Longhorn vs. RDF

Microsoft’s successor to Windows XP, Longhorn, is set to promote a new file system that advances on the hierarchical paradigm that is common in contemporary operating systems. Built upon a database system, users will have a much more flexible interface to use when searching for information. This information is of course already known and has been reported on, however what I find interesting are some of the potential use cases for this system.

One reported use case, searching for specific digital photographs:

You don’t want to search by file name, because they’re all called dsc035.jpg. You want to search,

  • show me the pictures I took last month,
  • show me the pictures of me and my wife,
  • show me the pictures of my children,
  • show me the pictures from Christmases.

To do that requires a change both in our user interface and also a change in our model for how information is stored on the computer.

Retrieval of complex data sets is an interesting problem area, what struck me though as I came upon this topic was how similar the use cases are compared with contemporary systems using RDF as the metadata “container”. FOAF for example has explored topics such as attaching metadata to photographs for example, the co-depiction photo metadata experiment for example has spawned tools which can answer a range of queries:

  • Get me all image of person X,
  • Get me all the images of person X that also have person Y in them,
  • Order me a Hawaiian Pizza with… (sorry, slipped in from an article about internet connected fridges)

The point is that there is a lot of interesting applications for RDF, and its vocabularies, that could in many ways be even more innovative than Microsoft’s current plans, especially if it is hooked up to a nice XML database that can deal with semi-structured data much more effectively than an SQL based system.

More innovative? Sure, the Microsoft paradigm is quite interesting, but the extensibility inherent in RDF allows for many more potential uses, as well as tight integration with internet based data. Microsoft are still fundamentally distanced, on a file system level, from the internet and from integration with other operating systems, whereas RDF is an established standard that can be deployed widely on both personal machines and over networks.

UI Problems Microsoft isn’t going to be persuading non-gee ks to learn SQL anytime soon, the UI is an important tool in leveraging all this metadata we want to query. How is it going to be done on the RDF end? A natural language interface perhaps, or graphical exploration as demonstrated by FOAFNaut? As the amount of information we produce and consume increases at an ever increasing rate it needs to be tackled, you should see the size of the “My Pictures” folder of my PC since I bought a digital camera!

Further Reading:
[provided by Amazon.com]