Its been more than a decade since we saw significant advances in file systems. In that time, data storage has grown exponentially, making the simple act of data searching torturous. The solution, we and many others believe, is a metadata-aware file system that lets users sort through their huge stacks of data. Microsoft saw this need and intended to address it with the WinFS file system in the much-ballyhooed “Longhorn” version of Windows, due in 2006.
Microsofts decision to uncouple WinFS from the Longhorn update adversely affects those who subscribe to the vendors Software Assurance plan and expected the important innovation to be present when they receive the next version of the operating system. With this debt to its loyal customers on its account, Microsoft has an opportunity to repay those customers with interoperability if it can seize the moment.
We do not believe that WinFS technology should be limited to a single operating system. Thus, taking WinFS out of Longhorn provides Microsoft with the opportunity to expand its technology so that file systems outside Windows can be pulled into its metadata network.
Considering the large amounts of information stored on Unix file systems and on network-attached storage hardware, the next generation of file systems must be able to read and process data from these and other platforms. By developing alliances with different operating system vendors and creating a universal file system to connect data, Microsoft has the opportunity to become the technology leader that it claims to be.
For competitors Apple and Sun, Microsofts decision to hold back WinFS also opens a giant window of opportunity. Armed with a three-to-four-year head start, Apple on “Tigers” Spotlight feature and Sun on DFS (Dynamic File System), those companies could decisively influence the evolution of file systems and thereby the way nearly all applications and users store and access data. However, given that a true network file system can only be valuable with a wide range of interoperability, we also advise Apple and Sun to be open with their file system technologies and employ them to construct bridges to information on Linux and Windows clients.
From what we have seen so far in demos of Apples Spotlight technology, that company is well on its way to fulfilling some of the promises Microsoft made with WinFS.
We urge Apple to resist the temptation to develop proprietary technology and work to advance standards to make intelligent and content-aware file systems a reality. We urge Sun to follow a similar path with its DFS technology.
The vast majority of corporate IT users need file systems that are intelligent, cross-platform and metadata-aware. Now is the time for Microsoft, Apple and Sun to respond to this need and prove they put user interests first.
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