Tabbles Organizes Files Your Way With "Tag Bubbles"

Tabbles ($30, 30-day free trial) is a great idea marred by poor interface and poor performance. First, the great idea: Organize files not by the hierarchical system we've used since the days of 5MB hard disks (when it made sense), but by the relationships of files to tasks and to each other, in multiple categories at once. For example, this document is a Review, and it's Writing, and it's a Draft, and it's related to Tabbles, and it's December Work, and... Under the standard file/folder system, I might have it in Writing/Reviews/Tabbles, which is pretty good, but what if I want to see, say, all my in-progress drafts for December? I can either use a lot of shortcuts, or totally change how I file, but it's difficult to group/ungroup files by categories dynamically without more work than it's worth. Simple searches on file date, type, or size are likely to produce a lot of false positives.

Tabbles screenshot
Tabbles purports to simplify file navigation by using "tag bubbles"--but its slow performance hinders its usability.

Enter Tabbles. A "tabble" is a "tag bubble", a collection of traits. You may have a tabble called "December 2009," a tabble called "Drafts," and a tabble called "Reviews." Assuming I tag this file with those three terms, it will be in all three. If I want, I can easily see just the files which are in both "Drafts" and "Reviews", or the files in "Reviews" and "Tabbles". (The "Tabbles" tabble may include this review, all other drafts, my screenshots, the Tabbles.exe, and the web page URL--in short, everything related to the review, even though the actual files are scattered all over my hard disk).

Unfortunately, the interface is non-standard when it doesn't need to be. It's also slow. Very slow. I have a computer which can run demanding, graphics-heavy game Crysis without trouble; on this same PC, I slog through mud using Tabbles. The various options and preferences are sparse, and focus more on appearance than functionality. Do just about anything, and a little message window rises sloooowly from the bottom of the screen to tell you that you've done it.

Second, the interface is simply badly designed. There is no 'details' view for directories; adding files to a tabble is an exercise in frustration and tedium as you use the non-standard, barely-responsive scroll bars to sloooowly drag through a long list of icons. Many dialogs have non-standard layouts, so it sometimes confusing to decipher how you save or abandon changes. Even scrolling through the menus is tedious, as you can't click on one and then drag across the bar; each menu must be clicked individually to see its contents.

A few of the other interface quirks are less debilitating, but still troublesome. The main window will cover up opened tabble windows, so you need to constantly switch windows from the taskbar to work with multiple open windows. When a new rule is auto-created and you choose to "edit" it, if you accept the rule as-is you get an error telling you the rule already exists. (This also occurs if you choose to edit the rules using the main interface.)

Interface problems become a serious issue because Tabbles is useful only if you categorize your files, and if you have hundreds, or thousands, of files to categorize, doing so ought to be transparently easy. No matter how much benefit you may gain by using Tabbles, if using it is frustrating, people simply won't do it.

Tabbles does add an element to the Explorer right-click menu to let you tag a file, or files, and this is much better than using the main program to do so. In addition, as you download or create files, Tabbles will tag them if they match pre-defined rules (mostly based on file type, though you can add all the rules you like), and gives you the opportunity to add tags. Whether this feature is "annoying" or "useful" depends on how often files are created. Overall, I found it mostly useful, though the popups can be annoying.

Unlike many programs which purport to solve problems no one has ever actually had, Tabbles addresses a very real need and provides the framework for a very useful solution. However, actually using Tabbles--to find and open files once you've tagged them--is so slow that the speed gain in finding what you're looking for is almost offset by the length of time it takes the interface to decide to notice that you're clicking something.

Here's an example of why I hope Tabbles solves its interface problems. My reviews go through several edit phases. When I've worked on a batch, I need to go through several folders--one for each product reviewed--to attach the revised reviews to my e-mail. By tagging all of my in-progress documents with "Software Reviews" and "In Progress", I could easily find just the files that matched both of those criteria, all in one window which I could then drag and drop to my mailer.

Tabbles is under active, ongoing development, so we can hope someone will decide raw responsiveness and adherence to Windows interface standards are more important than scalable vector-graphic icons. When this happens, Tabbles will be a clear winner.

Note: This program is available in different licenses, and it is priced in Euros. This price is the U.S. dollar price for the Home license on 12/29/2009.

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