This question occurred to me ('occurred' meaning 'whispered seductively in my ear for the 100th time') while using GNU-screen, so I'll make that my example. However this is a much more general question about user interfaces and what I perceive as a flawmissing feature in every implementation I've yet seen.
I'm wondering if there is some way to create a heirarchy/tree of terminals in a screen session. EG I'd like to have something like
It would be good if the terminals could be labelled instead of having to be navigated to via some arrangement that I suspect doesn't exist. So then you could jump to one using eg ^A:goto happydays or ^A:goto dykstra.angry.
So to generalize that:
Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, gnome-terminal, roxterm, konsole, yakuake, OpenOffice, Microsoft Office, Mr. Snuffaluppagus's Funtime Carousel™, and Your Mom's Jam Browser™ all offer the ability to create a flat set of tabs containing documents of an identical nature: web pages, terminals, documents, fun rideable animals, and jams. GNU-screen implements the same functionality without using tabs. Linux and OS/X window managers provide the ability to organize windows into an array of workspaces, which amounts to again, the same deal. Over the past few years, this has become a more or less ubiquitous concept which has been righteously welcomed into the far reaches of the computer interface funfest.
Heavy users of these systems quickly encounter a problem with it: the set of entities is flat. In the case of workspaces, an option may be available to create a 2d array. However none of these applications furnish their users with the ability to create heirarchies, similar to filesystem directory structures, containing instances of their particular contained type.
I for one am consistently bothered by this, and am wondering if the community can offer some wisdom as to why this has not happened in any of the foremost collections of computational functionality our culture has yet produced. Or if perhaps it has and I'm just an ignorant savage.
I'd like to be able to not only group things into a tree structure, but also to create references (aka symbolic links, aka pointers) from one part of the structure to another, as well as apply properties (eg default directory, colorscheme, ...) recursively downward from a given node.
I see no reason why we shouldn't be able to save these structures as known sessions, and apply tags to particular instances. So then you can sort through them by tag, find them by name, or just use the arrow keys (with an appropriate modifier) to move left or right and in or out of a given level. Another key combo would serve to create a branch in the place of the current terminal/webpage/lifelike statue/spreadsheet/spreadsheet sheet/presentation/jam and move that entity into the new branch, then create a fresh one as a sibling to it: a second leaf node within the same branch node. They would get along well.
I find it a bit astonishing that this hasn't happened yet, and the only reason I can venture as a guess is that the creators of these fine systems do not consider such functionality to be useful to a significant portion of their userbase. I posit that the probability that that such an assumption would be correct is pretty low.
On the other hand, given the relative ease with which such structures can be implemented using modern libraries/languages, it doesn't seem likely that difficulty of implementation would be a major roadblock. If it could be done in 1972 or whenever within the constraints of a filesystem driver, it should be relatively painless to implement in 2010 in a fullblown application. Given that all of these systems are capable of maintaining a set of equivalent entities, it seems unlikely that a major infrastructure overhaul would be necessary in order to enable a navigable heirarchy of them.
Mostly I'm just looking to start up a discussion and/or brainstorming on this topic. Any ideas, examples, criticism, or analysis are quite welcome.
* Mr. Snuffaluppagus's Funtime Carousel is a registered trademark of Children's Television Workshop Inc.
* Your Mom's Jam Browser is a registered trademark of Your Mom Inc.