Microsoft has taken WinFS, an advanced relational file system designed for the Windows operating system, to its first beta.
WinFS effectively glues the database indexing capabilities of Microsoft's SQL Server database with the computer file system so that users can easily save and search for files, from photos to Email to documents and media.
WinFS will help users organize their data and allow applications to auto-organize their data on their behalf. For example, WinFS users will be able to build queries that exploit relationships such as "show me all mail from people I am meeting with this week," Microsoft said in a note to the press.
Quentin Clark, director of program management for WinFS said in a statement the beta is available today to all MSDN subscribers.
The development comes a year after Microsoft officials said WinFS would be in beta by the time the next-generation Windows Vista operating system shipped.
While the release came earlier than many industry watchers expected, Clark said it was not Microsoft's intention to surprise anyone.
The thrust behind the beta is to offer programmers the chance to put the ballyhooed subsystem into their petri dishes and test them with their applications, Clark said.
"We need the feedback so we can get this correct so that we can build a system so that applications can be built, which in the end will enable end users to unify that data and get new capabilities around organizing and exploring their information."
Among the features and perks in the new software is a new Item Data Model, which will free certain data items, such as RSS feeds and calendar events, from their applications. This will allow data to be managed and shared alongside files via schemas.
WinFS will also provide a new data platform in Windows to let developers create applications in Windows, rather than requiring the programmers to write their own proprietary data stores.
Clark said WinFS beta 1 will contain support for Windows XP and the company will decide which operating systems the final WinFS release will support based on customer feedback during the development cycle.
WinFS has been the source of several strategy changes for Microsoft in the last couple years since company officials detailed the product's potential at the Professional Developers Conference two years ago.
Originally intended as part of Vista, company officials changed tack last August after realizing that WinFS would take longer than they thought to build.
The news is just one of what promises to be several key developments for the software giant as it speeds toward its annual Professional Developer's Conference in Los Angeles next month. At the show, Microsoft is expected to provide updates on Vista, among other products.
Earlier this month, Redmond said it will offer an R2 version of Virtual Server 2005, rather than issuing a service pack as it had originally planned.
The company also confirmed it would launch Visual Studio 2005 in November.
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