Microsoft Provides WinFX Details

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2003-10-28

Microsoft Provides WinFX Details

Microsoft Corp. officials are spending a lot of time at this weeks Professional Developer Conference in Los Angeles explaining some of the core technologies in Longhorn, the next version of the Windows client operating system, and the scenarios they enable.

At the same time they stressed that existing applications will continue to run on Windows Longhorn and that if developers want to add some of the new Longhorn capabilities to those applications, this can be relatively easily done through the new WinFX programming model.

"All of the APIs that are available in Windows today will continue to work and continue to be compatible," Joe Petersen, the vice president of the Windows Client Group, told eWEEK. "The new capabilities that we are exposing through WinFX are additive as it provides a new program model for writing applications in a richer way than you can today."

"All of the NTFS (NT file system) APIs will interoperate with WinFS," Petersen said.

Microsoft had "certainly learnt lessons from the past" and had made a huge investment in compatibility and ensuring that developers could leverage the skills they had today to build this new kind of information-driven application, he said.

WinFX also builds on the investments Microsoft had made with the .Net Framework and managed code. "In fact the .Net Framework is a subset of WinFX. But WinFX is the way the programmer is primarily going to experience these new features in Longhorn," John Montgomery, a Microsoft director of developer and platform evangelism, told eWEEK.

Microsoft was also making sure, with WinFX, that it helped make the developer as productive as possible by imposing no greater load on them than they needed to have.

Turning to the new file system, WinFS, Petersen said this provided a rich, database-like engine that developers could use to schematize the information they were storing on a system. It will provide properties and relationships between the different objects so that applications can start to relate common information as well as exchange information in a way that is very difficult and challenging today, and also requires developers to write a fair amount of code.

"In terms of how we expose that to the end user, we are providing basically a new user interface in the shell, which is certainly an evolution of the existing Windows UI in terms of how you interact with it, Petersen said.

"Were not changing the basic interaction, were providing a while new set of capabilities for browsing through and managing information, sharing information and collaborating that is built on top of this rich file system," he said.

This will enable a number of "fascinating" scenarios, including the ways users would be able to experience their file systems. Today there are static path names that lead down to specific files. The primary goal of WinFS is to have the information in a big store, with metadata exposed about that information, which can be quickly related.

"So, users will be able to do searches on the information about the information, or very rich searches on the information itself," he said.

Users could have the same document existing on multiple stacks, which was a more intuitive way of organizing information.

WinFS Schematization

The "schematization" in WinFS would allow users to store a Word document in XML on the disk in a standardized format, making it far easier for developers to build applications that can then take the information about the documents metadata and correlate it with other bits of metadata to make search applications and browsing of data on the disk far easier, Montgomery said.

Petersen said Microsoft would also provide some standard schemas in the system for people, places, time, media and documents so that there was a good base for developers to build on. All of these would be extensible, so a developer could add any additional properties to the schemas that they wanted or needed for their application.

"It will also be possible to plug in custom schemas, so this is something we are going to leverage throughout the user interface, but it is also something ISVs can extend in a way that is exposable to other ISVs," Petersen said.

With WinFS, Microsoft was moving to a new, core database engine. Yukon, the upcoming next version of SQL Server, and WinFS, would both build on top of this new core engine, the first stage of which would be provided in Yukon and then delivered in a more substantial way in Longhorn, he said.

Making the operating system as secure as possible was first and foremost at Microsoft, which was talking about the secure execution environment.

This was essentially a sandbox of applications, giving developers the ability to author an application, place it on a Website and then do the appropriate security checks. "So, you have all the rich interactivity of a client-based application and a lot of the performance and offline capabilities. But you [also] get the security and simplicity of a Web-based application. You just have to click on it and they know its safe to run," Petersen said.

Asked why Microsoft had given developers access to the alpha code at such an early stage, Petersen responded that whenever big new additions were introduced to the platform, Microsoft wanted early feedback from developers at a time when it still had an opportunity to make changes based on that feedback.

"We wanted to give them a feel for the new APIs and the new programming model and we wanted to get the message out that they need to move to managed code today in their applications as that is the first step they need to make for WinFX.

"They should also start to write Web services as these are things they can do today with their applications and not have to wait for Longhorn. But they are the foundation of a lot of what were doing in the Longhorn timeframe," Petersen concluded.

Rocket Fuel