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Rethinking the Nature of Files

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the files-are-inside-the-computer dept.

Data Storage 369

An anonymous reader writes "Two recent papers, one from Microsoft Research and one from University of Wisconsin (PDF), are providing a refreshing take on rethinking 'what a file is.' This could have major implications for the next-gen file system design, and will probably cause a stir among Slashdotters, given that it will affect the programmatic interface. The first paper has some hints as to what went wrong with the previous WinFS approach. Quoting the first paper: 'For over 40 years the notion of the file, as devised by pioneers in the field of computing, has proved robust and has remained unchallenged. Yet this concept is not a given, but serves as a boundary object between users and engineers. In the current landscape, this boundary is showing signs of slippage, and we propose the boundary object be reconstituted. New abstractions of file are needed, which reflect what users seek to do with their digital data, and which allow engineers to solve the networking, storage and data management problems that ensue when files move from the PC on to the networked world of today. We suggest that one aspect of this adaptation is to encompass metadata within a file abstraction; another has to do what such a shift would mean for enduring user actions such as "copy" and "delete" applicable to the deriving file types. We finish by arguing that there is an especial need to support the notion of "ownership" that adequately serves both users and engineers as they engage with the world of networked sociality. '"

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369 comments

There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (2, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906406)

I'm sorry, but MS issuing a paper on the "issues of file ownership" and the cloud sends a little chill up my spine. Makes me think that engineering may not be the only impetus behind their paper. It also makes me wonder if someone isn't looking to take a little more "ownership" of what has traditionally been considered *my* data.

It's bad enough I'm already forced into "buying" software and media that I can never resell. Now they want my fucking Word files too I guess.

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906488)

Don't worry, user, of course you own those little files of yours.

We just want to install some robust Technological Protection Measures to preserve your ownership of those files across all devices and platforms and legal systems aligned with international norms... Totally harmless, nothing to worry about.

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (2)

Short Circuit (52384) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906784)

I was amused when I discovered that the Xen hypervisor allows you to emulate a TPM in software. I didn't dig into it enough to find out if there were a way to extract stored data from within the dom0.

What's that about a secure keystore again?

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (1, Insightful)

Hartree (191324) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906522)

Microsoft: All your files^h^h^h^h^hdata are belong to us!

Also, (1)

isopropanol (1936936) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906536)

How is this any different from Files-11 (VMS native FS), NTFS, or HFS+?

(re-posting my AC comment, logged in this time)

Re:Also, (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906640)

Those are file systems, which is how the OS keeps tracks of the files - not the files themselves. My understanding is that they're talking about the files themselves. Let's try a bad car analogy. The file system is where the cars are kept. It can be a parking lot, a garage or a field marked with cones. The cars are kept there in some sort of order so that you can go back to find your car later. The files are the cars themselves. You can take a car from a parking garage to a parking lot (IE: copying from ext3 to NTFS). What they're thinking about is the cars, not the parking lot. Then again, maybe I completely misunderstand this all.

Re:Also, (1)

GIL_Dude (850471) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906814)

And, they are saying the metadata should travel with the file - and not be a bolted on construct supported in different ways by different file systems. To continue your analogy, the car should still say "Toyota" and "Camry" on it even when it is moved from the parking garage to the parking lot. It should still have other metadata like "2006", the info on the door sticker like the curb weight, etc. Past implementations of this at an OS level have been a bit hit or miss with some file systems supporting an add on structure for meta data and others not supporting it. (This is not to say that some file formats don't already have this built in - certainly some do).

Re:Also, (2)

Millennium (2451) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906976)

The thing is, those particular file systems also use a different notion of what a file is than what Unix folks are used to. One major example of this is that on these systems, a file can contain multiple streams of data, which both NTFS and HFS+ call forks. NTFS doesn't use forks much, but Macs used them heavily in the pre-OSX days (not so much anymore).

Files-11 and HFS+ also support a notion of files as being containers of discrete data records, rather than streams of bytes. Again, Macs used this concept heavily in the pre-OSX days, mostly when dealing with a file's resource fork, but it's not as common anymore.

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (2)

imric (6240) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906544)

Well since the {xxAA} already owns most modern works of art and all performances forever (with the blessings of our government), and companies already own ideas (thoughts), it stands to reason that Microsoft would want to own the results of any actions facilitated by software written by them as well. I mean, how can they continue to expand their market if they don't? Be REASONABLE! I mean, this can get rid of any ambiguity about ownership and remove copyright and patent issues forever! It's simple - "All your files are belong to us"!

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (1)

SharkLaser (2495316) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906940)

RIAA/MPAA doesn't own them. They represent some (not all) of those who do on certain matters, like piracy.

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (1)

Nick Fel (1320709) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906654)

Please. What about a file you're working collaboratively on in the cloud? Do you own that? That's obviously the kind of thing they're talking about.

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (2, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906764)

A quote from the conclusion of the article:

A boundary object needs to be developed that can bridge the abstraction of the user and the one of the engineer, who needs to worry about where this thing that keeps growing and changing, and where the locale of storage changes too, such that when a user says ‘delete’, the thing whatever it is and wherever the entities constitutive of it are, are indeed, done away with.

I'm sorry, but that sounds a *lot* like DRMing every file to me, with a central service controlling every file (how else could you implement such a system?). The authors even admit as much a few sentences later:

At first reading one might think they are alluding to digital rights management.

Of course, they seem to deny that this is DRM. But that's sure what it sounds like to me. And DRM needs some sort of central service to work, which I'm sure MS will be happy to provide of course.

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (1)

Nick Fel (1320709) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906878)

What it sounds like to me is separating the notions of files from the notion of storage. So only the engineer and the underlying system needs to worry about whether your data is on your hard drive, or the cloud, or a pen drive. Instead, the user can just worry about their text/image/video, wherever it happens to be. Of course, it doesn't help that Richard Harper (a social scientist) writes such horrifically ponderous text.

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (3, Insightful)

CharlyFoxtrot (1607527) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906686)

You should read the article, you are illustrating their point. They talk about how users associate ownership with having a file on a known physical location and how in order for people to feel comfortable with cloud storage the definition of file needs to be redefined in a way that people feel they have ownership over data that exists "out there".

"[...] ownership is what we are thinking of, when ownership stands as proxy for what used to be knowledge of location and responsibility for that location. What was once a relationship between a user and a physical thing now needs to stand as a relationship between a user and a digital thing. Just what this ownership might be and how it might function in terms of what is specified in this new entity we are thinking of, one that somehow has the properties we have described above and which also allows this new characteristic, we have begun to outline but a beginning is all it is."

Part of this is the ability to be able to delete their data even when it has been put out there in the wild.

"A boundary object needs to be developed that can bridge the abstraction of the user and the one of the engineer, who needs to worry about where this thing that keeps growing and changing, and where the locale of storage changes too, such that when a user says ‘delete’, the thing whatever it is and wherever the entities constitutive of it are, are indeed, done away with."

This is a paper talking about your concerns and how to address them.

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (5, Informative)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906800)

No, they're talking about DRM. They try to deny it a few sentences later, but how else would you implement a system where any given file downloaded off the web could be deleted by a central authority at any time?

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (1, Insightful)

imric (6240) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906872)

Of COURSE they are. They are trying to find a different way to market it - since DRM has no user benefits and users actively dislike it, they 'need' to redefine the issue so users have no choice.

This is marketing.

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (2)

CharlyFoxtrot (1607527) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906938)

But the ability of a user to delete his "cloud" files would be a benefit. DRM is only evil when it gives a third party control over your stuff, not when it gives you control over your own stuff.

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (2)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#37907002)

DRM is only evil when it gives a third party control

Who do you think is going to be running the central service that administers all this DRM?

I'll give you a hint. It rhymes with Picrosoft.

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37906958)

That's because it is Digital Rights Management.

They're basically trying top find a DRM scheme that serves the needs of business. That is: doesn't get in the way of viewing files, tracks who is respoonsible for that file, and grants the file owner the ability to manage the file regardless of location.

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (1)

i kan reed (749298) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906714)

My thoughts too. This sounded like Microsoft trying to justify the idea of embedding DRM directly into their next filesystem.

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (2)

CharlyFoxtrot (1607527) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906890)

There's nothing wrong with DRM when it's used to protect my ownership of my files. Would you be opposed to a DRM scheme that would allow you to totally and irrevocably delete a picture you posted to Facebook because it allows you to retain total ownership ? The problem with DRM is when it's used to take away rights you traditionally hold, i.e. when DRM is used to reduce your ownership instead of increasing it.

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906970)

There's nothing wrong with DRM when it's used to protect my ownership of my files.

Yeah? And who do you think is going to run the central system that administers all this DRM? You, or MS? And if MS is running it (and it's on your system too), what makes you so sure it's still *your* data? Is there something stopping them from deleting it anytime they want on your system too?

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (1)

SharkLaser (2495316) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906972)

Would you be opposed to a DRM scheme that would allow you to totally and irrevocably delete a picture you posted to Facebook because it allows you to retain total ownership ?

But information wants to be freeeeee!!

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906904)

Yep, sounds like a very elaborate way to justify DRM, while denying that it's DRM. It walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck--but MS is issuing a paper to let us know it's *not* a duck. It's a new *file paradigm*, see.

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37906730)

In most instances when people proposes changes to files or file systems it goes nowhere. I don't see this going far. I could write a paper on vehicles, the definition of vehicles, point out that wouldn't it be nice if cars could fly, claim that the concept of roads is all wrong, but it wouldn't make any difference.

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (1)

Ultra64 (318705) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906974)

Jesus Christ, there should be a limit to paranoia. They are obviously talking about ownership in the context of the filesystem. Ie. file X is owned by user ID 1

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#37907120)

You need to read the paper (I know it's sacrilegious to say that on /.). They *start off* by talking about file systems, but by the end it moves very much into the cloud and the internet and advocates for a thinly-veiled DRM system for all files, under the guise of "this will allow users to delete and control their files anywhere, even in the cloud or on the internet."

Re:There is no "issue." *I* own my files and data (1)

EdZ (755139) | more than 2 years ago | (#37907072)

To me, it sounds like they've looked at ZFS and thought "hey, that sounds like a good idea". Abstracted storage (bits of your files could end up split up and spread multiple times redundantly across physical volumes, but files will still respond to all the usual operators), lots of metadata (including a history of changes to files), built in error-checking, etc.

The future is here, and unfortunately is currently owned by Oracle.

Ownership? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37906454)

Duck! ...it just hit the fan!

BeOS was there already (1)

frnic (98517) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906474)

Sounds familiar...

Re:BeOS was there already (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37906620)

Interestingly, NTFS has better support for compiling Haiku with attributes than does ext* or HFS+. BtrFS will probably support xattr, but it's still broken garbage right now.

Re:BeOS was there already (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37906968)

I was under the impression that ext2 supported attributes, but you need to enable them with mount flags.

Ugh (2)

Anrego (830717) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906478)

I couldn’t make it through the first paper. It came across as meandering and very academic. Didn’t try the second

Either way, of all the stuff that is currently broken, files are one of the few things that still mostly work. Yes would be nice to have more standardization and maybe metadata, but I don’t foresee it happening. And yes users sometimes get confused, but the generally figure stuff out.. and nothing described in the article seemed any more intuitive and would probably be just as miss-understood by users.

We’ll end up with 10 different standards, and no one will bother keeping metadata accurate on all their files. At best metadata is useful for a single person on a small subset of files where they find it useful. Everything else, the only metadata anyone is going to care about (and be bothered to enter) is title, which is served fairly effectively by the file name.

Re:Ugh (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906572)

Are you saying that quoting Wittgenstein in a paper that is ostensibly concerned with file structures is pretentious, content-free twaddle?

Couldn't be...

Re:Ugh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37906668)

should try the 2nd one. it looks more technical

Re:files (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906796)

They kinda sorta work, *if* you manage 100 file extensions. Forget the Ribbon, the other disaster from Office 2007 was the 'glorious basterd' new file names, docx xlsx and the others. But of course 'file extensions are too hard for users' so those differences get hidden. One of my 'mission critical' programs from work FINALLY added support for those filenames ... *this past April*.

So yeah, there's probably a scorpion barb in the Microsoft article.

Re:Ugh (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906910)

We’ll end up with 10 different standards, and no one will bother keeping metadata accurate on all their files.

Concur, look at ID3 tags on audio files... any reason to believe that human behavior will improve in other areas?

Auto deleting files... (4, Interesting)

klubar (591384) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906484)

I've always thought it would be useful if you could mark as file as automatically deleting at a certain date. If you create a temporary file, it would be nice to flag it as "delete after 60 days" so it doesn't need attention in the future. (The same functionality would be really useful for emials...I want to save this email until after the event (or whatever it's about) and then have it automatically deleted.) I once saw the file functionality on a custom Cray operating system in the 1977.

Re:Auto deleting files... (1)

The MAZZTer (911996) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906794)

If your file system starts to fill up Disk Cleanup will wipe your Temp folder of old files. So this functionality sort of already exists, it's just not automatic (you have to answer the "disk is filling up" prompt) and doesn't delete files unless it needs to.

Re:Auto deleting files... (1)

The MAZZTer (911996) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906810)

And of course I'm thinking of Windows, not 'nix, but Ubuntu does have a similar tool and functionality as well. Not sure about other 'nixes.

Re:Auto deleting files... (2)

deniable (76198) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906988)

Lots of people have 'temp' files that don't live in %TEMP^%. I had to move *important* data for one of our units a couple of months ago and saw a file 'To do December 2002' or some such. Things like that should have expiry dates.

Re:Auto deleting files... (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906836)

I think "archiving" rather than deleting after a certain date would be vastly preferable. Then just clear out the archive folder manually from time to time. Otherwise there's too much potential for user error/confusion. In a networked environment especially that could cause some headaches.

I think with email thing you should set up a meeting/calendar event rather than have a plain email. Then you get reminders of it up until the event, and afterwards it's out of your hair, unless you want to review it on the calendar..

Re:Auto deleting files... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906870)

That's the sort of function that would probably be the work of a weekend to add if you just wanted it to work on your computer(crudest case, just a wrapper that automatically creates a cron job/scheduled task to delete at the desired time in the future; if you wanted it to still work if the file is moved/copied you'd need a metadata facililty and a scrubber task that kills files at their marked expiration times).

Now, on the other hand, if you want a system that is even possible for random 3rd party systems and devices to voluntarily adhere to(even after http uploads, metadata getting sheared off by a trip across a fat32 flash drive, handling for both HFS+ and NTFS metadata storage variants, etc, etc. support for mobile devices, web services where files are blobs in a DB, etc) You Have Fun With That, as they say.

And, of course, if you want 'trusted' expiration on random 3rd party systems, nothing short of a dystopian step back from general purpose computing will do...

Re:Auto deleting files... (1)

grasshoppa (657393) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906874)

I'd take this one step further; There are certain classifications of files that need special behaviors ( encryption, reliability, ect.. ) as well as special permissions ( if it's an evidence file, it belongs to the investigators by default, ect... ). That's why I'd like file system tags. Where if you tag a file with "HR Policy", it will auto-assign the correct permissions AND assign special behaviors ( file is deleted 7 years after implementation, it's not allowed to be copied off the network, it's encrypted, ect... ).

One of the largest issues I've seen in corporate culture is the proliferation of data in file shares. Often, file shares are filled with cruft that no one has any idea if anyone else is using. This leads to "Don't touch it!", and file share quotas that balloon out of control. An automated system of this nature would help curb that.

Re:Auto deleting files... (1)

deniable (76198) | more than 2 years ago | (#37907008)

When you get to that level you use document management systems that have security and features like retention and disposal schedules. As for cruft, we end up not being allowed to delete files because nobody can tell us who owns it or can make a decision.

Re:Auto deleting files... (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 2 years ago | (#37907022)

You could probably do this with extended attributes and then something like inotify to watch when a file has an expiry date set. Every so often a cron job would check if something has passed its expiry date and delete or archive it.

Translation: All Our Data are Belong to Them (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37906504)

The current understanding of a file is too conducive to local storage and user ownership for giant corporations who want to assume control of our data and rent it back to us for monthly fees or advertising intrusions.

The delete function is a feature. It means I do not want that data to exist any more. I wonder why Google or Facebook might have a problem with that.

ummm (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37906510)

How is this any different from Files-11 (VMS native FS), NTFS, or HFS+?

Hmm where have I seen (2)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906528)

We suggest that one aspect of this adaptation is to encompass metadata within a file abstraction

this before? Are resource forks coming back into vogue?

an especial need (2)

blackmesadude (1537255) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906534)

really?

Re:an especial need (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37906626)

Si.

In short.. (1)

bitflusher (853768) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906538)

Is a file the (a)original data or (b) the original data + annotations data in other databases. What does a user expect when he/she creates a "copy" of a file. I have never seen a discussion like: "I downloaded a picture from facebook and now all the likes and comments are missing!" Suppose it will pop-up in the near future..

Re:In short.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37906860)

Excellent point.
Something similar happens when end users try to tell me that their music is "in" kazaa so they can't uninstall it or they'll lose their music.

Re:In short.. (1)

buchanmilne (258619) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906966)

Maybe first Facebook can support displaying existing comment fields and meta-data on photos like some other photo hosting sites.

Re:In short.. (1)

deniable (76198) | more than 2 years ago | (#37907026)

I'd like to not have the problem of creation date being later than modified date. Happens a lot when people move files around.

Broader definition? (0)

lorinc (2470890) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906540)

Have you ever heard of Unix? You know, that strange system were files are more than just collections of bytes.
Devices can be files, IPC can be files, even kernel hooks can be modeled by files...

Re:Broader definition? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37906758)

Not really. Devices and IPCs can have file handles, so you can mix them inside select(), but they are not files. Files are collections of bytes, even in UNIX. But file handles can represent non-files. And directories on the file-system can host non-files as well, which is simply a perverse way of giving them names.

It's little different than in any other OS - all OSes need to solve the "how do I wait on a network packet *or* a message on a pipe at the same time?" problem, so they all have to have an underlying abstraction. In Windows the abstraction is named HANDLE. Windows takes this as far as allowing you to wait on a semaphore and a socket in the same call ... but no-one thinks a semaphore is a "file". Windows also embeds the filesystem namespace inside a larger namespace, rather than declaring the filesystem namespace as the universe and placing non-files into it.

Re:Broader definition? (1)

deniable (76198) | more than 2 years ago | (#37907038)

How does Unix ship metadata within an arbitrary file type?

Correct use of files (0)

piripiri (1476949) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906554)

In the *NIX world, we don't have much problems with files, as everything is a file. But it's clear that when in Windows, a directory move is not atomic (each child is moved one after each other), I can understand they say current implementation is broken.

Queue DRM in... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37906562)

3... 2... 1...

Keeping collections orgainized (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37906568)

Meta data would really help keep the porn collection sorted.

I like fuzzy folder structures... (1)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906570)

I like fuzzy folder structures where I can tag, or label files and find them in any tag/label.

Like one does with g-mail or photo managing software. If I have schematics for the pentagon- I want to be able to tag those files as "Pentagon" and "Schematics" and "Operation Zesty Lemon". No matter which tag I look under I can retrieve my files easily.

Re:I like fuzzy folder structures... (5, Interesting)

wertarbyte (811674) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906818)

DOCUMENT=~/myschematics.pdf
SHAID=$(sha512sum "$DOCUMENT" | cut -f1 -d' ')
mkdir heap
mv "$DOCUMENT" "heap/$SHAID"
mkdir tags
mkdir tags/Schematics
mkdir tags/Pentagon
mkdir tags/Operation_Zesty_Lemon

ln "heap/$SHAID" tags/Pentagon/
ln "heap/$SHAID" tags/Schematics/
ln "heap/$SHAID" tags/Operation_Zesty_Lemon/

Are they confusing form with function? (1, Insightful)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906580)

A file is essentially just a collection of data - no more and no less. To try and add attributes to that makes little sense and seems as futile as trying to say that each collection of molecules should have a tag saying what it is, who it belongs to and what it's for. Sure, you can add abstractions and structure on top of the basic form, but when you do that you are adding a layer - not redefining the basic building block.

Re:Are they confusing form with function? (1, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906658)

To be honest, this sounds like MS is inventing something that Apple already invented. Apple has had forked files for how many years now? With one fork for the data and a resource fork for the icon and a few related pieces of information.

Personally, I don't like it, it's non-standard and requires special steps to work with at times, and I'm don't really understand why it's needed in the first place. If it's really that big of a problem you can always zip up the meta data file and the data file and call it a day, but for most purposes I'd rather than the data not get corrupted when the meta data does.

Re:Are they confusing form with function? (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906850)

NTFS supports the same thing, it's just that hardly anyone ever uses it. Including Microsoft.

Re:Are they confusing form with function? (1)

Narcocide (102829) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906680)

Confusing it? No.

Purposefully obscuring it? Yes, remorselessly.

Re:Are they confusing form with function? (1)

ultranova (717540) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906934)

But files are not molecules, they are a sequence of bytes. And we do exactly this with other sequences of bytes; it's the whole idead behind object-oriented programming. So, one possible way of "extending" files would be for them to define a type and type-dependent operations; for example, an image file could define "getWidth", "getHeight" and "get24ColourRectangle" functions for reading it, a text processor file could define "getContentsAsAnUtf8String", etc.

Whether or not this would be a good idea is another matter. And the Microsoft proposal, at the very least, seems to be yet another attempt to push remote-delete DRM ("there is an especial need to support the notion of âownershipâ(TM) that adequately serves both users and engineers as they engage with the world of networked sociality").

Needed: Unlimited Most Recent Files List (1)

Compaqt (1758360) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906644)

Every so often, someone steps up to the plate to get rid of the file metaphor because people can't find their files.

But they don't need to abstract away the notion of files.

Here's what to do: Give us an unlimited Most Recently Used (MRU) list. That's both for files and folders. Not the 9 or so in OpenOffice. How much space would it take to save some inodes?

You should be able to go back in time and answer the question "What file was a I working on a week ago?"

If you do that, you might not even need continual disk-thrashing full indexing.

Re:Needed: Unlimited Most Recent Files List (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906840)

It could stand to be a bit more granular than that though.

A MRU per directory could be very handy. Is very handy infact. I have implemented this myself for certain use cases.

Metadata is useful but there's really no good way to handle it that won't break things and serve as a compatability barrier. Simpler abstractions are useful because there are fewer moving parts and less things that can go wrong and fewer options for Vendor A to do something different from Vendor B.

Everyone pointing out how other vendors have already solved this problem is a great illustration of that.

WTF is wrong witth the concept of files? (0)

rossdee (243626) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906666)

I don't see any need to change. - although the 3 letter filename extension to determine the type of file is getting a bit long in the tooth. (I was using an OS and filesytem in the late 80's that didnt have that problem.

Re:WTF is wrong witth the concept of files? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37906760)

Hmm, I gotta uncompress my .jpeg's using .texinfo manuals. Doesn't work. I think I need to change the .config files again.
But really, even Windows doesn't have that problem.

Re:WTF is wrong witth the concept of files? (1)

lwriemen (763666) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906964)

Ignore the "3 letter" wording, and the OP is right to state that using the file extension to determine file type is a problem, mostly confined to Windows and OS X today.

when reality stops throwing file like things at me (1)

brokeninside (34168) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906708)

... then I'll start looking for analogies other than a "file" (or something bsimilar like a notebook) to use with computers.

Thin about it. The objects we use most often books, physical files, CDs, musical instruments, notecards, kitchen gadgets, etc. All have a discrete identity that makes their representation by a file on a file system quite intuitive.

Only when reality starts presenting itself as something other than individual entities with their own discrete identity will most people move to a different paradigm.

Help me out with this: Is "File" Patentable? (1)

withoutfeathers (743004) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906716)

Smells like MS is laying the foundation for a whole new tangle of patents.

The "Paradigm Shift" is back! (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906724)

I never thought I would see the "Paradigm Shift" return to the common corporate lexicon. Of course, there is also the "Paradigm Shift for Paradigm Shift's sake."

This, right here, is the kind of blue-sky thinking that can create a paradigm shift that will empower key contributors to cover all directions of the compass in the realization of the critical program objectives. The kind of solution that will be the result of joined-up thinking will easily land and expand across all verticals in a process-oriented organization. However it will be a key component of the storyboard to collect the buy-in from key stakeholders to ensure 100% coverage in gating milestones.

Re:The "Paradigm Shift" is back! (1)

andrewbaldwin (442273) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906930)

Well said :-)

Just one criticism ... you forgot to mention how "such an approach would interlock horizontally and vertically across business units to leverage the synergies arising from an ongoing optimsation of the function stream envisaged in the up-coming opportunity horizon".

Some years ago I came across a Word macro called Bullfighter [I can't remember who the original author was but I'd love to credit him/her]. This analysed text for excessive length and presence of buzz words.

If I had it now (and if it worked in Libre Office) I suspect my PC would have melted :-)

Re:The "Paradigm Shift" is back! (1)

RazorSharp (1418697) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906996)

You should be promoted to upper management.

...What? (1)

Rie Beam (632299) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906746)

I read the entire paper (the second article), which was essentially an analysis of Apple software that concludes that "Apple write a lot to the hard drive and we don't know why" and "this raises more questions than it answers".

Can someone please explain if either article is actually proposing an applicable solution, or simply stating "things need to change!" like a 19-year-old Occupy Wall Street protester?

Re:...What? (1)

KnownIssues (1612961) | more than 2 years ago | (#37907076)

I read the first article, and I have to say, I did not see anything that proposed what should replace files. There was the vague "encompass metadata within a file abstraction", but really, what does that mean?

The main point of the article, as I read it, was that what a user *believes* a file is and what the storage media/application calls a file are often completely different and that the next form of "file" should better represent what a user thinks of as a file--i.e. the smallest allocatable unit of content, e.g. a photo, a contact, a spreadsheet, a document--and the actions they want to perform on it.

The article gave the example of a OneNote Notebook. On your computer it stores Sections as files and Notebooks as folders of these files. This makes sense from a technology perspective. But a user (a normal one, not a Slashdot one) expects the Notebook to be stored as a whole indivisible unit. And not every storage medium stores the Notebook the same way; SkyDrive was given as an example.

On the other hand, I don't think this is uncommon for a research paper. Not every research paper is intended to be a fascinating read about deblur technology in Photoshop. We're taught to "not point out a problem unless we have a solution", but that's not always the best philosophy. Sometimes it's perfectly valid to point out the flaws in something without knowing how to fix it; sometimes the problem is that people don't see there's a problem and the first step is jut raising awareness there's a problem.

temp files (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37906748)

My compiler does not create OBJ files, just BINary directly. Actually, you usually go source code --> memory ready for execution.

I thought this was a science story about flies (1, Informative)

nullCRC (320940) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906754)

My bad.

test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37906768)

test

It's time to unreserve "special" characters (1)

wallywalters (708773) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906808)

including especially the question mark, quotation mark, colon, forward slash and asterix. For clarity and accuracy, any punctuation mark that's commonly used in everyday writing should be available for use in filenames going forward.

Re:It's time to unreserve "special" characters (-1, Troll)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906882)

That idea is so incredibly stupid, I'm going to assume you are trolling.

Metadata? (1)

Rie Beam (632299) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906822)

There isn't an issue with files. Files are essentially the atomic structures of the filesystem -- the dividing points between different pieces of content. You can add all the abstraction you want, but if you can't find Piece of Information X at the end of it, it's still a worthless abstraction. Redesign the file system, sure, but the nature of files isn't in question here, but rather how they're accessed.

Reinventing RMS? (1)

AB3A (192265) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906900)

First, they're using bloated programs on poorly optimized file systems and they then complain about performance.

Second, a better optimization would result if you took in to account what the file type was.You'd lose some compatibility, but you'd gain a surprising amount of performance. The solution has been sitting around for decades: Anyone remember the infamous Record Management System from DEC? It existed as a layer between the kernel and the user space.

It would answer the concerns of these researchers, but it would require a massive rewrite of all the programs that use the file systems.

We're headed back to the future...

Re:Reinventing RMS? (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 2 years ago | (#37907044)

Am I the only one who was thinking this post was going to be about giving Richard Stallman a makeover?

A possible real goal (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906906)

Pretend for the moment that Microsoft has found a way of storing data that completely does away with the directory tree and file concept that have been a basic piece of operating system design since the 1970's. Now, to make Windows do that would require major changes and break backwards compatibility, so why would they possibly want that?

Well, imagine another family of operating systems had made files the key component of what they do, so much so that it makes practically everything look like a file, whether a network socket or a hardware device. It's even gone the extra mile on compatibility to support using a wide variety of other OS's file systems, including Windows' preferred file system, so that those who want to run multiple OS's on the same machine can do so relatively painlessly.

Now imagine that Microsoft wants to break that compatibility in an attempt to maintain its market position. Now, they're first try (which is a lot cheaper) is to occasionally redesign their filesystem so that the other family of operating systems has to adjust their compatibility layers. But those jerks seem to be keeping up with you, reverse-engineering what you did. So now, to really break compatibility, you have to go after the concept of having a file system, so that instead of something coherent that the other OS can build a driver for, you need special proprietary code to turn the gobbledygook on disk into something a user can read.

Of course, the only part of this that's really imaginary is that last bit. But my guess is that what they're aiming for is "Want to read data from a Windows machine? You need a copy of a certain Windows DLL running, which will only run on Windows."

Re:A possible real goal (1)

skids (119237) | more than 2 years ago | (#37907238)

Good god! We'd have no choice but to return to IBM mainframe COBOL, where everything is a database record, not a file.

Or we could just ignore them and go on with our lives.

BTW, while where on the subject, do any of the meta-data-supporting filesystems support an operation to "export" a file which just creates an archive of a known format with a bunch of EXIF-ish data bundled along with the file's contents? If so they'd better apply for a patent for it before MS does, given we are now a "first to file" nation.

Replace files with data objects (1)

concealment (2447304) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906936)

While XML is annoying, it shows us the importance of both data and data describing that data (including "meta-data").

My guess is that we'll take a page from object-oriented computing and in the future, see data as stored only within object types, with associated description data and possibly transformation data (something like XSLT).

In particular, this would open up all file formats to the end user, as understanding the structure of a data object is a lot more sensible that hand-coding a parser for binary files.

The influence of the semantic web, object-oriented thinking, and the inevitable inclusion of high-capacity databases as part of the operating system (we already see this with LAMP as a popular platform not only for development, but for daily use) will drive this change.

Personally, I think it's about time. A file is a low-level format, basically a giant string of data between two points. We should not be using files as end users; that's for the operating system. And at the same time, we'd like our data to be there in a form we can manipulate, not dependent on file-types and specific applications.

Back in the 80s, there was more of this thinking but no one got it to catch on. The original Macintosh file system used a "data fork" and a "resource fork" for objects included with the file. There were other experiments, most notably Talient and OpenDoc (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenDoc).

A good discussion of what open data formats might mean can be found here:

http://www.malcolmgroves.com/blog/?p=633 [malcolmgroves.com]

Oh dear god, please, please, please.... (3, Insightful)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906942)

Do NOT "improve" the file. I'd like to continue to be able to use my computer and other devices.

Re:Oh dear god, please, please, please.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37907024)

Behold, the new Ubuntu 12.04 will improve the desktop user experience with a new Singularity filesystem. Now the directories are gone, and user is free to search and access files by a search engine.

Re:Oh dear god, please, please, please.... (1)

Air-conditioned cowh (552882) | more than 2 years ago | (#37907232)

I'd like to continue to be able to use my computer and other devices.

And I'd like to stop you! Ha ha ha ha haaah!

POSIX xattrs (3, Insightful)

Salamander (33735) | more than 2 years ago | (#37906962)

Look them up. They already allow you to attach arbitrary metadata to a file. Most modern filesystems and user-level utilities support them already. They're even used as the underpinnings for security mechanisms such as POSIX ACLs and SELinux. Sure, there are issues with performance when you have *lots* of xattrs on a file, and that's a fruitful area of research, but we sure don't need some brand-new Microsoft-invented thing to deal with metadata.

even more fundamental (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37907036)

Why do we even think in terms of files or more particularly "file operations"?
Why should I have to "save file" in an editing application. That's a hold over from the days of slow mass storage, where you don't want to take up time in the middle of your other work.

keep it simple, stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37907166)

It took me three tries to get any meaning out of that 'quote from the first paper' mentioned above. Seems too much verbiage is spent on trying to prepare my brain to agree with the ideas before it actually tells me what the idea is.

As for the paper itself, I am nonplussed. A "file" is a sequence of bytes, with a defined start location, and length, recorded on a storage device to be retrieved from that storage device at a later date. What the paper describes doesn't change this idea, it insisting that every "file" should have a wrapper around it and users should not be able to access the "file" without the wrapper.

But, surefly there'll still be file name suffixes? (1)

magbottle (929624) | more than 2 years ago | (#37907172)

.txt, .doc?

There _has_ to be!

Otherwise the Mac OS X engineers will look like idiots for dismantling the Mac system of file data types in favor of using file suffixes for file content identification.

Hmm... (1)

J'raxis (248192) | more than 2 years ago | (#37907242)

"Copy," "delete," and "ownership" being three points they're trying to address? Why does this sound like a submarine attempt to embed some sort of IP protection in the lowest levels and very concepts of files on computers, framing it all as merely a technical re-engineering of the "file" concept?

What? (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | more than 2 years ago | (#37907244)

A file is simply a linear series of data. Period. End of story.
I don't care where you store the ownership rights, the metadata, or what new fancy things you want to be able to do with files; That is not a ground breaking new concept.

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