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This site is operated by Mike Deem. The opinions expressed here are mine. They are not necessarily my employer's or anybody else's.

A Complete Failure

Joe Gregorio asserts that WinFS will “... be a complete failure because it does not solve a problem that anyone actually has.” I know there is at least one person thinks it will solve their problem.

Joe also states that “The whole idea revolves around attaching meta-data to all your files.” Joe is wrong. When designing WinFS we have concentrated on two things: 1) adding value to the files, and file based apps, that exist today; and 2) laying the foundation for a world where apps can move beyond the limitations (dare I say tyranny) of a file system that just stores huge blobs of opaque bits.

In the latter case, I think the analogy to draw is with managed code execution environments (CLR, Java, etc.). That is, consider that WinFS is to existing file systems as managed code is to native code. Managed code lets the system know a lot more about what the code in your app is doing, allowing the system to do more for you. WinFS lets the system know a lot more about what the data in your app is doing, allowing the system to do more for you.

Joe is exactly right to point out that asking the user to add meta data has met with very limited success. I think WinFS addresses this in two ways: 1) the shell will make it very easy to “paint” meta-data on files just by dragging and dropping, something that users do today to organize their files; and 2) the fact that using the meta data is so easy and powerful (again via the shell's dynamic views) makes the effort to add the meta data more worth while.

But, WinFS does not stop there. When you put a file in WinFS, a property handler that knows the internal format of the file is executed to pull selected data out of the file to make it searchable. In other words, the data that is already in the file becomes meta-data that the user can use to find the file. For example, digital cameras usually include the date/time a picture was taken in the image. When you put that image in WinFS, you can use this data to find “all the pictures I took during Jimmy's birthday party” without adding any meta data. You will probably not even have to remember when Jimmy's birthday part took place, the event will be represented by an item stored in WinFS, just search for “Jimmy's Birthday” and, when viewing the birthday party event item, a button to “find all pictures taken during this time” is easy to envision.

WinFS also integrates full text searching along with some really cool new natural language query technology. So, Joe can find his mis-filed marriage proposal just by typing “poem love marriage” in the shell. All without adding any meta-data at all.

I'm not going to speak for the other new parts of Longhorn (Avalon and Indigo). However, I do think that WinFS does address Joe's concerns, and a whole lot more.

posted on Sunday, November 09, 2003 8:45 AM

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