with the icon of the application that opens it, a plain text file might have "Lorem Ipsum" in Courier, a movie file might be textured with screenshot. (Given tons of spare CPU - another decade or so, maybe - it might actually play the movie on the surface of the file.)

Note: textures are stored in grayscale only. The 'permission colors' are overlaid on top of the textures.


Symlinks have the appearance and properties of the file they link to, but are translucent, to indicate that they are a 'ghost' of the real file.


A directory is a rectangular room containing the above files.



The texture of the floor (and uncovered portions of the walls) of the room represents the filesystem type.


The color of the room tells you what permissions you have on that directory. Possibly the color scheme might differ from that of files - an 'executable' directory is the norm, and doesn't need to be highlighted by yellow/red 'danger' colors.


Movement in FPFM is typical of most First-Person Shooters - by default the WSAD keys move you forward, backward, left and right respectively. The mouse is used to look around and choose directions.

However, while we are representing the filesystem in relatively familiar terms, we don't need to slavishly limit ourselves to real world limitations. If you alt-click on something, you 'teleport' to it. You don't have to walk all the way across a huge directory to get to a subdirectory - if you can see it, you can jump to it almost instantaenously. Once someone gets used to it navigation could be quite rapid.

Simlarly, an alt-click on a directory image on the west wall will teleport the user to that directory.