Microsoft could be forcing a move to XML with a new file storage system planned for inclusion in the next version of Windows. The Object Filing System (OFS) will replace the Windows Explorer file manager and become the repository for all files generated by Windows and those created by applications running under it.
To benefit fully, users will have to ensure that existing files have been XML-enabled but tagging on this scale would require an automated system to be economical.
Chris Harris-Jones, principal analyst at Ovum, said, "The problem is that everyone will have to use the same mark-up vocabulary," referring to the tags naming key elements in each document.
"There is no such thing as a universal vocabulary in XML at the moment, so it may be up to Microsoft to develop one - but would Oracle or Sun Microsystems then support it?"
The new file system should enable Microsoft to implement a knowledge management regime to enable searches, based on XML tagging, to find specific information contained in documents but able to pull out every document, spreadsheet, e-mail and database reference the search wishes to find.
The move to OFS will not happen until Longhorn, the successor to Windows .net Server, appears in two or three years. Mike Davis, a senior research analyst at Butler Group, believes that with or without OFS the move to XML is inevitable.
"When people see the benefits, they will move across and XML will be a mainstream business standard within two years when Web services establish themselves," he said.
Knowledge management is touted as a key tool for the information age but, although XML could make it pinpoint accurate, it does not demand XML to be effective.
Harris-Jones said, "Microsoft could have a killer app if it is done properly but the company is playing catch-up with existing systems from companies such as Hummingbird and Documentum."
Davis advised that, even without a universal vocabulary, users should push ahead with an XML strategy. He believes that changes are already under way.
"It has been trailed by Microsoft in Sharepoint Portal Server and Team Services. These store data as XML in the Web Storage System - a database built especially for Sharepoint," said Davis.
OFS was first conceived in 1992 as part of what became Windows 2000. XML has provided the key that Microsoft lacked to get the project off the ground and SQL Server technology, currently under development, will form the basis of the new filing system.