Posted by: kurtsh | August 30, 2005

NEWS: WinFS Beta 1 releases

MSDN subscribers are getting access to WinFS Beta 1.  WinFS is the upcoming Windows Future Storage/Windows File System that has been much anticipated as the long awaited unified file storage technology that enables files to be organized through a relational database, while still performing at the speeds of today’s hierarchical file allocation table-based technologies like NTFS and FAT32.
A long time ago, (during the time of "Chicago" aka Windows 95) this was a goal of Bill Gates and Microsoft:  To share a single referenceable storage technology for all information.  It was called the Object File Store (or OFS) and the key component of a much larger product codenamed "Cairo", which was purported to be Windows NT 5.0.  The idea was that OFS would be a Directory Service, it would be a Registy Database, it would be a File System, it would be a Messaging Store (for email), it could be a SQL-like database, etc.
It was discovered after a lonnnnnnng time under Moshe Dunie’s leadership that today’s technology just didn’t sustain the requirements of this idea very well.  Contrary to Oracle and other database solutions vendors like Lotus Notes, "one size does NOT fit all".  The concept was abandoned and Microsoft headed in another direction.  For it’s directory services, it went with a high speed directory structure technology based on something very similar to the Exchange Server database called Jet Blue. (Not to be confused with Jet Red, the technology in Access databases at the time)  Incredibly fast and very stable, Jet Blue was the perfect store for directory services that needed to access data a lot and make relatively small amounts of changes.  The file system was maintained as the NTFS file system and simply matured using the same fundamental technology created back in the days of Dave Cutler, the Chief Architect of the original Windows NT.  To this day, the NTFS file system, while journalled and extremely reliable remains a hierarchical file store meaning a secondary engine is required to index it for searching.
The problem with databases as file systems was that it was just too slow.  You couldn’t video stream media out of it or do fast consistent accesses while others accessed content.  So providing dimensioned views on files was just not feasible since a relational store couldn’t be used.
Until one day someone decided to store the characteristics of the files in a relational database while keeping the files in a structured order on the disk.  This is what (as far as I understand it) was done with WinFS.  It provided the relational indexes and searchability and "characteristics" of databases while still remaining relatively high speed accessible.
Here’s some quick blurbs about WinFS’s Beta:
  • “WinFS” is the code name for the new relational file system for Windows that provides a data platform for desktop developers.
  • WinFS Beta 1 is being released and offers developers a preview of the WinFS capabilities. WinFS will be in beta when Windows Vista ships and will RTM afterwards. WinFS, when, it ships will be available for download for Windows Vista and we are considering support for Windows XP.  The distribution mechanism for WinFS will be through an add-on download much like the .NET framework is today.
  • The key benefits for WinFS are allowing developers and users to unify, organize and explore data in new ways on a new data platform.

So if you’ve got MSDN… go get it!


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