Microsoft Research demos “copy-aware computing”: source control with a twist

Today, operating systems and software have made it exponentially easier to mash-up content, we’re likely to spend more time managing files than actually creating them.

Microsoft Researchers asked themselves, what would the computing experience look like if systems could track and surface copy relationships of files across applications, users and even networks. Luckily they also have an answer.

Through their research, they concluded that for a number of valid reasons users often make copies of the same file. Of note, the same “file” can also represent different filetypes of the same content such as a PDF version of a Word document. Together with attachments sent and received through collaboration, the flow of document versions is often hard to distinguish and even harder to visualize.

In an attempt to solve this problem, the researchers prototyped a companion application to the Windows Explorer shell to demonstrate “copy-aware computing”. One example of this is a “show history” menu option for files which visualizes a branching tree indicating the origins of the document and the versions that has been saved and emailed.

In another example, their prototype empowers users to search the filesystem based on workflow criteria such as files uploaded to Flickr or sent to a particular friend. The companion app also warns users if they are deleting the last of an unique version of a file.

Understandably the prototype is not refined at all, they do present an interesting opportunity for future operating systems to not only be aware of the changes to a single file, but a “versionset” – a collection of files with an ancestral relationship that maintains a link even when moved back and forth across devices and users.

8 insightful thoughts

  1. Holy awesome batman, think about the uses in Document Management System if you could pull up that kind of information from the OS File Metadata.

  2. So very useful; so little chance of it appearing in a “wow” way in any product any time soon. :-\

  3. Hmm, still waiting on WinFS based file relationships. Microsoft need to focus their efforts and make something a reality.

    1. Then, check out Zet Universe. It has relationships between files 😉 Gives you a futuristic user experience similar to one from the Productivity Future Vision 2009, with ability to visually organize files and other stuff into clusters, the way you think about them.

      Check it out here:

      Disclaimer: I was WinFS evangelist back in 2005-2006, then worked at Microsoft, participated in the Productivity Future Vision 2009 project in collaboration with Office Labs, and developed Zet Universe.

  4. The taskbar is really throwing me – what version of Windows is this on? There’s both the Vista and 7 explorer windows, but the taskbar seems to be staight Vista? (which is just strange to begin with)

    1. I think that they are running both operating systems, but on two different machines. When the screen fades out, it shows the Windows 7 explorer. I think it is two different uses to simulate collaboration. What do you think?

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