Handling the meta data

1 minute read

Joe Gregorio suggests that WinFS can’t work because people don’t add relevant meta-data to their files today. I think he is missing the point somewhat.

First of all, one of the things that we need to do is to make applications that encourage the capture of this data and that make it simple to add and difficult to forget. For years, Office apps have had the facility to prompt for summary information when you save if you so choose. In addition, some data can be automatically derived from your documents - smart tags show one particular way that this can happen.

Document management is all about meta-data. Competing software document management systems each come up with a unique and generally imperfect way of storing and exposing this information. WinFS is going to introduce a revolution in this space. I’ve been working with a company on and off over the last year who specialise in this area. One of their products is specifically targeted at sifting through all those files and documents on your system, post-processing them and extracting meta-data, and then allowing you to interact with them. While we can talk to different document management systems, we currently store the data we derive in an NTFS stream alongside the original file and we have a custom IFilter implementation that can pour this into index server to support advanced searching.

WinFS will take this to another level. Not only will we be able to store the meta-data in a standard way meaning that other applications including the shell will automatically gain access to this data but we can also start to form relationships between the items in the store, and we’re not just limited to NTFS bit streams.

I still think we’re only at the beginning of the story here - one of the themes from the PDC is that even Microsoft doesn’t yet know all the ways this technology can be employed - there are opportunities for some radical thinking and I firmly believe that WinFS and the applications it supports will be one of the driving features that pushes people in their droves to upgrade to Windows Longhorn.