Richi Jennings

Farewell WinFS, we hardly knew you (and say cheese)

June 26, 2006 6:03 AM EDT
Wow. Just wow, it's IT Blogwatch, in which Microsoft appears to cancel the WinFS "relational filesystem"  project. Not to mention what happens when you set the camera to movie, not picture mode...

It all started with Quentin Clark's post to the WinFS team blog: "Today I have an update about how we are delivering some of the WinFS technologies. It represents a change to our original delivery strategy, but it's a change that we think that you'll like ... These changes do mean that we are not pursuing a separate delivery of WinFS, including the previously planned Beta 2 release.  With most of our effort now working towards productizing mature aspects of the WinFS project into SQL and ADO.NET, we do not need to deliver a separate WinFS offering ... it's what people have been asking for – as we work with customers, we're constantly hearing that they want many of the technologies to be more broadly available in the data platform products. That feedback was taken seriously ... I know people won't be shy with questions and comments."

» People weren't! People like davidacoder: "reasons people were excited about WinFs ... all of these are gone for good now. Writing a post like [this] is just PR spin, be open and frank about this. Part of that would be to come forward and let us know WHAT the reason was this was killed ... I strongly believe that having a blog and engaging in an honest conversation can only work if you then don't try to play the usual PR 'every decision is great' messages."

» Charles Miller agrees: "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."

» Mini Microsoft's reaction is predictable: "Quentin Clark sort of says 'WinFS is dead. Long live WinFS!' Aspects of WinFS are being rolled into other products, WinFS is going away, and that grand relational-filesystem is going back into ivory-tower incubation. Great. So how much money and cross-team integrated innovation randomization did we invest in WinFS?"

» Dare Obasanjo concurs: "It's sad to think about the projects that got killed or disrupted because of WinFS only for this to happen. In a recent column entitled Taking One for the Team Robert X. Cringley has a quote from Management By Baseball by Jeff Angus which reads 'When I worked for a few years at Microsoft Corporation in the early '80s, one cared to track and codify past failures as a way to help managers create guidelines of paths to follow and avoid'. I hope this doesn't end up happening with the lessons from the WinFS project."

» Sun's Tim Bray mourns: "Wow, it’s dead. You have to be sad when anything goes south that so many people have worked on so hard for so long. Still, I remember being told in the early Nineties, when I was talking up Unix servers, that I was silly and wrong because the Cairo object filesystem would make everything else irrelevant. And then years later, when I was selling search and content management for a living, being told once again that we’d all be casualties of the WinFS bandwagon. I wonder if, in other professions as in ours, the conventional wisdom is so often so wrong?"

» Zef Hemel: "Remember WinFS ... one of the three pillars of Longhorn? ... WinFS was supposed to be the big change in how you managed your data. It would be super easy to search any kind of data. It would be possible to link files to contacts, contacts to images and so on and so forth ... It was going to be great. Then, almost two years ago Microsoft announced WinFS was not going to make it into Longhorn, it was more work than expected. It would be beta around the release of Longhorn (now Vista). A shame, WinFS was the most interesting feature of Longhorn for me. But still Vista will have better search capabilities, but it’s not WinFS ... But all of that seems to be forgotten now. Anyway it’s not going to happen. That WinFS is over. Dead. This is just spinning it in a way to make it look like a super-exciting thing. A bit pathetic."

» segedunum: "Always thought this would happen. Not only was the original concept of WinFS pretty difficult from a technology point of view, but people at Microsoft suddenly thought: 'Hang on. If we deliver a rich database storage engine integrated into Windows then that threatens the existence of SQL Server.' ... I also really, really love how every Microsoft employee has it drilled into them from an early age that any decision made, in reality for the pure benefit of Microsoft, is actually a decision made for the benefit of customers and as a result of extensive customer feedback! This is so deeply embedded in them I'm sure they believe it themselves now."

» Brandon Gilchrist is more apologetic: "WinFS has long been regarded by Microsoft-haters as vaporware ... Yesterday, Microsoft proved them right ... Sure, in many ways this is a positive action.  No longer will there be separate API’s for the WinFS and the Enterprise Server products.  This was one of the biggest complaints Microsoft heard since they began showing WinFS in 2003. It made no sense to have the free Windows data engine have support for unstructured data and hands-free self-management while the expensive SQL Server 200x lacked such features and required different API’s ... [but] it seems Microsoft has forgotten about the users in favor of “developers, developers, developers”. The most shocking part of it all is how quickly they forgot about us.  Just 2 weeks ago they were showing off the new WinFS beta 2 bits at TechED ... If Microsoft would have told me in 2003 that they were planning to deliver the product as a cut-down user experience and a bunch of SQL Server 200x add-ons then I would have explored other platforms sooner."

» Ted Roche offers alternatives: "If you have a need for a relational database interface to a file system, you could look at Gnome Virtual File System, the Be File System (written by two guys in 1996 over 10 months) ... For a deep backgrounder, Wikipedia has an interesting and heavily annotated article on File Systems. It also points to another advantage of Open Source and the principle of 'ship early, ship often.' ... You might search for "database file system" and see if there's anything of interest. Seems like plenty of neat stuff."

Buffer overflow:

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Richi Jennings is an independent technology and marketing consultant, specializing in email, blogging, Linux, and computer security. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. Contact Richi at