March 2, 2007

Métamorphose your file names en masse

Author: Bruce Byfield

Métamorphose is the graphical equivalent of the mv command combined with some of the functions of the chattr command for multiple files. While Métamorphose seems intended mainly for use with mass numbers of music files, to judge from the examples in the online help, anyone who takes file organization seriously can benefit from its attention to work flow and detailed options.

The first thing you'll notice when opening Métamorphose is how orderly its interface is. It consists of a series of tabs; when it opens, the first tab on the left is active. You pick the file and folders to rename on the first tab, the patterns for renaming in the next tab, additional refinements in the following two tabs, and view errors and warnings on the last tab. At any point in the operation you can preview the changes about to be made at the bottom of the window, or actually make them.


Méamorphose - click to enlarge

The same sense of orderliness prevails on each tab, with the simplest or most common options at the top and left of the tab, and more complex ones below or to the right. For example, on the Picker tab, the Browse button for selecting files is at the top left, and the field for manual input on the right. Directly below is a line for filtering selections, consisting mostly of a selection of check boxes. Below that is a tree and detail view of the current directory, from which you can pick files and folders individually. If you are a new user, all you need to do to learn the program is to examine the options in the order that speakers of European languages are naturally inclined to follow.

In the same way, the defaults in Métamorphose are designed to speed you on your way. For instance, on opening, the Picker tab displays your account's home directory, showing hidden files and with all files selected. Should you not want all files selected, the selection is quickly reversed with the None button.

Once you have selected the files and folders to rename, you can begin to set up how you want them renamed on the next three tabs. The options on all three tabs are extremely detailed. On the Main tab, you can select whether your operation works on the file name, the extension, or directories, and set up the pattern for the new names, including using information from ID3 tags in music files, such as performer or track names. Alternatively, you can use the tab's search and replace functions to add a new string at a designated position in the file name.

On the Numbering tab, you can view the defaults for numbering a sequence of files, or alter the numbering style, the starting number, incremental increase and reset position, and the sort order. Similarly, on the Date and Time tab, you can refine both the date to use and the format and the separator to use between different parts of the name, such as the day, month, and year.

These operations are backed by a small but well-chosen set of preferences, such as the choice of whether to show hidden directories in the tree view and whether to include compatibility with Windows characters and file names in the warnings when an operation is underway. Online help that explains the expected work flow and includes a few examples of the possibilities rounds off the program.

Annoyingly, the Help windows are unclosable. Most users, too, might be momentarily baffled by the use of "walk" to mean a recursive selection on the Picker tab. However, these are small imperfections in an otherwise efficient design. New users might be unclear about some of the options, such as regular expressions or the use of != for "not equal to," but, in general, anyone with computer experience should have few problems with Métamorphose for the simple reason that it is laid out to accommodate the most logical work flow for its operations.

File management is one of the least glamorous parts of computing, but I'm pleased to see any program whose interface pays such attention to detail. As simple as it is, Métamorphose is also one of the few graphical tools that makes me feel that I'm not giving much up by doing administrative work from the desktop -- so much so that I'd like to see its functionality in a file manager rather than a separate program. Meanwhile, though, it has already become part of my everyday tool kit.