Microsoft Releases Windows File System Beta

Microsoft today released a test version of its next-generation file system, WinFS, well ahead of schedule.

The software giant made the first beta of the new file system available to Microsoft Developer Network subscribers, according to a company spokesman. Developers had not expected to see a test version of WinFS until next year, according to a previous time line provided by Microsoft.

WinFS will not be a part of the next version of Windows, Windows Vista, when it ships at the end of next year, but will be available to the operating system as an add-on release sometime in 2007, says Quentin Clark, director of program management for WinFS at Microsoft.

The technology originally was scheduled to be part of Windows, but Microsoft cancelled that plan in August 2004. WinFS promises to make it easier for users to search and organize their files in the Windows operating system, Clark says.

When Microsoft first introduced WinFS in 2003, the company said it would include a new synchronization engine that could index a host of disparate Windows files--such as photos, e-mail messages, MP3 files, and documents--in a way that would enable users to more easily search and catalog these files on their PC, says Joe Wilcox, senior analyst at Jupiter Research.

"Originally there were capabilities around synchronization and search, among others, that looked very promising," he says.

However, with the changes Microsoft has since made to the WinFS release schedule, the file system's final feature list has been unclear. The test version may answer some of these questions, Wilcox says.

The WinFS beta includes a set of APIs (application programming interfaces) and schemas that allow developers to start working with the new file system and get accustomed to the new data model, says Clark.

Microsoft is putting a lot of thought and care into WinFS because the file system will drive Windows for a whole new generation of users, he says. "As a file system technology, it's important we get it right."

Microsoft also will ask for developer feedback on the WinFS beta at its Professional Developers Conference, which will be held in Los Angeles from September 13 to September 16. Microsoft will not make another beta release available this year, but the company expects to release several more test versions of WinFS between the initial beta and the final release of the file system, Clark says.

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