The recycle bin doesn’t live up to its name

I’ve just had a look at preview pics of Windows Vista, the next generation of Windows operating systems, and I’m impressed with the improved icons — although, to be fair, it offers nothing that hasn’t been available in other Unix-based operating systems (Mac OS X, Linux, etc.) for some time. I like the new Recycle Bin icon, particularly.

The Recycle Bin has been around in Windows since Windows 95, and to be honest it really hasn’t lived up to its name, has it. It is in actual fact just a bog-standard wastepaper bin for getting rid of your documents, photographs and other computing-related trash.

Why did they call it the ‘recycle’ bin? Presumbably because unlike old-school 16-bit MS-DOS and Windows 3.x operating systems where once a file was deleted it was deleted, in Windows 95 you could haul it out of the bin and restore it to its old home. Of course, in those older OSes you could undelete a file, but it usually meant using a 3rd-party application that wove its geeky magic at a fundamental level on the hard drive.

But, forgive me if I’m wrong, that’s still just a wastepaper basket. I put out the bins today. I went round the various rooms where there is a small bin (living room, bathroom, study, bedroom) and emptied their contents into a black binliner. At that point of emptying those wastepaper baskets (Empty Recycle Bin) I had the option of retrieving (Restore) stuff that I’d previously thrown away (Delete).

Earlier this morning I took five boxes of waste material down to our local recycling centre. I had a box of paper, three boxes of plastics and packaging, and one box of glass and tins. I emptied the contents of my crates into the various, sorted containers at the recycling centre in the belief that they will be taken away and crushed, melted, or soaked down and re-cycled to produce more similar materials for new uses, in a slightly more environmentally friendly way than continuing to mine the earth’s natural resources of HDPE or PET.

The same should be true of the Windows Recycle Bin. I’d like to be able to delete my sermons, photographs, and other documents, and then return to the Recycle Bin a couple of weeks later to discover that Windows has made something new out of them.

Now THAT would be a Recycle Bin. This copy of Ubuntu Linux in the meantime has got it right: Linux calls it a Wastebasket.

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Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 46 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Latterly, web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall. Currently on sabbatical. I am a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, and I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir.

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