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Is he is or is he ain’t?

Jun 04, 20033 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Is WinFS the next generation file system due in Longhorn?

All the recent talk about the next version of Windows Server, the one codenamed Longhorn, has been about the manner of its release – will it be a packaged product or will it release as a series of updates to Windows Server 2003. While marketing and purchasing people are deeply involved in that speculation, network managers need to concentrate more on questions such as what is WinFS?

“WinFS” is the codename for the next generation file system due in Longhorn. Or, maybe not.

Many feel that WinFS (the so-called “Windows Future Storage”) is a new file system, based on SQL Server technology and designed to give users a direct route to data, making the physical location of a file irrelevant. Thus it inherits many of the characteristics of a Distributed File System (DFS) such as location independence along with facets of an Object File System (OFS) including database storage.

WinFS is also supposed to have native XML “capability” (whatever that means) according to Sanjay Parthasarathy, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Platform Strategy Group.  According to Parthasarathy, “that will have some very interesting implications on users and apps.” Unfortunately, in his online discussion (, he didn’t mention any of these implications.

If the file data is stored as database objects, then “XML-izing” the data is trivial as SQLServer can already deliver responses to queries as XML data. If not, then the operating system itself will need to be able to do XML formatting – but that doesn’t require a new file system, just a lot of tweaking to the operating system. So what was Parthasarathy trying to say?

Maybe he was simply being ambiguous. In the transcript of the talk, Parthasarathy’s answer when he is asked, “What is WinFS about?” is printed as being: “WinFS isn [sic] the file system for the next version of windows…” Did he mean “is” or “isn’t”?

Some people who beta test software and operating systems as part of their regular work (people who write books about the operating system, people who run enterprise test labs and simply curious people with lots of time on their hands) are split as to whether or not WinFS is a file system, or a file manager built on top of the current NTFS file system.

It’s a question reminiscent of the debates about Windows 95 – was it a “real” operating system (like Windows NT) or was it a “windowed environment” running on top of DOS (like Windows 3.1)? To this day, almost 10 years later, people will still argue that question. So, I expect, 10 years from now we’ll still be hearing about Longhorn’s WinFS as either the first of the new file systems or the last of the old ones.

Whether or not it’s a file system or a file manager, WinFS does promise to be more efficient, more flexible and more resilient than what we’re using now. That’s enough for me, even if it “isn” a new file system.