Handling the meta data


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.