If operating systems can't evolve unified storage, developers must find their own way.
In Robert Heinleins classic 1966 novel, "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,"
computer technician has to explain to a newly awakened conscious
machine that some jokes are only funny once. The first time, he tells
the computer, youre a wit; the second time, a half-wit. "Geometric
progression?," the computer inquires. "Or worse," he grimly replies.
This brings us to the subject of Microsofts much-touted WinFS, for
great need was clearly described
by Microsoft SQL Server Director
Tom Rizzo in Marchbut which the company now
it will not deliver until after
Whats the connection between the WinFS delay and Heinleins notion of
"funny once"? Well,
I managed to get at least a little bit of humor from the
initial promise of WinFS,
observing in my column
of ten months ago
that we had heard all of this before. (Speaking
of science-fiction writers, Jerry
Pournelles blog entry
from the Microsoft Professional Developer
Conference records our
discussion of that blast from the past.)
In that November 2003 newsletter, I was actually able to recycle
eight entire paragraphs from a column written in June of 1996,
describing Microsofts indefinite postponement of the object-oriented
"Cairo" storage initiative that had previously been promisedin all
seriousness, supported by extensive white papersfor what was then
still being called Windows NT 5.0.
It seemed almost funny at the time. But only almost, and now the
joke is wearing thin at a hypergeometric rate. We really did need a
vastly improved storage model back in the mid-1990s; were not going to
get it on Windows until the late 00s. At least, not as an integral
part of the
dominant fat-client operating system.
In 2005, we can
expect that Apple will offer its "Spotlight" solution, comprising three
different integrated search capabilities
for files, metadata and indexed datathat will give users streamlined,
location-independent access to information without the kind of
foundational change that Microsoft is now entering its second decade of
attempting to deliver. Developers on the Mac OS X platform will also
get new leverage in using these core capabilities, based on Apples
plans for an integrated programming facility merging objects, scripts,
and conventional compiled-code modules.
Metadata search facilities on Mac OS X might seem to be of interest
only to Mac-specific developers, but Apple also announced
that its Rendezvous
for "zero-configuration" networking is being
extended to Windows and open-source platforms as well. This suggests a
vision for developers in which the best available metadata engine,
whether implemented by Apple or by someone else, may be transparently
available to users of any client that can find a network connectioneither wired or, increasingly, wirelessto that engine.
That vision reinforces the comments of Sun Microsystems
President and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Schwartz: He had not yet assumed those
responsibilities when he said last November that Microsoft was at risk
of being so late that Longhorns target problem would no longer exist
when it finally shipped "after their
next slip in 2007."
Schwartz, of course, was arguing for a
Java-based model, but he still made the right point when he talked
about the need "to build a network platformnot a single destination
platform." Whether or not you believe that PCs will even be relevant in
2008, it does seem as if developers will want to write applications
that find their way to any number of other devices as well.
And applications value to users, increasingly, will hinge on
success in giving users anytime/anywhere access based on metadata
the files that relate to the phone call that I got from my boss while I
was driving to the client meeting last Tuesday," for example. Apple is
saying, in effect, "We wont build that into our foundation, but well
give you the tools to make it look that way." Sun is saying, in effect,
"We dont know who will do it best, but well give you a model that
lets you use it wherever it is."
Neither of those promises sounds as good as the promise of Longhorn,
in 2006, with integrated metadata-based storage. That promise, as
viewed by Microsoft Application Platforms Solutions Specialist Randy
Holloway last October (before he joined
earlier this year), led
Holloway to say (and led many others to agree)
that "in terms of
potential to boost user productivity, WinFS has to be the
number one feature in this product ... WinFS will be one of the core
features that really makes Windows a
better computing experience for the average user. Simply put, WinFS
will enable you to do things with Windows that you cannot do today or
that you cant do today in any reasonable amount of time."
But either Sun right now, or Apple (most likely) next year, offers a
developer a path toward building solutions in (ahem) a reasonable
amount of time. The ever-slipping advent of WinFS, the Unified Storage Model Formerly Known As Cairo, is a joke thats just not funny any more.
Tell me what would make your users smile at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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