/dev isn't enough (30 Nov 2002)

Rumors are abound that Longhorn will have a new database file system. Of course, since it's Windows, nobody really cares because M$ have been talking about this since before 95 came out and we are still waiting. In fact, Ted Nelson[1][2] was talking about the same kind of ideas long before most of the people reading this were born.

Ted Nelson's ideas about this were known as Xanadu and Zigzag (a specific implementation). Basically all data was contained in cells and cells could be linked along axis. The GZZ project (formally known as GZigZag) has a good document about these ideas.

But, at it's simplest level it's about linking and it's about exposing. Now the classic system for this is the UNIX device system which exposes hard drives and other IO stuff pretty well. However, UNIX devices aren't exactly perfect. See this document about Plan9 for an example of the device model taken to a more useful level.

But even in Plan9, data is still locked away in odd file formats and that means a lack of linkability and exposure.

Take my mailbox, there's a huge amount of data in there locked away. I can't get a list of all the mail sent to me by a single person without a lot of work (see interwingle). Now you are free to say that it's a facet of how I store my mail (mbox format). But when I want to follow a link from an email, to it's sender, to his/her phone number (in another database) it ceases to be a problem limited to my MUA. If certain things were exposed better I should be able to to that, and follow links to anything else related I have about a person. This has harmonies with Semantic Web ideas, but this is about a human web of information - not a machine understandable one.

Hans Reiser articulates similar ideas (possibly better than I do) in his whitepaper. Now, Hans sets down a lot more detail than I'm doing here, and I don't necessarily agree with all the detail (which you can skip anyway).

Now, I've talked about this before and there is a strong link between the language parts of that rant and the ideas here, but I'm not going to go into that now.

more to follow...