WinFS: Returned to its womb?

Summary:In writing WinFS R.I.P., my fellow ZDNet blogger Marc Orchant devotes sufficient text and linkage to what to many appears to be the death of WinFS: the supposedly revolutionary new Windows file system that Microsoft can't seem to shrink wrap and get out the door.

In writing WinFS R.I.P., my fellow ZDNet blogger Marc Orchant devotes sufficient text and linkage to what to many appears to be the death of WinFS: the supposedly revolutionary new Windows file system that Microsoft can't seem to shrink wrap and get out the door.  Wrote Orchant:

WinFS, the new-fangled file system that was one of the crown jewels of the original Longhorn (nee Vista) vision for years has been laid to rest in Redmond, Washington....I tried to find a silver lining in the announcement that WinFS had been killed. Amidst the flowery prose about how this was really all about a change in direction and how WinFS would enhance future versions of SQL Server and ADO.NET, I kept hearing a small voice in my head asking, "but what about the end users?".

Even Robert Scoble, who usually has the inside scoop on everything newsworthy happening insde the software giant had a hard time making heads or tails of the situation. 

Interesting threads on an internal Microsoft alias today. Employees are questioning why we (Microsoft employees) can't just own up to the truth and stop spinning when we have bad news to report....What happened to WinFS?  The Web killed it...Update 2: Shishir Mehrotra of the WinFS team wrote me and other bloggers who are talking about this internally and said my theory is wrong and that WinFS hasn't died at all, but is actually being rolled into SQL Server and a new project that's under development.

OK, there you have it.  I think.  

The funny thing about that party line is that my understanding of WinFS was that it was borne out of SQL Server.  Back in 2003, I wrote a piece on how the future of storage is in the metadata and talked a little bit about WinFS and its roots:

For example, Microsoft has already made it clear that its forthcoming Yukon relational database technology is a key building block to WinFS. Although we most often hear about WinFS during discussions of Longhorn, Microsoft's ambitions for WinFS won't stop at the desktop. When you consider any of these storage virtualization technologies and the voluminous amounts of metadata they will have to keep track of, it's not surprising to see that, based on the advertised advancements (high availability, additional backup and restore capabilities, replication enhancements, and secure by default) of its next generation database technology, why Microsoft's WinFS is waiting for Yukon. 

It wouldn't be the first time a database was used to create a robust filesystem.  The filesystem behind IBM's System 36 was similar database based.  Around two weeks after I wrote that, Bill Gates took the stage at Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference and referred to WinFS as the Holy Grail. From the transcript of that presentation:

"WinFS" -- this is unified storage.  Some of you here have heard me talk about unified storage for more than a decade.  The idea of taking the XML flexibility, database technology, getting it into the file system:  that's been a Holy Grail for me for quite some time.  And here it is.  Thank goodness we have got the powerful systems to be able to do this thing.  Thank goodness we have the evolution around XML and user interface capabilities, so that this can all come together. 

But then, in August 2004, the company pulled back on its ambitions to include WinFS in what was then codenamed Longhorn (now, Vista) only to revive it under a plan that would roll the beleaguered filesystem out for both Windows Vista and Windows XP (causing some to question why Vista will be a big deal if some of the improvements targeted for the new OS including WinFS, Avalon, and Indigo were working their way back into older versions of Windows).

Now, at the very best, WinFS appears to be returning to that from whence it came: Microsoft's database server technology.  If Scoble is right about the Web killing WinFS -- at least the latest incarnation of it -- then there's more.... much more to this story than meets the eye. After all, what else is the Web good at that was once strictly the domain of thick operating systems and the applications that run on them?

Disclosure: In the spirit of media transparency, I want to disclose that in addition to my day job at ZDNet, I'm also a co-organizer of Mashup Camp and Mashup University. Microsoft, which is mentioned in this story, is one of the sponsors of both upcoming events. For more information on my involvement with these events, see the special disclosure page that I've prepared and published here on ZDNet.

Topics: Microsoft


David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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