What happened to the Summary information created on Windows 2000 and Windows XP?


In Windows 2000 and Windows XP, you could add Summary information on the Details property page to files of all types. Text files, image files, some crazy file your grandmother sent you in a file format you don't know how to open. If Windows supports storing the Summary information in the file itself (for example, in EXIF tags or in Structure Storage properties), then the information gets stored there. Otherwise, Windows stashes the information in an alternate data stream. Windows Vista dropped support for storing Summary information in alternate data streams. What happened?

Support for storing Summary information in an alternate data stream was dropped in Windows Vista because alternate data streams were found to be too fragile. If you back up the file to a CD-ROM or email it to a friend or copy it to a thumb drive or upload it to a Web site or store it in a ZIP file, the alternate data stream ends up lost. It was determined that it was better simple not to allow users to create data that was so easy to destroy accidentally.

Comments (32)
  1. John says:

    So why was the Details property page dumbed down in general?  /xpclient

    On a totally separate note, I read your latest Windows Confidential column.  That "prank" is borderline malicious.  If it happened to me I would have been pissed.

  2. Queue post from xpclient griping about missing/changed Windows features – especially in the Properties window – in 3, 2, 1….

  3. EMB says:

    I've never find any use for that. I'm glad that it gone away.

    It is different from EXIF tags or ID3 tags for MP3 info.

  4. Roger says:

    You could always have taken the Mac approach and started littering zip files and other media with MACOS folders containing the alternate data streams :-)

  5. Was the alternate data stream autosorted?

    Hang on guys, we shouldn't do xpclient parodies or he'll get us all banned from MSDN blogs. Allegedly.

  6. integerpoet says:

    This story suggests to me that alternate data streams are too fragile for most uses, despite having been supported by the OS for years. Is there a part of the system or a mass-market app using alternate data streams in a way that's widely viewed as successful? If not, what are they good for in the real world? These are not rhetorical questions…

  7. Joshua says:

    All attempts of getting mainstream adoption of alternate data streams have failed. There seems to be no way that the Unix concept of a file as a bag of bytes can be changed anymore.

  8. AndyCadley says:

    @integerpoet: They are used successfully for some things, the File Blocking in Explorer when a file is downloaded from the web, for example. It doesn't really matter as much in that case that the information is lost on transferring to another location, since the concept of having come "from the web" is kind of vague once you start transferring files between PCs anyway.

  9. John says:

    @AndyCadley:  I suppose it is "successful" in terms of accomplishing its set goal, but I don't find it particularly useful.  I mean really, what is the point of that functionality?  It seems to me the most common scenario is downloading a file and using it immediately, in which case the prompt seems kind of redundant.  Just another prompt people learn to blindly click through.  In fact, the first thing I do after downloading a file is get rid of that tag.  There is probably a way to disable it in the security settings, but I am too lazy to search for it.

    ["Download and use immediately" is not the scenario the warning is protected you against. Think about the drive-by download or the download-and-forget-about-it-and-hey-whats-this? -Raymond]
  10. Joshua says:

    ["Download and use immediately" is not the scenario the warning is protected you against. Think about the drive-by download or the download-and-forget-about-it-and-hey-whats-this? -Raymond]

    So it's not as senseless as it appears after all.

  11. Jolyon Smith says:

    @JamesJohnston:  "Cue"  ;)

    Odd, because usually homophonic misspellings tend toward the simpler form.  :)

  12. Jolyon Smith says:

    Unless of course you were posting an instruction to insert an xpclient post in a FIFO structure for later posting…  :)

  13. @Jolyon Smith:

    I believe homophonic misspellings tend toward the more familiar form for the individual, though it is probably true that the simpler form is generally the more familiar form.  However, in the case of a computer scientist, "queue" is probably far more commonly used than "cue".

  14. Alex Cohn says:

    "Download and use immediately" scenario may need protection, too. Less advanced users may not be sure that a file they just downloaded is executable or otherwise dangerous.

  15. porter says:

    > Less advanced users may not be sure that a file they just downloaded is executable or otherwise dangerous.

    Give them metro and a read only file system. Problem solved.

  16. voo says:

    Wow after all those years of slightly wondering what the hell those MACOS folders were in some zips (but never enough to bother searching for it, meh lazy me), raymond's blog solved another mystery – nice :D

  17. 640k says:

    Vista actually increased the support for ADS in the command console. Please set the killbit on this technology, no one wants it!

  18. silly says:

    I always found it kind of neat that Apple's hidden folder name looks like a pre-defined C compiler macro.

  19. "You could always have taken the Mac approach and started littering zip files and other media with __MACOS__ folders containing the alternate data streams"

    Ugh – I *hate* that!  I always show hidden files on my Windows computers, and the OCD part of me goes nuts upon plugging in some flash drive that a Mac has seen fit to dump all over.  I always end up going and deleting/cleaning up.  How annoying.  And these files were for what exactly?

    "Hang on guys, we shouldn't do xpclient parodies or he'll get us all banned from MSDN blogs. Allegedly."

    Maybe we scared him off?

  20. @silly: All the more reason to hate it.  Pre-defined C macros belong in my C/C++ files.  Not filenames in my file system.  Doesn't look right!

    (It's like those questions where you're presented with a orange, grapefruit, lemon, and carrot.  Which does not belong?)

  21. xpclient says:

    No I don't blindly think every dropped feature is bad, and do believe some features need to make the cut to improve the product. I also don't blindly complain just for sake of it. Seriously some people think that and what not I'm hurt :(. I voted against the return of this feature here: http://www.windows7taskforce.com/…/3399 The design goal here is good but the compatibility efforts taken by Microsoft to offset the loss of this tab for end users are poor. They should have:

    1. Shipped Windows with as many property handlers out of the box as possible for maximum file formats so all those popular file formats in use for documents, images, music, videos can be tagged. Windows doesn't even have property handlers for PDF! They just support their own WMA/WMV and JPG, MP3, DOC etc. Because no one writes property handlers for some formats which actually support storing XMP or other metadata tags, the user is left without the ability to tag any of his non-text based formats in Vista/7.

    2. Prevent storing new info via the Summary tab but retained the 'Summary' tab as a greyed out dialog, read-only way to display info to not cause people have already stored tags using ADS for years.

    3. The Details view columns should have been reworked to display this info. Not make stupid decisions like removing column handlers. The property system, unlike column handlers has no method to display columns *for all file types*.

    4. Make the Windows property system easier to debug so it's not a nightmare to write a new property handler.

    5. Some file formats just don't support storing metadata inside the file. For those storing it in ADS isn't so bad.

  22. Nick says:

    @James:  Clearly the grapefruit — the others are quite edible :)

  23. John says:

    ["Download and use immediately" is not the scenario the warning is protected you against. Think about the drive-by download or the download-and-forget-about-it-and-hey-whats-this? -Raymond]

    I agree "use immediately" is not the scenario this is supposed to help with, but I imagine it has got to be the most common one.  The result is that you end up annoying people 80% (made up number) of the time for no reason, and they end up learning to ignore the warning anyway.

    Drive-by downloading is an interesting scenario, but it seems like a pretty weak use case considering the real problem is drive-by downloads.  I guess if you've got a gaping wound in your arm a band-aid is better than nothing.

    As for download-and-forget-about-it, that's just an extension of download-and-use-immediately in that in both cases they are downloading the file intentionally.  So if you forget about the file and come back to it sometime later, you now know you downloaded it from the Internet.  Ok, now what?  What is it?  Why did I download it?  Where did I download it from?  Now that I know I downloaded this file I should be careful with it?  As opposed to other files I come across that I don't remember where they came from?

    Are files without this tag safe?  No.  Do unsafe files have this tag?  No.  So the presence or absence of this tag doesn't really tell me anything other than this file might or might not have been downloaded from the Internet.  But I already knew that without the tag.

    Honestly the drive-by download scenario seems like the most useful, which is somewhat sad since it is essentially a last-ditch effort to protect you from vulnerabilities in other programs (*cough* Internet Explorer *cough*).

  24. "Unless of course you were posting an instruction to insert an xpclient post in a FIFO structure for later posting…  :)"

    Um, yeah, of course that's what I was meaning! :)

    Haven't you noticed how slow this forum software is to post anything?  Obviously the messages are *queued* someplace that has an awful lot of holes poked in it.  Only the fittest survive, and eventually after a great time span, the post is dequeued into the comments section. :)

  25. Drak says:

    @James, Nick: No, it's the lemon, because it is yellow and the others are not :P

  26. Anonymous Coward says:

    And that's why when you get zip files from other operating systems there are sometimes files with weird names in it. Because the designers of those operating systems don't think it's acceptable to accidentally delete stuff like that, so if a file system doesn't support it, they make it support it.

  27. A. Skrobov says:

    Raymond has covered exactly this issue, in slightly different wording, a year ago: blogs.msdn.com/…/10168422.aspx

  28. Dave says:

    >Ugh – I *hate* that!  I always show hidden files on my Windows computers, and

    >the OCD part of me goes nuts upon plugging in some flash drive that a Mac has

    >seen fit to dump all over.  I always end up going and deleting/cleaning up.

    >How annoying.

    They're not just annoying, they're potentially lethal.  With older versions of OS X, if you inserted a flash-based storage device, it'd immediately try and s**t all over it for no known reason.  Since the OS X SD drivers were somewhat buggy, this meant it'd trash the SD card on insertion (you'd have to reformat it to make it usable again, losing the contents in the process).  If you write-protected the media, it'd refuse to mount it with an incomprehensible error message.

    Thanks Steve.

  29. Skyborne says:

    In-band data is the *only* reliable place on heterogeneous carriers.  Corollary: the success of Unix's bag-of-bytes model is that it *is* the lowest grade, sort of the 8.3 filename of data storage.

    In some applications, metadata is considered important enough to wedge into a system designed without it, such as Joliet and Rock Ridge, or MIME; or out-of-band signaling is important enough to build an entire network with end-to-end support for the OOB data–the obvious example here being telephone companies.

  30. David Walker says:

    If the Summary information can come from data *within* the file, and not from an alternate data stream, that would be great.  

    Different data types might require a different format inside the file to hold the information that is displayed in the summary information, but that shouldn't be too hard.  The Sumamry screen would then be displaying a formatted view of some of the data from inside the file.  And that data would get copied with the file, since it's part of the file.  

    The definition for this structure could be added to existing files, starting now.  But, whether there is a compelling reason to do this, or not, I don't know.

  31. alegr1 says:

    "With older versions of OS X, if you inserted a flash-based storage device, it'd immediately try and s**t all over it for no known reason."

    Well, Vista (and probably Win7?) will siht, too. It will try to create a file to test RadyBust readyness for the drive. If you have a misfortune of having Windows Media Player playing some file, it will immediately stop and drop a file on the flash (what moron came with this misfeature?).

  32. Jim says:

    Are alternative data streams subject to file tunnelling? If not then simply editing the file could cause them to be lost, which definitely makes them pretty fragile.

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