Microsoft kills standalone WinFS file system

Microsoft has pulled the plug on one of Bill Gates' pet projects just over a week after he turned the technical mantle of his company over to Ray Ozzie.

Just over a week after Bill Gates said he will leave his role as chief software architect at Microsoft, one of his pet projects -- the WinFS file system for Windows -- is now officially dead.

Through a late Friday blog posting by Quentin Clark, a member of the WinFS development team last week, Microsoft conveyed the news that the WinFS data storage and management system will no longer be released as a discrete technology. Rather, the functionality will find its way into other Microsoft products, such as the next version of SQL Server.

WinFS was once supposed to be the relational file system and one of the three pillars underpinning the Windows Longhorn Server as it was described at the Professional Developers Conference in September 2003.

This technology, which was widely acknowledged as a massive undertaking, was supposed to provide an integrated store for file data, relational data and XML data. The other two pillars of Windows Longhorn were Indigo, now the Windows Communication Foundation, and Avalon, now called Windows Presentation Foundation.

Microsoft had removed WinFS from Windows Longhorn almost two years ago and said it would be released as a separate product. The first beta of WinFS was released about one year ago, and a second beta was planned for this fall. Windows Longhorn is slated to ship in late 2007.

Microsoft is shifting its strategy again with the decision not to release WinFS as a standalone software component. Instead, the technology will materialize in other ways, Clark said. For example, unstructured data support and auto-admin work will be delivered in the next release of SQL Server, code-named Katmai due in 2007 or 2008.

"With most of our effort now working toward productizing mature aspects of the WinFS project into SQL and ADO.NET, we do not need to deliver a separate WinFS offering," Clark said in his blog.

IT managers and developers interact with the file system primarily through higher-level products, such as Visual Studio, SQL Server and System Center Data Protection Manager. These products will incorporate aspects of what would have been WinFS, said Neil Macehiter, a partner at Macehiter Ward-Dutton, a Cambridge, U.K.,-based consulting firm.

"While WinFS won't be the focus going forward, the notion of the Data Platform Vision will be," Macehiter said.

Microsoft has done a good job with the search and organize features of Vista, providing much of the user experience of WinFS without it being baked into the platform, he said.

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