Microsoft Axes WinFS, Cancels Beta 2

The lead program manager for WinFS, Quentin Clark, has announced that his product is no more -- at least in its current form. Just one week after a slew of WinFS sessions at TechEd, Microsoft has decided not to continue development on the new file system, canceling the expected Beta 2 release.

Although the status of WinFS has already changed a number of times, it seems Microsoft has finally given up on once-lofty plans to completely re-architect the way Windows stores files. The idea of WinFS, or Windows File Store, was to create a "sea of data" that abolishes the need for the standard file and folder hierarchy.

For example, no longer would documents need to be stored in My Documents or images in My Pictures; instead, Windows would simply display the files associated with a particular request on demand. In addition, WinFS could store structured data such as contacts, calendars and more.

The technology, which is based upon Microsoft's SQL Server platform, was originally slated to ship in Windows Vista, but the feature was cut in 2004. The changed prompted many industry watchers to speculate that WinFS was dead, a victim of delays plaguing the new operating system.

But Microsoft very publicly brought WinFS back to life last August, releasing Beta 1 ahead of PDC 2005 and announcing plans to launch the file system technology as a separate download after the debut of Windows Vista. WinFS was integrated into the WinFX Runtime Components and back-ported to Windows XP.

Five sessions covering WinFS were held at TechEd 2006 in Boston last week, and Beta 2 was expected to arrive this month. "We finally can realize a world that simplifies the persistence, manipulation and retrieval of data, giving us an opportunity to create unique new applications based on those new capabilities," WinFS program manager Shan Sinha said last month.

However, the product's resurrection was short-lived. Clark says there has been a shift in "packaging strategy," and Microsoft's recent push to establish SQL Server as a data platform played a major role deciding the future of WinFS. The work done on the new file system will now ship as part of other Microsoft development products.

Support for unstructured data in WinFS and auto-administraton functionality (known as the "Guardian") to make sure the technology always works will be integrated into the next SQL Server, code-named Katmai. Code from the WinFS API will also find its way into the next version of ADO.NET for Orcas, the next release of Visual Studio.

"This really is a big deal – productizing these innovations into the mainline data products makes a big contribution toward the Data Platform Vision we have been talking about. Doing this also gives us the right data platform for further innovations," explained Clark in a blog posting. "Be encouraged that we are able to get the underlying feature work into Orcas and Katmai."

Clark was vague on what the end of WinFS means for future Windows releases, only saying that Microsoft will implement new features as they mature. He notes that search and organization innovations that helped shape WinFS are now a part of Windows Vista, at least conceptually.

"Having so much ready for SQL Server and ADO.NET is a big impact on the platform, and more will come," he said.

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