Raskin: Go Beyond the Finder

Earlier this week we took a look at TotalFinder, a reserved but incredibly useful Finder replacement that uses a tabbed interface to augment your typical file browsing experience.

Today we’re going to follow that up with something that’s not a subtle change but a completely re-imagined file browser like nothing else you’ve ever used: Raskin. Intrigued? You should be.

Raskin? As in…

Any of you currently reading the recent Steve Jobs bio no doubt paused when you read the name of this app. It turns out it is indeed named for Jef Raskin (1943-2005), the legendary creator of the Macintosh project and one of many rivals that Jobs would create during his initial stint with Apple.

Jef Raskin didn’t directly have anything to do with the Raskin app, but his advancements and ideas in the world of UI had a major impact on this software. Jef spent his life pursuing more human friendly interfaces for computers and is largely responsible for things like “drag and drop” (which is a huge part of what makes OS X so dang usable) and ZUI or “Zooming User Interfaces,” which is what Raskin the app uses.

Enough background though, let’s see this thing in action.

Meet Raskin

As I mentioned in the introduction, Raskin is pretty much as far away from Finder as you can get. Or perhaps a more appropriate description would be that this is what would happen if Google Earth crashed into Finder.

Just like in Google Earth, you start with a very zoomed out overview that looks simple, but actually holds an impressive amount of functionality.

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A zoomed out overview of the interface

I have to admit, the image above doesn’t necessarily scream user friendly file browser. So what’s going on here?

Places

Raskin scraps the typical ideas that are used for file browsing, those being the basic icon grid and list views. Instead, it’s organized into several columns, called “Places.”

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Important folders are organized into columns

These places are conveniently auto-populated according to the folders in your Finder’s sidebar, but they’re completely customizable: add new places, delete existing ones, it’s up to you. I’ve narrowed mine to seven columns, each of which is a folder on my hard drive that I access regularly. By default, there’s also an “Applications” place off in the blue area to the side, but I recommend sticking to Alfred for launching apps as it’s not exactly Raskin’s cup of tea.

Getting Around

There are several ways to zoom into a place. This is one of the reasons I really like Raskin, it gives you lots of options and lets you decide how you want to work.

The simple way is to use your trackpad or mouse. The directions for this are conveniently printed right on the app’s interface.

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Raskin works great with a trackpad or mouse

With a trackpad, you use familiar pinching gestures for zooming in and out. With a mouse, you hold down Option and scroll. You can also easily pan around using your typical scroll actions (or use Space to activate a Photoshop-like hand tool). The more you use Raskin though the more you’ll realize that this isn’t always the best way to operate.

It’s a lot like when you first use the iPhone’s web browser, at first you do a lot of pinching because it seems cool, but ultimately you realize that double tapping to zoom in on a particular element is much faster. Raskin is exactly the same way. Instead of pinching, a quick double click will quickly zoom right into the area that you’re after.

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Double clicking on a column will zoom into it

Further, each of your places has a sequential keyboard shortcut (⌘1, ⌘2, ⌘3, etc.) so you’re never more than a second away from where you want to be. Bottom line, if anyone tells you that it’s hard to get around in Raskin it’s because they never explored further than the surface functionality.

Up Close and Personal

You may not think so at a glance, but Raskin’s interface is remarkably efficient. After you zoom into a column, you can see that it’s not a straight up representation of the folder. Instead, it’s a quick overview of what’s inside based on the files that you’ve interacted with most recently. It’s strange how much it limits what’s really there while seeming to somehow know whatever it is that I’m after.

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A folder of files in Raskin

Raskin is perhaps ideally suited for creative professionals and that really shows through here in the zoomed in view. What you see isn’t a grid of representative icons but an assortment of actual file previews that load in quickly even on my aging 2.16 GHz MacBook. This is particularly awesome when you have a folder full of images.

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Raskin is awesome for image folders

The really unique thing is that there’s no slider to control the thumbnail size, you just zoom in further to see something bigger!

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Simply zoom in to see larger thumbnails

From here you can hit the “display more” button if you don’t see what you want, open the current folder in Finder, hit Space to launch Quick Look or double click to launch a file. Lots of typical Finder actions are available as well such as renaming, applying color labels, copying and deleting.

Use With Finder, Not Instead of Finder

I think one of the keys for learning to like Raskin is to learn to see it as a complement to Finder, not a replacement. There are admittedly several things that I prefer to use Finder for, but it’s really nice to have the option to pop into Raskin from time to time.

The integration between the two is pretty solid. For instance, when you click on a folder in Finder, you can instantly bring it up in Raskin by hitting ⌘⌥ while scrolling down or just by hitting ⌘⌥R.

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Shortcuts for launching Raskin

Who Will Hate It

Raskin is most certainly not for everyone. In fact, I can say with certainty that many users will hate it. If you want software to simply work the way you’re used to and aren’t open to learning an entirely new paradigm, then Raskin simply isn’t something you’ll enjoy.

Further, if you rarely work with images and can’t really name many shortcomings of the Finder app, then Raskin will probably just seem like it’s adding extra and fairly arbitrary complication to your file browsing process.

Who Will Love It

If you’re a creative professional who works with images all day and love trying drastically different software, then Raskin could change your entire workflow. In a sense, it’s everything Cover Flow tried to be but fell short of.

When you’re truly openminded and willing to really invest the time it takes to get comfortable with the app, then it’s a joy to use. Much like Quicksilver, there’s a lot under the hood that you don’t get from playing with the app for a few minutes. You really have to dig in and explore how it works best for you.

Conclusion

As you can probably tell, I really enjoy using Raskin. The interface appeals to me both as a photographer and a designer and really makes it easy to browse my work.

It’s not perfect, there are definitely a few things that I would love to see changed. For instance, the rendering is pretty bad when zoomed out. Some sort of vector system that displays the app interface elements smooth at any zoom level (like text in Illustrator) would go a long way. The place names are impossible to read when zoomed out so at the very least a large label that appears on hover would be appropriate to help you get oriented.

There are a few things that would make it easier to navigate as well. For instance, if I’m zoomed in on a place, hitting Option and an arrow key jumps quickly right or left, but at a seemingly random distance. It takes you to the next column, but it’s not in any way centered, making this shortcut no where near as practical as it could be.

On the whole though the app works surprisingly well. It’s a drastic idea and the implementation is honestly much better than I expected it to be. I’m definitely beginning to implement it into my permanent daily workflow and would miss it if I worked on a Mac without it.


Summary

It's not for everyone but it scores high points for complete originality. Creative professionals specifically should like find this to be a refreshing change from other file browsing solutions.

9
  • http://tuananh.us Tuan Anh Tran

    - hardly see anything.
    - unusable with mouse & small screen size

    it seems so easy to get 9/10 from MacAppstorm

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      “It’s not for everyone but it scores high points for complete originality.”

  • brah

    hate it… rather i wish someone just takes the finder mac desktop experience and make it even more spatial. … http://arstechnica.com/apple/reviews/2003/04/finder.ars

    meaning folders when opened… actually look like a real folder. and i can place it back down on my desktop and it has the file name written right on the folder, not as an icon with text below it. emulate the physical world further and then make an extension off of it. move away from this icons and folders and desktop and move into a more physical like representation of the folder, desktop work space and file cabinet. so the desktop i can lay out all the pictures in a folder and then it spreads it out like in this raskin app. right now the desktop with icons and text is like the launchpad. could be so much more. and not saying go all microsoft BOB like. just take the idea of spatial finder to the next level is all that needs to happen. and it will be what this app probably originally wanted to do.

    this app is a failure at implementation and execution… like the original raskin was with the mac. and like his cannon Cat product.

    • brah

      also this app is unusable unless u have touch screen or apple’s giant trackpad.

      but as i said before, something based on this much touch… make a more spatial finder. when i can move and look though files that is more life like.

  • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

    For the record, I wrote the review on a 13″ MacBook using a Magic Mouse. Once again, if you really dig in and figure out how to use it properly, you’ll find that you can navigate quite quickly. I can get almost anywhere I want to be in a few seconds.

    Also make sure you read the part about using it WITH the Finder not instead of it. Raskin is ideal for when you’re working on a project and continually referencing the same locations (as countless designers and developers do). Finder is still the way to go for digging deep within a folder to find a random specific file that you haven’t accessed recently, but Raskin easily trumps Finder for the uses outlined.

    Once again, it’s a unique interface. You’ll either love it or hate it. I’m personally thrilled to see developers willing to push the envelope and try something this drastically different. I’m tired of reviewing the same FTP/File browsing app under different names. This is a refreshing change.

  • Tom Markson

    I’m still not sure I have found Raskin all that useful. I do ilke the way you can view photos with it. I hope I can get to appreciate it the more I use it.

    I in fact uninstalled the Trial version because of some crashes. I then wound up purchasing it when the Facebook discount was offered.

  • Asif Luqman

    I am a medical school student and I deal with TOOOOONNNNSSS of pdfs all day long… all my notes and text books are in pdf format I was about to get this raskin app, but realized how hard it would be to distinguish one pdf from another based on images….LOL…. thank god I read this review first…Thanks Appstorm!!

  • Tom

    Thank you Joshua for reviewing Raskin. I too appreciate developers trying new ideas and pushing the envelope. I think too many users just dismiss something like this before giving it enough chance. I’m glad that we have various options to get things done and more potentially useful tools are being developed on our platform.

  • http://www.itrush.com IT Rush

    Awesome, I think I’m going to love this too.. hope to see and use it real soon.

  • http://modernisten.co.vu/ Robin Lundgren

    You’re all missing the point!
    It’s not very useful, its ORIGINAL, that’s important in software, especially when it comes to file navigation tools ;)

  • http://iynque.com iynque

    I loved the idea of this, so much so that I bought it a while ago.

    I’m a graphic designer and I’m used to a workflow with a document in focus and a pasteboard surrounding it where I store variations on graphic elements and text.

    Raskin works somewhat like this, where I can have all my files organized on a WYSIWYG pasteboard on my desktop. I can place related files and versions of them right next to each other on my desktop.

    However, the app uses SO MUCH of my system resources even when idle and is ridiculously slow when in use. It’s a great idea, but the programmers are apparently not willing or able to make it run very well.

    I should say, I’m on a MacBook Pro 3,1: 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM, and one of these solid-state hybrid drives: http://cl.ly/C2QH

    Not the best of the best anymore, but not bad either, yet it still struggles with Raskin and everything else takes a hit even when Raskin is idle.

    If they can make it run better, it would definitely be great, especially for those used to a pasteboard-style workflow, but at present it’s just a pretty burden on your system.

    • http://www.raskinformac.com/manual/ Raskin Support

      Dear iynque,

      Thank you for the feedback. We are willing to reduce the resource consumption of Raskin, and since every release we were actually able to reduce the memory footprint as well as the CPU-cycles used inside Raskin.

      If you still experience those issues, try reducing the amount of documents shown in Raskin by hiding Places, Folders and Files.

      This can be done by using the Menu, the Context-Menu or the newly introduced “Display Less” Buttons on each Folder.

      regards

      support(at)raskinformac.com

  • Leonard Newmark

    Jef Rasking was a good friend of mine during the few years he was at UCSD. We played recorders together weekly (he directed a small group that he wrote original music and exercises for). He liked to show me around his various inventions and creations: an ingenious walk- in maze in our young art gallery; a clavichord that he had put together and which he traded to me in exchange for the elegant harpsichord my young daughter didn’t want to play anymore; and the wall-mounted early version of his drag-and-drop invention for interfacing with the new computers. Before he invented the system used for the Macintosh, he had devised many other innovations that he was pleased to show off at his home in Del Mar (I’m hazy on just where it was.) I never saw him again after he left for grander things, but I still play some of his compositions for recorder.

  • realist

    This is pure shit and I dont buy shit.

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