"The plan we have does give up WinFS shipping with Longhorn. And so if you want my basic assessment here, the glass is three-quarters full". As soon as the Longhorn promotional machine kicked into gear, some part of Bill Gates must have suspected this sound-bite, or something very like it, was destined to pass his lips before the OS eventually shipped.
Although Microsoft has made the WinFS search functionality a key part of its marketing push for the next version of Windows, the company never sounded completely convincing - or, indeed, convinced. The idea of being able to find a piece of information, regardless of format, is nearly as old as the computer industry itself. It's a white whale that Gates has been hunting for over a decade.
Back in 1992, Jim Allchin detailed a vision for a new version of Windows, code-named Cairo, which would include a revamped user interface and a new data store, called the Object File System (OFS), for storing document files, spreadsheets, multimedia files and other information. But despite the hype and promises, successive releases of Windows were spun out of Redmond sans Cairo. And, once again, it seems Longhorn is set join an esteemed pedigree of Windows products without the much-sought universal file-system.
So what does all this mean? Well, there are a lot of factors at play, not least the nagging presence of Linux. The open-source OS is not considered a commercial threat on the desktop at present. But if Microsoft was to go with the original concept of Longhorn with WinFS intact, and with a ship-date of around 2007, then who's to say how much ground the Linux could have made up in that time? Surely now is not the time to be chasing after software utopia. If the competition is eating into your market with a 'just enough to do the job' approach, then forgetting the idealism and shipping the best you can, as soon as you can, makes sense, right?
Maybe, but by opting to hit a deadline rather than deliver what it's promised, Microsoft will please hardware companies and OEMs but may still lose the Longhorn long-game. Microsoft has cut down the window of opportunity for the competition, for sure, but by punting a stripped-down product, the company risks losing one of its chief marketing arguments against Linux -- functionality. The mantra until now has been: Linux does the job, just, but Microsoft does it all and more. But without WinFS, Bill better get used to a cup that no longer-runneth over.