Pushing forward its specification for remote file-sharing over the Internet and corporate intranets, Microsoft is playing host this week to more than 35 companies at its headquarters in Redmond, Washington, for the first technical conference on the Common Internet File System (CIFS) protocol. The new protocol is an extension of Microsoft's Server Message Block (SMB) protocol, which is in use on most PCs running Windows and OS/2.
CIFS takes the protocol further than SMB or the Internet protocol FTP (File Transfer Protocol) by supporting rich file access and letting multiple users open and simultaneously read or update the same file over the Internet. "CIFS is their Internet file system and a replacement for FTP," says Rob Enderle, a senior industry analyst with Giga Information Group, in Santa Clara, California. "In theory, it will let you act on a remote file system as if it were a local file system," Enderle says.
But CIFS could potentially overlap with a protocol being developed at Sun -- WebNFS (Network File System), based on the Unix NFS standard for file sharing.
In spite of the potential overlap, Unix vendors -- Sun, Hewlett- Packard, IBM and The Santa Cruz Operation are scheduled to attend the meeting. Microsoft submitted the CIFS specification to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) as an Internet draft document in June. "Microsoft is learning how to play the standards game," says Carl Cargill, standards strategist at Netscape Communications, in Mountain View, California. Cargill plans to attend the Microsoft meeting.
Microsoft's immediate goal is to get the specification published as an informational request for comment (RFC), according to Gary Voth, group product manager for strategic technologies and standards at Microsoft. "If there are a lot of people in the industry that believe this protocol would be a good thing, then it might go to a working group of the IETF," Voth says.
But, Voth concedes, "Microsoft is the author of this protocol and technology, and we are not putting it into the standards track process with the IETF right now." The IETF standards track would first call for a "birds of a feather" meeting of interested vendors, and then it would create a working group of any vendors who are interested in writing an RFC.
Other vendors planning to attend the conference include AT&T, Apple, Digital, Sequent and Unisys.