Editor's Desk

Unifying the Storm

Could WinFS be the salvation?

If you’ve ever enjoyed Connections, the show with James Burke that explains how, for example, a failed conquest in Egypt by Napoleon’s army led to the development of the PC, maybe you’ll understand why I’m excited by at least one aspect of Longhorn, the new OS Microsoft’s developing.

I might flip between 10 jobs in a 30-minute period. It’s the nature of my work. I have phone calls coming in, co-workers messaging me, emergency e-mail to respond to, projects I’m on deadline for. I can still remember the giddiness I felt 15 years ago when I first ran Quarterdeck’s DESQview on my DOS box because it allowed me to switch between tasks easily—thereby making me incredibly efficient. (I didn’t have a Windows-capable PC at the time.)

In that one regard, Windows hasn’t really improved on my early experience in task-switching. But, boy, could I use it. It bugs me that my computer can’t help make the kinds of connections I can with just a moment’s thought. For example, a meeting this week might bring up a particular topic, which we covered in a Web-only news story sometime last year, which generated reader response gathered in this folder in Outlook, which led us to add a new question to that salary survey kept in a relational database and thereby generated an idea for a new e-book. It would please me to no end to be able to have my software make those connections and bring up all those disparate pieces of data into a folder where I could peruse them on demand.

WinFS (Windows Future Storage or Store), the technology being bolted onto NTFS in “Longhorn,” sounds like it may get me closer. According to the transcripts of Bill Gates’ keynote at the PDC in Los Angeles, Microsoft’s Hillel Cooperman demoed the “self organization” capabilities of WinFS, in which relationships were created among items of every variety. To counter the argument that one could set up the same effect using folders creatively (and fill each with everything related to a specific topic), Cooperman drilled in and out of topics from multiple directions. A single reference could populate a hundred logical views. Hopped-up pivot tables come to mind.

Of course, the magic appears to depend on meta-tags, and if it requires me to do much definition or keyword work on my end, the system will simply be another feature that I never get around to using.

Microsoft featured James Burke in a keynote at a conference a couple of years back. Burke gave a bit of a muddled demonstration of a technology he’s keen on, called the KnowledgeWeb. According to its Web site, it’s “designed to present knowledge in a highly interconnected, holistic way that allows for an almost infinite number of paths of exploration between people, places, things, and events.” Now I know why Burke was hired to speak. He has a vision of what Microsoft wants to achieve in WinFS. I hope they get there, and fast. I’ve got some ideas that I could use some help on bringing into focus.

About the Author

Dian L. Schaffhauser is a freelance writer based in Northern California.

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Reader Comments:

Mon, Dec 15, 2003 AK NC

I watched the 30 minute developer's overview from MSDN. Each PC will now have a SQL based wedge just above the NT File system. I wonder about the robustness and overhead of SQL. And I wonder how the database consistency checks will be tied to NTFS consistency for problems. And what a great target for virus writers and spammers.

Thu, Dec 11, 2003 LegacyDude NM

Have you really considered the true cost of such a file system revision. The last thing we need is tag-bloated, megaextension-laden, foot-dragging file system muddled in our OS -- go buy a Mac and suffer on your own, please! Why aren't good old files and directories (not the newer, cutesy term "folders"), coupled with a modicum of organizational skills, good enough? This back-bending of user interface revisions in recent years for users who can't be bothered to even learn the basics of managing a simple file system model has gone on too long. Enough!

Wed, Dec 10, 2003 Paul Denver

Sounds interesting. Definitely resource intensive, but potentially very usefull. And who cares if it takes up more resources? These machines are getting more powerful and cheaper anyway. And more features and useful tools are a normal and natural progression of OSes and applications. Use them or not, they'll keep coming. No big deal.

Wed, Dec 10, 2003 John Howard Oxley Atlanta

I share your desire, but suspect it may take considerably longer to work out than you might wish. The point being: this new technology must provide some competitive advantage to organizations using it -- if it does, the "early adopters" are going to be in the catbird seat, and everyone will want in. If it doesn't, then whatever potential such developments might have, they will be ignored. There are lots of recent IT developments which have shown this pattern already.

Wed, Dec 10, 2003 JD Minnesota

I agree with Dave from Colorado in some respects. I've become ambivalent to using Microsoft products because of the incessant security vulnerability discoveries. I won't look at Microsoft products when I need five nines availability just because of the insane vulnerabilities. In fact I had to charter a security review every four weeks because of these discoveries.

To Microsoft: Don't stop pioneering new technologies, but make sure you write the code right the first time. You've got more R&D money than 99% of the entire planet. Put it to good use when preparing a product for public use.

Thank you,
A jaded MCSE

Wed, Dec 10, 2003 Dave Colorado

Hate to admit it, but I'm tired of new and improved OS's, and programs. It just gets more complicated, takes more space, needs more ram...etc. When Longhorn is released, it will already need at least one service pack. Its always a giant leap from what WAS, and we are expected to eat it. Make what we have work the way IT was suppossed to. Fix the security. We want stability, not endless change for change's sake.

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