WinFS is Microsoft's new Relational File System, and the company released a Beta 1 edition of the software to members of the Microsoft Developer Network. Originally planned for a Windows Vista release, the software runs on Windows XP. A forthcomming Beta 2 release should work on the beta releases of Vista.
The driving goal behind WinFS is a new filing system paridgm: allow a single file system to store documents such as email messages, your scanned photos, music, and databases in a common file format that other programs could access more quickly without a conversion utility. Applications coded to work with WinFS would feel like a database access: type in a key (a common search string, or someone's name), and all of the documents associated with that key will be called up for your selection.
Apple Computer tried to do something like this ten years ago with a project called OpenDoc. The document type would be the same, and programmers were encouraged to develop applets to work with that document's data, allowing programmer flexibility on how they wanted the user to interact with the data. OpenDoc never took off -- in it's day it was a lot of code on computers that were not fast enough to handle it. A beautiful concept, but I think it failed due to performance fallbacks.
Looking at the new format, I am not certain that I like it. While it may make for easier data access, it also could be a great way for a virus to attack your system, searching for things like contact lists and financial information, and be able to gather that data quickly, and export it off the box into the thief's hands.
Looks like I'll have to find a beta of this and preview it. Too soon to see what kinds of security will be out there to help this software along.