"I have a mind like a steel... uh... thingy." Patrick Logan's weblog.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A File System For (or To) the Rest of Us

Update 2: comments on WinFS capabilities...

Across the network you could still use it as a WinFS if you have WinFS installed. If you don't, it's just a file system, so you're not locked to it. It might be better just to use a common, standard, protocol; the idea that it's appropriate to degenerate to file system behavior is just retro

Update 1: Michael Lucas-Smith has another useful take on WinFS. I am not as thrilled by the synchronizing capabilities in these local pseudo-databases as he seems to be. I have a different interpretation of the Network being the Computer. Michael suggests a Topic Maps-like capability on top of databases or files or whatever might be more useful than WinFS. I agree with this, and I agree having to rewrite apps is a problem. Those seem like two different issues though that each need to be addressed.

I do agree with one vision of WinFS... I think we need easier structuring as well as semi-structuring mechanisms. A relational database is a structuring mechanism. A topic map is a "semi-structuring" mechanism. Big old-fashioned databases are good at structuring, it's just they suck at ease of use and ease of operations.

Michael points out some capabilities of SQL Server (and Oracle). For example they *can* act as file systems. But who uses them as file systems? Which goes more to the point: These more mature databases are too cumbersome. However file systems are too limited. WinFS is trying to hit somewhere in between. I think they are aiming at the wrong target.

Hopefully Microsoft is heading toward better support for unstructured data. But if WinFS is the best they can do for *structured* data... they should try again. A "local" filesystem/database with some proprietary synchronization capabilities is just not what I think we need. If we're going to rewrite systems for the formal aspects of structuring data then we can do better than a system which appears to be something less than a Lotus Notes database at best.

The bottom line for me is: whatever WinFS *is*, well, it should be *that* for the network. WinFS should not be something for me if it happens to be running on my specific box, something else for you if it happens to be running on some other specific box.

End Update 1

A telling quote in the Channel 9 piece on WinFS...

"WinFS -- to the rest of the world it's important that it looks like a file system"
A better philosophy would be this:
To the rest of the world it is important that it looks like WinFS.
But apparently the WinFS team has not entered the age of the network is the computer. I think that is what is important to "the rest of the world." Why degrade capabilities over the network?

The WinFS team continues to be stuck in outdated thinking.

8 comments:

Ayende@ayende.com said...

Actually, that is not what they meant.
What they meant is that this has a backward compatability which is huge.
Across the network you could still use it as a WinFS if you have WinFS installed.
If you don't, it's just a file system, so you're not locked to it.

Alex Black said...

I find your blog interesting Patrick, you often say things very contrary to other people, and you often say things that I don't understand.

It would help me if you explained things in more detail, and backed up your ideas more.

For example, in this post:

Could you elaborate on what WinFS for the network would look like?

Could you elaborate on how computers without WinFS should be able to access the data? (if not through a SMB file share)

You mention that big old databases suck at ease of use.. I imagine that WinFS is going to expose its own user interfaces and features, not big old ugly database interfaces?

How is the current plan for WinFS not as good as Lotus Notes? I think WinFS will have the advantage of being the platform won't it? I'm sure Lotus Notes is a platform too, but I imagine one day WinFS will be on every windows computer. Since its a platform it will make possible tons of things not currently possible, won't it? and things not possible with lotus notes? (I don't mean technically not possible with lotus notes, but from a will it happen/work point of view).

I'm thinking of the ideas mentioned in the channel 9 video, like have a central store of data with public schemas, so if I use outlook to email my photos, it can search them for me, and send a long meta data. If I want to tag my photos in picassa, I can actually relate them to people/contacts. If I want to share my photos with another user who has WinFS, they'll get all my meta data too, not like today when every program stores stuff differently.

Well this is probably a bit of a disorganized message :) I'll blame that on this crap-ass tiny blogger text edit window I've been given.

I look forward to reading your blog more, but I also look forward to more details/reasoning!

Alex Black said...

Hi Patrick, do you read your blog comments?

Patrick Logan said...

Do I read my blog comments? Most of the time.

Do I respond to my blog comments? Some of the time.

Will I respond to your previous blog comment? Probably this weekend.

Do I often provide full reasoning and explanations of the whirling in my pea brain? Not really. Most of the time I just dump stuff in the blog and wait to see the responses, like yours.

Thanks Alex.

Daniele Muscetta said...

[...] Michael points out some capabilities of SQL Server (and Oracle). For example they *can* act as file systems. But who uses them as file systems? [...]

SharePoint ? Filenet ?

I mean: sure, it is not the vast majority of the users, but the direction is set, IMHO...

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Portland, Oregon, United States
I'm usually writing from my favorite location on the planet, the pacific northwest of the u.s. I write for myself only and unless otherwise specified my posts here should not be taken as representing an official position of my employer. Contact me at my gee mail account, username patrickdlogan.