Microsoft to release WinFS as an add-on to XP and Vista

Microsoft were originally going to include WinFS, the replacement for FAT32 and NTFS filesystems as an integral part of Vista (the operating system formally known as ‘Longhorn’), but it got pulled in order that they would not delay the shipping of Vista in 2006 (already late from previous expected release dates mind you).

Microsoft has recently annouced that they will be shipping WinFS as an add-on to XP and possibly Vista at a later point, in a series of beta releases for developers to play with and take advantage of the new file storage and searching capabilities.

This is sad because:

  • WinFS was to replace the antiquated NTFS and FAT32 based file systems, which have their legacy roots firmly planted in DOS. Both of these grew from the origins of MS-DOS. DOS was a great operating system and FAT worked fine when harddrives were only 40MB in size, but now we have 250GB drives (and 4 of these in my machine gives me 1 Terrabyte of online storage!) I can’t find a thing on my drive. I also have a much diverse collection of media on my machine that I need to be able to index and search in some logical order that makes sense to me personally. WinFS was promising to be a file system replacement that addressed these issues for todays data storage.
  • If WinFS is to be added as an add-on, and early beta versions are indicating that it is to be used as a service callable by an application, then this is a sad thing. Why? Because it indicates the DOS legacy filesystems are here to stay and applications have to be explicitly written to take advantage of the new filesystem storage and search capabilities. This means some of my files will be lost forever in the hierarchical structure of DOS based directories, will a smaller part of my files used by application XYZ will be stored elsewhere in this new filesystem. What sort of half-hearted solution is that? COme on Bill, I need to search all my junk on my machine, not just part of it with a particular application.

The other pressure against WinFS seeing light of day is the fact that the MSN boys have been off by themselves dreaming up Google Desktop Search type functionality, which although searching against my legacy DOS based filesystem, may offer me some hope of finding things on my machine, and therefore reduces the need for WinFS to get completed.

Of all the new features to be included in Longhorn that looked exciting it was this one, and now we may or may not get it, and if we do, it will be in an optional add on.

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