Microsoft Switches WinFS Course (Again)

Microsoft pulled an about-face late when it decided not to pursue a separate delivery of the WinFS file system as a stand-alone offering, a move that some observers say is wise.

Microsoft pulled an about-face late last month when it decided not to pursue a separate delivery of the WinFS file system as a stand-alone offering, a move that some observers say is wise.

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

"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 Peter OKelly, an analyst at Burton Group, in Midvale, Utah, said they believe the decision was necessary and pragmatic.

"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," OKelly said. "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."

But others, including some attendees of Microsofts annual TechEd show held in Boston June 11-16, were taken by surprise, especially since Clark had told them at the show that a second, publicly available beta of WinFS would be available sometime later this year.

Clark explained at TechEd 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 so it could ship them in a more timely fashion. Company officials said 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 last September and refreshed that beta in December.

Now with the shift in strategy, the software maker is also making clear it has no intention of discussing its post-Vista plans for Windows and WinFS any time soon.

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

"[Although] 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," Thomas said (see related interview, Page 19).

Burton Groups OKelly said he believes WinFS as it is now 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 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," OKelly said.

While Thomas said the move does not preclude future versions of Windows from leveraging WinFS technologies, he declined to say whether this is the plan or even likely to happen. But he did say Microsoft remains focused on an integrated storage vision for SQL Server, Windows and "everyone else."

"That is what we are trying to accomplish, the end goal. 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," Thomas said.

In addition, Thomas said, Vista does deliver some of the WinFS experience, particularly in terms of the goals of integrated storage and information management that had been first talked about.

OKelly said there are too many variables involved to try to speculate on when the fully integrated storage model Microsoft has been pursuing for many years will arrive.

"But its going to happen eventually," OKelly said. "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."

WinFS—a timeline of delays


* Microsoft starts talking about the next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn

* Longhorns key feature will be a new relational file system, known as WinFS


* In August, Microsoft says it is cutting WinFS from Longhorn so it can ship on schedule in 2006

* Officials say WinFS will debut after Windows Longhorn and Longhorn Server as a stand-alone product


* Ships WinFS Beta 1 in September, updates it in December 2006

* In March, Microsoft announces Windows Vista, formerly Longhorn, will ship in 2007

* In June, Microsoft talks about its plans for WinFS Beta 2 at its TechEd conference in Boston

* Two weeks later, the company says it is no longer pursuing a separate delivery of WinFS, including the planned Beta 2 release

* Officials say Microsoft will productize the mature aspects of the WinFS project into the next version of SQL Server, code-named Katmai, and ADO.Net

Source: eWeek reporting