Finder for the Cloud? Collections Brings Online Services To Your Mac Desktop
Love it or hate it, the OS X Finder is a capable tool when it comes to browsing local files, previewing media and connecting to network shares. There are actually a good number of Finder replacements out there, but for most people Apple’s stock offering does the job just fine.
One thing Finder doesn’t (yet) do is integrate with online services, email or Twitter. While web access is fine for some, a front-end for oft-used services on the desktop may have its benefits also. That’s exactly what Collections tries to do, though the jury’s out on the success of this venture.
The app is currently in the pre-release invite stage, and thus isn’t perfect. You can request access on the website, so read on to find out if it’s something you’ll use.
Collections is advertised as a “Finder for the cloud” but that’s only partly true at this stage. The program is still under heavy development, and so not all features work as advertised and it’s clear there’s more work to be done in order to complete the developers’ vision of a true desktop front-end for online services. At present the service advertises support for Instagram, YouTube, Google Drive, Twitter, Facebook, Gmail and Dropbox, though I outright couldn’t find the option for connecting a Dropbox account and neither Facebook or Instagram would authorise.
So it’s still early days for Collections, and that’s obvious from the outset. In order to use the service you must first sign up for a Collections account. I’m assuming this is so you can login to the app anywhere and retrieve all your services, which might be useful one day. Once you’ve connected a few services you will see them listed on the left-hand side of the screen. At this stage (I foresee myself saying this a lot) these headings can’t be collapsed and each have a few options below for the various features in each service.
For the services I could get connected each seemed to work rather well. Twitter integration is basic in that you can read your feed, see your favourites, own Tweets as well as followers and following. There’s no Tweet button, but you can do that from Mountain Lion‘s Notification Center anyway. One thing I did find is that Twitter didn’t seem to update itself, instead requiring I press the refresh button and manually do it.
Google Drive is another fairly complete integration, displaying all documents including folders and trashed items. Double click a document and a third pane opens in which you can make changes using the relevant Google Docs app. It feels like a desktop version of Google Drive, and despite a few problems it works rather well.
The screen can feel a little cramped, and Docs was giving me an error about offline mode not being supported but the overall result is pleasing, and makes it very easy to skip between documents or make quick edits straight from the desktop. Unfortunately there’s no uploading at this stage, which is a shame because drag and drop functionality here would be great.
YouTube integration works as expected, though it seems less useful than everything else. There’s no uploader (of course) and so the only use it really has is as a video streamer, a job it does rather well. I can see a use for this, but at the same time YouTube is only ever a click away within my Web browser or even via the iPhone app.
Finally there’s also fully working Gmail integration which just scans messages for attachments and makes them available for your perusal. Double click the attachment and it will open in the default program of your choosing, and unfortunately there’s no option of dragging the file to a location of your choosing. In fact, there’s none of this at all – no dragging and dropping, no two-finger clicking and choosing to save the file.
Is Collections Necessary?
Collections also comes with a few other features including the ability to browse your own files. This is fine and well but in all honesty a rather pointless feature which is trumped by Finder every step of the way. It’s all about the clicking and dragging, something Collections has left out at this stage. It seems a little early to cast a final damning judgement, but I hope developers take note. Another far more handy feature is search.
The search feature equates to a fairly powerful index of your connected services. This is where Collections really comes into its own as a time-saving tool. This feature is entirely limited to your own data – you can’t search Twitter or YouTube but you can search for Twitter users or YouTube videos you’ve liked. This is far more useful when looking for Google Drive documents or Gmail attachments, just don’t forget to delete your search or you’ll be wondering where all your stuff has gone.
The app uses a choice of 3 views with an optional dynamic third pane which opens for YouTube videos and editing Google documents. That same third window also displays text in context on the Twitter website and I assume Facebook updates, though Facebook is one of the few apps that won’t pair at the moment.
I think with a little more work Collections could be an entirely worthwhile app to have installed, providing a searchable database of connected services and a quick way to edit documents and watch YouTube videos from your desktop. Drag and drop functionality would be a great addition, as would the ability to upload to Drive and other cloud storage solutions directly from within the app. When you’re using an app such as Collections it’s difficult not to wish for the earth because of the ambitious nature of the project. I want so much more from it, and that must be a good sign that Collections is entirely necessary.
If you’re interested by the concept of accessing cloud services, YouTube and Google Drive from your desktop then you should definitely sign up to be a part of the Collections beta. Just don’t go expecting too much at this early stage. I’m hoping the developers are as thirsty for features as the average users will be, and I really hope the project comes on leaps and bounds.