Windows Future Storage (WinFS)

Describes Microsoft's new file system that will come with future operating systems.

Student: Ronald Huereca
Date: 09/24/2004
Topic: Windows Future Storage (WinFS)


Microsoft’s next operating system, code-named Longhorn, is not due for release until late 2006. A new file system, called Windows Future Storage (WinFS), was originally planned to be included in the new operating system. However, due to schedule conflicts, WinFS will not be included in Longhorn. Many industry watchers are crying foul and stating that Longhorn should not be released prematurely. The reason is that WinFS will significantly improve upon the file systems of FAT32 and NTFS. WinFS will indeed improve upon past file systems and will come with a vast array of new features (Fried, 2004).


WinFS, which is short for Windows Future Storage, promises to change the way users and programs interact with files on a workstation, personal computer, or server. WinFS is an active storage system, meaning that the storage system will continue to work behind the scenes even when the user is not aware of it. WinFS promises to improve and even interact with previous file systems as well as introduce a host of new features that will enable better search capabilities across individual computers and networks. Two of the file systems that WinFS will improve upon are FAT32 and NTFS (Windows File System).

FAT32, which was released with the second version of Windows 95, was originally designed as an improvement over FAT16. However, FAT 32 has some big disadvantages for modern computing. The first disadvantage is that FAT32 only supports partitions up to a maximum of 32 gigabytes (GB). Back when FAT32 just came out, developers had no comprehension that storage would reach capacities such as 200 GB or more. With modern computing, FAT 32 simply does not provide the support for enough storage. The second disadvantage is FAT32 does not limit the number of directories or files in the root directory. This can pose some organizational and security problems for users. The third and final disadvantage discussed is FAT32 does not allocate clusters very well. Since FAT32 does not allow clusters to overlap, space is wasted on a partition. For example, a 35-kilobyte file would be spread across two clusters if the cluster size were 32 kilobytes. Since there is no cluster overlap in FAT32, 29 kilobytes would be wasted. If there are many 35-kilobyte files, then the storage wasted with FAT32 could prove to be significant (Ibelshäuser, 2003).

The second file system discussed is NTFS. NTFS, which stands for NT File System, improves upon the FAT32 storage model. One advantage NTFS has over FAT32 is that NTFS has optimized memory utilization. NTFS also has error correction techniques in the event of a forced reboot. Furthermore, NTFS can handle partitions of hundreds of terabytes (TB) and has integrated file protection functions such as embedded encryption. Despite all the advantages NTFS brings, there are some key disadvantages with the file system. NTFS only allows a maximum of 26 automatically assigned partition names (A-Z). Additionally, NTFS stores volume information in the Windows registry, which makes using an NTFS disk with a FAT32 system rather difficult (Ibelshäuser, 2003).

To answer the call for interoperability and build on the weaknesses of past file systems, Microsoft has begun development on the next generation file system called WinFS. WinFS promises to allow better organization of documents, music, photos, email, contact information, and tasks. WinFS, when finally released, will be completely backward compatible with previous file systems. For instance, FAT32 programs will work with WinFS with little or no programming needed on the part of the author (Windows File System).

WinFS allows users a new degree of organization when it comes to accessing files. Users can organize files by relevance and then use filters to narrow down the files. For instance, if bank account information was stored on a computer, a user could organize the information by content and filter the remainder by date. Furthermore, users can setup how WinFS handles information. Information can be automatically categorized or stored in various folders. With WinFS, files are not necessarily limited to just one folder. Files can be in multiple folders if they fit more than one organizational criterion (Windows File System).

The last new feature discussed is the way WinFS will handle navigation and searching for files. The user interface (UI) for searching starts with the user bringing up the search utility. At the top of the UI is a breadcrumb bar, which shows where the user is at and what filters have been applied. For instance, the breadcrumb bar will tell the user what computer they are accessing, what category they are under, and what filter criterion has been applied. In addition to the breadcrumb bar, there is also a preview area for any documents selected. The preview area will display information such as author, keywords, and document type. The preview area will also give a thumbnail picture of what the document looks like. Below the preview area is a wordwheel, which allows the user to assign filters to narrow down the documents further. One last feature of the UI is the ability to edit a document’s attributes on the fly. If a document is selected, the user can change the name of the author as well as edit the keywords for easier searches in the future. Other attributes a user can modify include category, subject, comments, date created, date accessed, and many others (Windows File System).

Significance of article

Microsoft’s new file system, Windows Future Storage (WinFS), will change the way users interact with computer data forever. WinFS capitalizes on the FAT32 and NTFS disadvantages. WinFS includes a host of new features including operating system and network interoperability, backwards compatibility, and advanced data search features. The future of WinFS is uncertain. Since WinFS will not be released with Longhorn, nobody really knows when WinFS will be released for home and business users. However, when WinFS does emerge, it will most likely become an alternative file system to NTFS and FAT32 (Ibelshäuser, 2003). Although WinFS will not be released with Longhorn as originally planned, WinFS will be worth the wait when it finally does arrive.


Fried, I. Longhorn to put squeeze on gadgets. (2004, September 9). Retrieved September 13, 2004, from here

Ibelshäuser, O. The WinFS File System For Windows Longhorn: Faster & Smarter. (2003, June 17). Retrieved September 13, 2004, from here

Rupley, S. (2004, September 7). Windows Update ; There’s a major new version coming, but the wait is definitely on. PC Magazine, 23(15), 84. Retrieved September 13, 2004, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 676668361).

The Windows File System. (2003, October). Retrieved September 13, 2004, from here

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