Navigating Files

I’ve been having a really hard time lately at work trying to keep track of the items I need to work with. I’ve been working in the front end with WebStorm for nearly two years, and lately I’ve been starting to do some Java work in Eclipse, and stored procedure work in MySQLWorkbench. Typically, in any of these environments, I may be working on between five and twenty open items at a time. None of these environments make it easy to keep track of the files one has open, or to find the item you’re looking for.

One thing they have in common is that they all use a collapsible tree view as the default means of opening items. When you open a folder, the folder shows its contents, but the other open folders are still visible, as are the contents of any containing items.

This leads to a very broad but shallow decision tree. There can literally be dozens of open items that your eye has to scan through to find find the desired item. It’s even harder with the list of stored procedures, since they are named by convention in ALL_CAPITAL_LETTERS, meaning there are fewer differences in letter forms, and they cannot be organized by folder, or even initial letter… just a long list of capitalized words that look much alike.

By way of contrast, the Mac (and Windows) default standard file picker allows you to drill down into a file hierarchy. You can use disclosure triangles if you want, but you can also double click a file, and only the files in that folder are visible. It’s easier to acquire a target from a list of fifteen files than it is in a list of sixty.

Webstorm disabled the option to use the native file picker because of Java issues, but when I asked about it, their customer service person told me about a hidden registry key to re-enable it. It’s made me much more productive.

All three environments use tabbed windows with the tabs on the top, at least, by default. In Eclipse, is the file names get truncated, and the set of files I’m working with at any one time are all named similarly, so it’s hard to see which tab to jump to. Also, since space is limited, it’s often the case that the file I want is hidden.

I’ve configured Webstorm to show the tabs on the side. This means more of them are visible, and it doesn’t truncate the file names so they’re easier to differentiate. Unfortunately, it sometimes closes files without warning if there are too many open, or if one clicks on the tab in the wrong way.

It would not surprise me to find that Eclipse could be configured the way I want, but I haven’t found it yet. Its preferences are a maze of twisty passages all alike, and I haven’t made myself at home yet.

I find MySQLWorkbench has its own way to be annoying. It’s good about showing the full name of the open file or procedure, but it also doesn’t necessarily scroll the tab set so that the open tab is among the open tabs, making it hard sometimes, to bounce between two pieces of work.

These IDEs do a lot to make things easier for developers. I just wish their UIs were more polished.