Is Live Mesh the next WinFS?

by Matt 25. June 2008 16:46

And I mean that in a good way.

WinFS was a fantastic concept. Complicated and grandiose, but quite clearly revolutionary.

The basic promise of WinFS was this: It was a general purpose data store all your data.

It promised a number of interesting end-user features. Firstly, data could be stored as structured entities directly in the database. Or you could keep the data in files just like you’ve always done and add the files into WinFS. Structured data would be extracted out and promoted into the database. Changes would be pushed back down into the file. And you could access the file directly, too, using plain old Win32 files (via some network redirector magic that SqlServer 2008 appears to have picked up – and this is where the confusion with WinFS being a filesystem comes from – the lines are certainly blurred here). It was all fully searchable and supported a synchronisation story.

Jon Udell (also a long time fan of WinFS) recently published a great interview with Microsoft’s Quentin Clark entitled “Where is WinFS now?” which is well worth a listen/read. Apparently, large portions of the technology have either shipped or are coming soon.

But bizarrely, most of it has ended up server-side.

So, let’s look at the client-side piece.

Search is done, although it’s arguably missing the first class relationships (I can search for all photos on a certain date, but not for all photos for a given persons birthday).

Common schema for the structured data is still MIA.

And synchronisation, ah yes. This was a big piece of WinFS, and is now also shipping separately:

“As they realized they were onto something, they started to fork out a componentized version of it that's now finding its way into a bunch of Microsoft products. The official branding is Microsoft Sync Framework. I think they're on target for shipping it in six different products, and for embedding it all over the place.”

The Sync Framework? The one that contains FeedSync? The protocol that powers Live Mesh? Yep.

Live Mesh provides synchronisation, just like WinFS. It enables storing structured data as custom items in a feed. Or you can store metadata about a file, with the files treated as enclosures and sitting in the local filesystem. Couple that with Vista’s (or is it Windows Search’s) Property System, and you’ve got your read/write file metadata.

And it has an API that allows any application to read or write to it.

In other words, Live Mesh is the global, shared data store that WinFS was aiming for.

It’s still missing the common schema, and as of today, Windows Search knows nothing about it (although that would be a great project to write) but frankly, that’s the icing on the cake. Every application needs to store data, and every application invents their own way (xml files, databases, zip archives). Every application is a data silo. A global data store like WinFS could crack that wide open.

And that’s a good thing.

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