Jan 15 2010 · Random
I spent some time recently investigating file tagging on Windows Vista and Windows 7, and I was less than happy with my findings. The problem is that only certain file formats that support metadata can be tagged, for file types without such support it’s simply not possible to do any tagging. This is a major limitation and without ubiquitous tagging support, the feature itself becomes all but useless; as an end-user, I don’t care about file type, if I’m searching for a document should I have to remember whether it’s a Word document or a plain-text file? JPEG or TIFF? Absolutely not. The confusing thing is, at some point, Microsoft seemed to believe this as well, by default Win 2000 and higher hides file extensions for know file types – isn’t it then completely counter-intuitive to present a limitation based on file type. What this ultimately boils down to is the question of why would I bother tagging anything if only a subset of my files, based on file type, an attribute I don’t care much about, would benefit from the additional metadata?
This isn’t to say that there is necessarily an easy solution. I found this blog post to be the best write up on the topic which explains several approaches that could be taken to implement tagging and why storing metadata in the files themselves was chosen as the best approach. However, I don’t think storing metadata in the file system would be such a bad idea, I can understand the issues about losing metadata when copying to another volume, typically one with a older file system, but at some point you have to do what’s best for the future, not the present, by that I mean the only way you’d actually start to see file systems with proper support for metadata (via. NTFS-esque alternative streams or whatever) in use is by providing an imperative for users to buy or format devices with those file systems; as-is, we’ll continue to use systems such as FAT32 and programmers will continue to remain agnostic to metadata. At the very least, a hybrid approach, storing metadata both in the file itself, when supported, and within the file system would seem a worthwhile solution.