why do Windows filesystems suck so?

September 26th, 2006

As far as I know, there has been *no* development on the filesystem front at Microsoft. Of course, there was the vaporware WinFS, but that was supposed to be a meta fs on top of ntfs anyway. So, I think it's safe to assume that the filesystem that shipped with Windows NT, ntfs, continues to please. Otherwise there is still fat32, and the WinXP installer gives you the option to use either one. I am not impressed by any of these two.

Historically, fat32 was a replacement for fat16, it was great when it first came out with Windows95, supporting long file names, files up to 4gb size etc. But today, 4gb is a size exceeded by lots of files. fat32 is also fairly prone to crashes. If you pull the cord just as a file write is in progress, the drive halts in a corrupted state. So next time you boot, Windows will run scandisk to examine the state of the damage. This could be harmless, it could also be quite serious, depending on your luck.

Enter ntfs, the "industrial strength" filesystem the world was waiting for. ntfs I think is the only option in Windows Vista, and it looks like Microsoft will be banking on it for many years yet. And yet I've had more unrecoverable crashes with ntfs than I've had with fat32 (which I've use longer). I recall using Partition Magic back in the days, which worked like a charm with anything but ntfs. And the checks for corruption on ntfs volumes would also takes ages to complete. I stopped using ntfs as I just didn't trust it. It's like a complicated beast of a system (which I guess is why old PowerQuest didn't do such a great job of supporting it), that noone (save for MS) seems to understand, that only works well in ideal conditions (don't try to resize it or anything 'crazy' like that) and if it crashes, who knows what to do. The lack of ntfs support on linux also tells the story of a filesystem which might just be more complicated than it needs to be. In addition, there's no straightforward way to make a full system backup (without specialized 3rd party software), because of all the special locks and restrictions MS has on selected files.

While it's evident that fat32 is antiquated, I would only use ntfs while vigorously backing it up (to the extent that it's even possible), knowing that if it blows up, there's a host of complicated ntfs recovery tools out there, most very limited in what they offer, but none that I've actually succeeded doing anything with.

:: random entries in this category ::

5 Responses to "why do Windows filesystems suck so?"

  1. Steve Dibb says:

    I think there have actually been some very small (maybe minor, I dont know) upgrades to NTFS itself.

    But yah, I agree. I think for the most part development is dead, which is a real shame.

  2. Nawaf says:

    I agree 100%..

    Plus, with ext3, you don't have to defrag :D

  3. numerodix says:

    Oh ext3 frags too, don't think it doesn't. Of course if you make backups, you can just tar /, format, untar. 100% flawless defrag. Takes about half an hour, depending on how big your partition is.

  4. SirRichard says:

    Your reasons for not liking NTFS are outdated. Partition Magic _can_ work with NTFS partitions now, as can linux (there is a kernel module which does flawless reads and writes). Additionally, there are many Linux Live CDs out there with the tools (ntfsresize, qt_parted, etc) to do resizing NTFS partitions. However, NTFS still sucks. It's old and on the Win32 platform you're stuck with it. On a Linux platform you have the choice of fast and stable (ext3) or cutting edge (reiserfs, jfs, xfs).. EXT3 is a lot faster than NTFS too. Try checking out a large source tree from CVS on WinXP, and do the same on Linux with an EXT3 partition... Then delete the huge source tree. You'll find EXT3 about an order of magnitude faster for both operations.

  5. Graham says:

    Couldn't agree more... I think I've had no less than 5 (major) unrecoverable data losses while trying to perform simple operations on NTFS partitions.