Behind Microsofts WinFS Shift

Microsoft took many by surprise when officials announced in a blog post that the Redmond, Wash., software maker is not pursuing the previously planned separate delivery of WinFS or the second beta for the product.

Microsoft took many by surprise when officials announced in a blog post June 23 that the Redmond, Wash., software maker is not pursuing the previously planned separate delivery of WinFS or the second beta for the product. Corey Thomas, group product manager for SQL Server, explained to eWeek Senior Editor Peter Galli on June 26 the rationale behind the decision and why Microsoft believes it is good for most of its customers, partners and developers.

Can you explain the enormous discrepancy between all the information about WinFS that was shared just two weeks ago at Microsofts TechEd conference [June 11-16 in Boston], including talk of a second beta for the product, and this latest announcement that you are not pursuing a separate delivery of WinFS, including the previously planned Beta 2?

The presenters at TechEd were operating in good faith. The decision to do this was actually only made late last week. [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.

So, what you are saying is that the presenters at TechEd knew these changes were under consideration but that no final decision had been made?

The decision was only made after TechEd. But everyone has always known that SQL Server was part of the data platform strategy, and they were working closely with the SQL Server team, and that has been an ongoing discussion. What they didnt know was that a couple of weeks later we would make a decision to change the ship vehicle strategy.

Tell me why that decision was made and what the basis was for it.

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 our data platform vision, and that had a couple of pillars behind it. One of those was the idea of all data going beyond just relational data and helping customers get more value from their structured and unstructured information assets. We also looked at other things around cost, complexity, TCO [total cost of ownership] 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 WinFS was going to help us deliver on that promise and goal.

So, what you are saying is that customers told you they would rather see you productizing the mature aspects of the WinFS project into SQL and ADO.Net at the expense of Windows and Office, right?

We havent commented on the Windows direction and road map post-Vista. Right now, we are not talking about post-Vista plans for Windows, and we are only saying that these technologies will be included in SQL Server and that we will not have the monolithic software component of WinFS in Beta 2 form. That does not preclude us from using these technologies in Windows going forward.

But one of the things the Windows team has said is that WinFS would be made available as an add-on subsequent to the release of Windows Vista. So how will these technologies now find their way into Windows going forward?

Well, to be clear, there will now not be a WinFS add-on subsequent to the release of Vista. But we are 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. 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.

So are you saying that the goal of a single, integrated store for Windows, Office and SQL Server data is still alive and well?

The integrated storage goals are still there, alive and well. We have decided not to have a stand-alone software component that shipped post-Vista, but those goals are still there. But we are still real early in the planning cycle and are not talking about that.

So, to be clear, there is still the possibility of a single, integrated store for Windows and Office and SQL down the line?

Yes, Windows could leverage the technologies that are in WinFS in future versions.

There is a lot of unhappiness about this decision, as many people wanted to see Microsoft integrate the relational file system with the Win32 API. They are now concerned that this is not going to happen at all. Is that the case?

That is an incorrect assumption. We have only talked about one aspect of our vision around the data platform, and we have received positive feedback around that. A lot of people are asking about the road map going forward, and we are just not discussing that at this time. We are really focused on making sure we deliver Vista, which we think is a great release and delivers a lot of the WinFS experience we first talked about with regard to search and organization. There is some speculation—as people dont know, and we are not in a position to disclose more, as we are focused on Vista right now.