File Under 'A' For Access

Beta test of WinFS--Microsoft's relational filing technology, once slated for Windows Vista--could make it easier to manage documents, E-mail, and more
A year after Microsoft scaled back Windows Vista by removing a key technology from its development plan, the company has released an early test version of its next-generation Windows File System.

Microsoft last week unveiled a beta 1 edition of WinFS, a relational file system that can store documents, E-mail messages, photos, multimedia files, and structured data from applications in a common way. Using WinFS, software programs could make use of each other's data more easily. Microsoft made the WinFS beta available to subscribers to its Microsoft Developer Network technical Web site; attendees at the company's Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles Sept. 13-16 also will receive the software.

Using WinFS, programmers will be able to write apps that draw on common lists of contacts and other data stored in Windows, says Quentin Clark, WinFS's program-management director. A sales rep, for example, could create a list of high-value customers, then filter his E-mail to show only messages from those people. An online shopper could fill out an order form for a gift that lets her choose a contact from her E-mail program's address book to ship the item to. "End users will get this experience of not having to enter the same information over and over again," Clark says.

WinFS was once a big selling point for Windows Vista, the next generation of Microsoft's desktop operating systems that's due late next year. Microsoft described WinFS as enabling Vista to let users visually manage their files, photos, and contacts, and introducing common commands for searching across different software programs.

But in August 2004, Microsoft said it wouldn't be ready to ship the final version of the new file system until sometime after Vista arrives. The beta 1 edition of WinFS, meanwhile, will only run on Windows XP machines, not the beta version of Vista Microsoft released in late July. Microsoft plans to release a second beta version of WinFS next year.

Microsoft plans to migrate the databases inside its own applications, such as Outlook, to WinFS. Says Clark, "Long term, we believe apps that contain their own data silos will be retooled for WinFS."

Editor's Choice
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Terry White, Associate Chief Analyst, Omdia
John Abel, Technical Director, Google Cloud
Richard Pallardy, Freelance Writer
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Pam Baker, Contributing Writer