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Community Articles: Opinions, Interviews, Analyses

-James Treleaven, Guest

Louis Suárez-Potts, Editor

2002 March 15


I am surprised that I have not seen any discussion of the CNET article: "New Windows could solve age-old format puzzle--at a price", which is posted on the CNET site.

It talks about replacing Microsoft's "antiquated file system with modern database technology" which will "mean easier, faster and more reliable searches for information".

The sidebar to the article says: "Microsoft is replacing the plumbing of its Windows operating system with technology borrowed from its SQL Server database software. Currently, documents, Web pages, e-mail files, spreadsheets and other information are stored in separate, mostly incompatible software. The new technology will unify storage in a single database built into Windows that's more easily searchable, more reliable, and accessible across corporate networks and the Internet."

So - Microsoft wants to get rid of application files and store everything in a database. How convenient.

It is a brilliant strategic move. After all, Microsoft users are not 'chained down' by their loyalty to Windows - they are chained down by their loyalty to their most heavily used Office applications - principally Word and Excel. hopes to win these users over, but to do so we rely on the critical interoperability provided by our import/export filters. I personally have been writing letters to antitrust officials begging them to force Microsoft to publish the specifications of the file formats for their Office applications. Such publication would just about completely level the playing field, and allow users to use whichever office productivity applications they like. This in turn would give people much more flexibility in choosing operating systems.

But just think - what if there were no file formats to publish? 'Sorry judge, we would like to - but the data is not stored in files. It is stored in a database that is an indivisible part of the operating system.'

The database records will of course be totally inaccessible to any program other than the application that stored them - for security reasons. Throw in some encryption, and if Microsoft is really smart, a patented API by which applications read/write to/from the datastore - and interoperability with other office applications will become a priori impossible.

People will still need to collaborate on documents of course (that is, to exchange 'files'). But the documents will simply move (via .NET) from the datastore buried deep in the guts of a Windows OS running on one computer, to a datastore embedded in a MS OS running on another computer. Microsoft will gradually make the whole thing more and more opaque ... to the point at which people will not even think of files anymore. The concept of 'files' may be something that is taught to our great grandchildren in history class.

While the US Department of Justice is busy conceding the last war - the one in which Microsoft 'integrated' Internet Explorer in the operating system - Microsoft is moving its battalions ahead to win the coming war.

The CNET article, to which I referred, says that Microsoft is hard at work on this new 'storage technology' - and the breathless tone of the article indicates that Microsoft is hard at work selling the concept and all of its 'benefits' to the public.

We shouldn't underestimate the cunning of Microsoft's strategy of integrating more and more functionality into the operating system. Combined with an opaque OS hosted datastore and .NET - this strategy could allow Microsoft to achieve a critical mass of proprietary interconnections which could quickly grow to be completely unassailable.


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