Microsoft Stays Mum on Plans for Windows, WinFS

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-06-26

Microsoft Stays Mum on Plans for Windows, WinFS

Now that Microsoft has announced it is not pursuing the separate delivery of WinFS as a stand-alone offering, the Redmond-based software maker is also making clear that it has no intention of discussing its post-Vista plans for Windows and WinFS anytime soon.

"A lot of people are asking about the roadmap [for WinFS and Windows] going forward, but we are just not discussing that at this point in time," said Corey Thomas, the group product manager for SQL Server, in an interview with eWEEK on June 26.

Microsoft first announced that it was no longer pursuing the separate delivery of WinFS, or the previously planned second beta release of the product—which it had long been promising—in a June 23 blog posting by Quentin Clark, the product unit manager for Microsofts SQL/WinFS unit.

"With most of our effort now working toward productizing mature aspects of the WinFS project into SQL and ADO.NET, we do not need to deliver a separate WinFS offering," Clark said in that post.

Some, like Burton group analyst Peter OKelly, say they believe this was a necessary and pragmatic decision.

"Microsoft was more than a little bit on the woefully optimistic side when it introduced WinFS in 2003 and … the revised approach, reflecting significant developer input over the last three years, is much more pragmatic. The WinFS vision has always been laudable; the company was simply too ambitious in trying to bring it to fruition with a single .Net Framework extension," he said.

But others, including some attendees of Microsofts annual TechEd show held in Boston earlier in June, were taken by surprise, especially since Clark told them at the show that a second, publicly available beta of WinFS would be available some time later in 2006.

Click here to read more on what Microsoft had to say about the future of WinFS at TechEd 2006.

Clark also delved into Microsofts evolving vision for WinFS—a technology that was expected to be the killer feature for Vista and Longhorn Server.

But, in August 2004, Microsoft cut WinFS out of both operating-system releases in order to be able to ship them in more of a timely fashion.

But it said that WinFS would be made available as a stand-alone technology after Vista and Longhorn Server shipped.

In line with this approach, Microsoft released the first beta of WinFS in September 2005 and refreshed that beta in December 2005.

Thomas said the discrepancy between the information about WinFS shared at TechEd and this latest announcement, by saying the WinFS decision was only made late last week.

"Even though we had major discussions at TechEd, we wanted to get this latest information out to our customers and partners as soon as possible, even though we knew we would take a bit of a knock for having one conversation at TechEd and then announcing the changes in the ship vehicle a couple of weeks later," he said.

The Burton groups OKelly believes that WinFS as it was known will die a rather lonely death.

"Im sure some Microsoft customers and partners are annoyed about the change in plans, but Id be willing to bet the change in plans is the direct result of clear feedback from a relatively larger group of otherwise annoyed Microsoft customers and partners who told Microsoft, probably at TechEd, that the WinFS plan of record wasnt realistic," he said.

That view is borne out by Microsofts Thomas, who detailed the rationale behind the decision.

Next Page: Data platform vision.

Data Platform Vision

Microsoft had recently been talking a lot about its data platform vision strategy, and one of the big things that Paul Flessner, Microsofts senior vice president for server applications, had started talking about a couple of months ago was its data platform vision, he said.

This included the concept of "all data; going beyond just relational data and helping customers get more value from their structured and unstructured information assets," Thomas said, adding that Microsoft has also looked at other things like cost, complexity, TCO and business intelligence.

"The thing that shocked us a little bit was the overwhelming positive response we got from customers to the idea of how best to manage this growing volume of structured and unstructured data. As we took a harder look at the feedback and how best to bring this to market and execute on it, it became increasingly clear that leveraging a lot of the more mature incubation technologies inside of WinFS was going to help us deliver on that promise and goal," Thomas said.

But he was unwilling to talk about the direction and roadmap for Windows post-Vista, saying that it was "still real early in the planning cycle and so we are not talking about post-Vista plans for Windows.

"We are only saying that the WinFS technologies will be included in SQL Server going forward and that we will not have the monolithic software component of WinFS in beta two form," he said.

While Thomas said this does not preclude future versions of Windows from leveraging the technologies that are in WinFS, he declined to say whether this was the plan or even likely.

But he did say that Microsoft was still focused on the integrated storage vision for SQL Server, Windows and "everyone else. That is what we are trying to accomplish; the end goal. But what we have announced is how this will happen with SQL Server, but we are not talking about how that will happen for Windows post-Vista," he said.

But Vista did deliver a lot of the WinFS experience, particularly in terms of the goals of integrated storage, that had been first talked about, Thomas said, pointing to the new Vista search experience and the ability it brings to better manage information.

While he acknowledged that there was some angst about when the long-promised pure relational file system would debut, he said Microsoft was simply not ready to talk about that.

"We got so much feedback about the struggle between structured and unstructured data and how they can be tied together. Customers have all this data in their database and all this information in files, all of which is actionable and critical to their systems, and they want to know how they can bridge those together," Thomas said.

The latest move was also not an indication that the WinFS code was not up to scratch and the team needed more time to work on it rather than admitting beta two would take longer to be released than planned, he said.

You have to step through the decision-making process: Once we got the feedback and saw that there is a real customer pain-point in managing the data that is out there, then we have to look at the most impactful, large-scale way we can address that, and then you have to prioritize to deliver on that," Thomas said.

Asked how Windows Live services would be able to take advantage of the WinFS technologies going forward, Thomas said Microsoft is still working on this.

"We think there are good opportunities in the information space, but this is something that is in process and that we are still looking at."

He also dismissed as premature speculation talk that many of the features that would have been found in the stand-alone WinFS will show up in SharePoint, pointing out that SharePoint runs on top of SQL Server.

eWEEK Labs recently reviewed Office SharePoint Server 2007. Click here to read more.

"There is lots of synergy between those two teams. But we look at SharePoint and SQL as a package of things together, and it is premature to talk about specific features being found in one rather than the other," he said.

For his part, Burton Group analyst OKelly said he feels there are too many moving parts to try to be precise in speculating when the fully integrated storage model Microsoft has been pursuing for many years will arrive.

"But its going to happen eventually … In the meantime, as Microsoft and other vendors strive to present virtually unified data and content abstractions to both developers and end users, the industry is still making considerable progress," he said.

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