Cut From Longhorn, WinFS Is in Peril

The Windows Future Storage (WinFS) technology that got cut out of Windows "Longhorn" is in serious trouble, and not just the hot water a feature might encounter for missing its intended production vehicle.

WinFS faces a much greater threat. It's entering that resource allocation limbo that a Microsoft technology encounters when it's no longer on the priority list for the next major rev of Windows.

WinFS is an ambitious file system overhaul, aimed at making everything on a system searchable—from documents to media files to structured information—with a single set of search terms. It's something Microsoft has tried to build for a decade.

WinFS was one of three main pillars of the Windows "Longhorn" client. The other two, "Indigo" and "Avalon" survived a late August round of feature trimming that signals Microsoft is getting serious about delivering Longhorn. The company now says the Longhorn client will ship in 2006 with those two pillars mostly intact.

Microsoft spun its decision to delay WinFS by laying out a seemingly solid roadmap for the technology. The company promises a beta version of WinFS add-on technology when the Longhorn client ships. But if a general availability ship date announcement from Microsoft is something to be taken with a grain of salt, a beta commitment is something you can pour the whole shaker on.

TechWatch: WinFS

Peter Spiro, pulled from the SQL Server team to spearhead the WinFS effort, will be hard pressed to keep top developers from defecting to nearer term projects with a better chance of being delivered. Involvement with a shipping project is a major mark of prestige at Microsoft, where the best developers are famous for jumping from project to project.

Spiro, one of Microsoft's elite Distinguished Engineers, has something else to worry about—a server version of WinFS. As of the Professional Developers Conference last October, WinFS was a client-only play. Customers demanded the server tool to allow synchronization, according to Microsoft Group Vice President of Platforms Jim Allchin.

So now the add-on has to be rationalized against both the client and server versions of Longhorn, which are shipping on different schedules. Microsoft has delivered major add-ons before, such as the .NET Framework, and a series of minor ones with Windows Server 2003, including Windows SharePoint Services. But a file system is very deep code that affects nearly everything else in the operating system. The idea of providing that technology as an add-on seems disruptive, to say the least.

Perhaps Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates' large personal stake in WinFS will shepherd the technology to market either in Longhorn server or, even further out, the "Blackcomb" version of Windows. We will be keeping a close eye on WinFS. It's a visionary, extremely useful idea, and we'd love to see it come to fruition. But it's sure nothing to bet on right now.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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Reader Comments:

Tue, Jan 25, 2005 Ken Montana

Having spent 12 years at MS, I would postulate that Blackcomb is little more than slideware at the moment. WinFS at least has a codebase to work with. The Senior VP's in charge wouldn't have recruited a distinguished engineer if they weren't serious about continuing the project, but the issues to be solved are likely "deep design" concepts. WinFS probably has a growing stigma associated with it (the next death march), but this kind of technology has been the "white whale" of MS' OS re-design efforts for over a decade and it's not likely to die quietly.

Tue, Jan 25, 2005 Mark Boston

From "Cairo" to the Exchange 2K-SharePoint Web Store to WinFS, the metadata-enhanced filesystem is the Windows technology of the future, and always will be.

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