Miller columns (also known as cascading lists) are a browsing/visualization technique that can be applied to tree structures. The columns allow multiple levels of the hierarchy to be open at once, and provide a visual representation of the current location. It is closely related to techniques used earlier in the Smalltalk browser, but was independently invented by Mark S. Miller in 1980 at Yale University. The technique was then used at Project Xanadu, Datapoint, and NeXT.
While at Datapoint, Miller generalized the technique to browse directed graphs with labeled nodes and arcs. In all cases, the technique is appropriate for structures with high degree (large fanout). For low-degree structures, outline editors or graph viewers are more effective.
Miller columns are most well known today as the “Columns view” mode of the Mac OS X Finder, as well as the "Browser" view in iTunes. The columns in Finder descend directly from the NeXTSTEP File Viewer's use of Miller columns going back to 1986. The GNUstep project continues to offer a Miller column browser that closely follows the NeXT approach, bringing the advantages of a column browser to Linux, BSD, and other operating systems with large tree structures. The iPod's browsing of categories and audio file tag attributes is reminiscent of column browsing, although only one column is visible at a time.
Many software music players implement a "tag browsing" feature that utilizes Miller columns.
Miller columns have several issues from usability standpoint:
- The necessity of horizontal scrollbars when displaying deeper folder structures
- Sort options and metadata display are limited
Use in file browsers
- Finder, the default file browser on Mac OS X, uses Miller columns in its "Columns" view.
- Path Finder is a shareware file browser for Mac OS X supporting Miller column view amongst others.
- GWorkspace, a workspace manager for GNUstep which can be used as file browser, uses Miller columns.
- ranger, a terminal-based file browser with Vi-like key bindings, uses a multi-column mode similar to Miller columns.
- evidence, an apparently obsolete file browser for Enlightenment, used Miller columns in its “browser-view”.
- Thunar, the default file browser for Xfce, used to have a branch called “columns-view” which was given up later.
- Dolphin, the default file browser of KDE, also canceled the further development of Miller columns due to the source code being too complex – making it difficult to maintain.
- Tkdesk, a file browser for the X Window System, uses Miller columns.
- Marlin is a file browser written in GTK 3 which implements Miller columns. Marlin does not have any download files registered with Launchpad as of November 2016.
- Pantheon Files (or just Files, for short) is a fork of Marlin actively developed by the Elementary team.
- FSViewer is an obsolete file browser for Window Maker using Miller columns.
- Greg's Browser is an NeXT-inspired column browser for the Classic Mac OS.
- WinBrowser and Ultraexplorer are file browsers for Microsoft Windows supporting Miller columns.
- One Commander is a file browser for Microsoft Windows using automatically scaled Miller columns in a tabbed interface.
- ThatFile is a file browser for Microsoft Windows with Miller columns. It additionally has tools to optimize user workflow.
- Direttore File Manager is a file browser for Microsoft Windows 10 using Miller columns in one of its views.
- Tidwell, Jenifer. Designing Interfaces. O'Reilly. Retrieved 5 May 2015.
- "Path Finder 6 by Cocoatech". Archived from the original on 29 May 2013. Retrieved 28 May 2013.
- "GWorkspace User Guide". Retrieved May 28, 2013.
- "ranger". Retrieved May 28, 2013.
- "Evidence -- enlightened file-manager". Retrieved May 28, 2013.
- "Bug 96239 – Multi-column list view (aka Miller Columns)". Retrieved May 28, 2013.
- "Bug #511400 "add a miller columns view" : Bugs : nautilus-elementary". Retrieved May 28, 2013.
- "Idea #6497: "Finder-like column view in Thunar" - Ubuntu brainstorm". Retrieved May 28, 2013.
- "ppenz: Dolphin 2.0 - Status Update". Retrieved May 28, 2013.
- "TkDesk User's Guide" (PDF). Retrieved May 28, 2013.
- "Marlin in Launchpad". Retrieved May 28, 2013.
- "Files in Launchpad". Retrieved May 28, 2013.
- "Is Pantheon Files a fork of Marlin? | elementary". Archived from the original on 2012-07-11. Retrieved May 28, 2013.
- George Clernon (17 May 1999). "Projects — FSViewer". Retrieved 28 May 2013.
- Gregory D. Landweber (2000). "Greg's Browser". Retrieved 28 May 2013.
- "WinBrowser". Retrieved May 28, 2013.
- "Miller Columns — YouTube". Retrieved May 28, 2013.
- "One Commander". Retrieved December 29, 2013.
- "ThatFile". Retrieved June 19, 2018.
- "Direttore File Manager". Retrieved May 15, 2020.