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R.I.P. WinFS

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. Vaya con dios. Sadly, the ability to admit failure seems to be sharing the grave with the now all-but-abandoned attempt to reinvent how data is stored, indexed and retrieved.

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. Vaya con dios. Sadly, the ability to admit failure seems to be sharing the grave with the now all-but-abandoned attempt to reinvent how data is stored, indexed and retrieved. 

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?".

WinFS was supposed to revolutionize our ability to manage the increasingly overwhelming amount of stuff we al collect. Images, podcasts, RSS feeds, documents... we're burying ourselves alive in data and WinFS promised to be the new and improved shovel that would help us dig our way out. I turns out, to paraphrase the bald kid in The Matrix, "there is no shovel".

Charles Miller has a great post about the death of WinFS that really puts it all into proper perspective. Here's a choice quote but go read the whole thing:

The blog post itself, however, is written entirely in marketing-speak. The engineer talks about how super-excited the team is about this “new direction”, how encouraging this news is, and leaves the fate of Vista for a final, particularly obfuscatory paragraph. Nary a word is allowed to suggest that the last nail in the coffin for Vista’s most eagerly anticipated feature might be a huge let-down to those people who have been watching it slip further and further down the schedule since its fanfare announcement as a part of Longhorn three years ago.

Did Microsoft forget everything Scoble was supposed to be teaching them, so quickly?

Every now and then, you’ve got to put out a mea culpa. You’ve promised something that turned into something else, or that you changed your mind about, or that you just can’t deliver. In the mass-media world, you do this by spinning the story as positively as you can. The message will be filtered by intermediaries before it reaches the public, and it’s expected the journalists in the middle will get the point, pulling quotes from the positive spin to offset the otherwise negative message.

Scoble thinks the web killed WinFS. More opinion can be found on TechMeme. Personally, I think Charles nailed it (pun fully intended).

UPDATE: Joe Wilcox of Jupiter Research writes about the demise of WinFS on the Microsoft Monitor blog and says:

No one should view Friday as a slow news day anymore, with respect to Microsoft. What's that saying about a tree falling in a forest? If Microsoft drops a big announcement after market close on a Friday--typically slowest news day of the week--will anyone hear it?

The WinFS announcement is huge, and it's no "Update" as the title of Quentin Clark's post suggests. There will be no WinFS Beta 2. The technology is dead. In August 2004--same month Microsoft promised Windows Longhorn (now called Vista) would be broadly available in 2006 (It's not gonna be)--WinFS was sidelined for delivery separate from the operating system. Microsoft later released a beta of the file storage technology. Like Windows Vista's most recent delay, WinFS is delayed, too. Or, rather, dead.