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Virtual Folders

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Let’s step back a bit before diving too deeply into potentially confusing territory. In order to understand Vista’s virtual folders, it’s important to first understand the thinking that went into this feature; and because this is the ever-delayed Windows Vista I’m talking about, it might also be helpful to know about Microsoft’s original plans for the Vista shell and virtual folders and compare those plans with what eventually happened.

Microsoft originally decided not to include in Vista a traditional file system with drive letters, physical file-system paths, and real folders. The software giant wanted to virtualize the entire file system so that you wouldn’t need to worry about such arcane things as “the root of C:” and the Program Files folder. Instead, you would just access your documents and applications without ever thinking about where they resided on the disk. After all, that sort of electronic housekeeping is what a computer is good at, right?

This original vision required a healthy dose of technology. The core piece of this technology would be a new storage engine called WinFS (short for Windows Future Storage), which would have combined the best features of the NTFS file system with the relational database functionality of Microsoft’s SQL Server products. As of this writing, Microsoft has been working on WinFS, and its predecessors, for about a decade.

Unfortunately, the WinFS technology wasn’t even close to being ready in time for
Windows Vista, so Microsoft pulled WinFS out of Vista and began developing it separately from the OS. Ultimately, it completely canceled plans to ship WinFS as a separate product. Instead, WinFS technologies will be integrated into future Windows versions and other Microsoft products.

Even though WinFS was out of the picture, Microsoft figured it could deliver much of that system’s benefits using an updated version of the file system indexer it has shipped in Windows for years; and for about a year of Vista’s development in 2004–2005, that was the plan. Instead of special shell folders such as Documents, users would access virtual folders such as All Documents, which would aggregate all of the documents on the hard drive and present them in a single location. Other special shell folders, such as Pictures and Music, would also be replaced by virtual folders.

Problem solved, right? Wrong. Beta testers—who are presumably more technical than most PC users—found the transition from normal folders to virtual folders to be extremely confusing. In retrospect, this should have been obvious. After all, a virtual folder that displays all of your documents is kind of useful when you’re looking for something, but where do you save a new file? Is a virtual folder even a real place for applications that want to save data? And do users need to understand the differences between normal folders and virtual folders? Why have both kinds of folders?

With the delays mounting, Microsoft retreated from the virtual-folder scheme, just as it had when it stripped out WinFS previously. That’s why the file system you see in Windows Vista is actually quite similar to that in Windows XP and previous Windows versions. That is, the file system still uses drive letters, normal folders, and special shell folders such as Documents and Pictures. If you’re familiar with any prior Windows version, you should feel right at home in the Vista shell. (Likewise, if you’ve found the Windows file system to be a bit, well, lackluster, all the same complaints still apply in Vista.)

There’s one major difference between Vista’s file system and that of previous Windows versions, although it’s not particularly obvious. Even though Microsoft has decided not to replace special shell folders with virtual folders in this release, the company is still shipping virtual-folder technology in Windows Vista. The idea is that users will get used to virtual folders now, and then perhaps a future Windows version will simply move to that system, and eventually we’ll all reach some nerdvana where all the silly file-system constructs used today are suddenly passé.

In short, virtual folders do exist in Windows Vista; they’re just somewhat hidden. OK, they’re really well hidden, maybe even devilishly well hidden. That makes them a power-user feature and thus, for readers of this book, inherently interesting. Most people won’t even discover virtual folders and their contained shared searches. In fact, if you want to harness some of the most awesome and unique technology in Windows Vista, this is the place to start; the skills you learn now will give you a leg up when Microsoft finally gets around to retiring the current file system. It’s only a matter of time.

Source of Information : Wiley Windows Vista Secrets SP1 Edition

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