What happened to WinFS?


Friday’s announcement has left a lot of people asking what happened to WinFS?  The short answer is: nothing.  But a lot happened to Windows.

As I explained in my previous post, the customer and developer feedback we’ve been getting was consistent on two points: We want to start using WinFX as soon as possible, and we don’t want to require Longhorn to run WinFX applications.  To respond to this feedback, the product teams had to ask themselves what they could do to tighten their schedules, and figure out how well their platform would behave on XP.

The WinFS team spent a solid couple weeks going through this evaluation.  There are of course plenty of things you could do to increase the confidence level on a project the size of WinFS, since it has so many features, including:

  • Built-in schemas for calendar, contacts, documents, media, etc
  • Etensibility for adding custom schema or business logic
  • File system integration, like promotion/demotion and valid win32 file paths
  • A synchronization runtime for keeping content up to date
  • Rich API support for app scenarios like grouping and filtering
  • A self-tuning management service to keep the system running well
  • Tools for deploying schema, data and applications

If you cut one of these, or reduced its functionality, you could probably shorten the schedule.  But I think the team concluded that the real sweet spot of WinFS is all these features delivered together, in an integrated package.  The feedback I’ve heard from ISVs, certainly, is that if you take any one of these things away, you significantly diminish the value of WinFS overall.

In Bill’s interview with CNET, he talks about even adding additional features that ISVs have been asking for, such as “adding the tabular stuff and figuring out a server plan”.  In his words, “The WinFS team, in terms of its progress and performance, is doing very, very good work, but it couldn’t take the additional features and make an ’06 schedule.”

The team also looked into what it would take to get WinFS working on XP.  The biggest sticking point, as I understand, is around the file system integration.  There have been several changes to NTFS in Longhorn which enable WinFS to guarantee consistency between an NTFS file and the WinFS Item which represents it.  If you run WinFS on XP, you lose that guarantee, which could affect the reliability of the system (unless someone ports NTFS changes back to the XP code base, which makes for even more work to be done.)

So what happened to WinFS?  Nothing.  Others Windows teams concluded they could make some changes in order to deliver more quickly, and so they are accelerating and aiming to deliver to WinFX functionality on XP and Server 2003.  The WinFS team concluded that neither of these was viable, so their plans are unchanged.

Actually, “unchanged” is misleading.  They are updating a lot of their plans.  The API went through one of Steven Clarke’s usability studies, and the API team has really listened to that feedback and come up with some new API patterns and a revised data model.  I have seen the proposed changes and they are a huge improvement.  The schema team has been busy taking feedback on the default, in-the-box schemas, and those are getting refined as well.  The performance team has achieved tenfold gains in some areas, and they’re really just getting started with the profiling and tuning process.  The file system integration team has been working closely with ISVs to tune the promotion/demotion model.  The core data model team has been working with MBF to come up with a single model that will support information worker apps, PIM apps, and line of business apps.  There’s a team hard at work figuring out how WinFS feature manifest themselves in the next release of Windows Server, as well as the next release of SQL Server.

The work the entire WinFS team is doing is really amazing, and I am looking forward to the day that we can share some of it back out to the community.

Do I wish we could have found a way to include WinFS in the 2006 releases announced yesterday?  Yes.  But am I glad that the team stayed focus on building the right thing for ISVs, and accepted the trade off is shipping in 2007?  Emphatically yes.

Comments (16)

  1. I think it’s appropriate to ask the question: Will WinFS ever ship? The object-oriented filesystem is starting to look like Moby Dick to Bill Gates’s Ahab. From the very first discussions about replacing FAT with HPFS/NTFS on through Cairo, Exchange, the Web Storage System, SPS, and now, WinFS, the OO filesystem has always been 3 or 4 years away. I wish Microsoft all possible success in building WinFS, but, call me Ishmael if you must, I ain’t holding my breath for a 2007 release of anything that looks remotely like what I saw at the PDC.

  2. Jeremy, the following line caught my attention. "Built-in schemas for calendar, contacts, documents, media, etc." What type of schemas are these? Are they similar to the Office schemas, that is, XML Schemas?

    http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyId=FE118952-3547-420A-A412-00A2662442D9&displaylang=en

    Please forward response via email to randy@kbcafe.com, just in case I don’t remember to get back here.

  3. lynn eriksen says:

    I remember raeding on Friday about the possibity for WinFS to be released ‘Out-of-band’ so to speak. That would be okay on a server platform, but at some point wel’ll need it default on the client. 2008?

  4. That line about schemas for calendar and contacts also caught my attention. Are you guys re-writing Outlook by any chance? Is MAPI dying?

  5. Jeremy says:

    John, your skepticism is well grounded. I think the recent WinHEC update of WinFS (available to MSDN subscribers) showed some real forward progress, but the burden is rightly on the WinFS team to come out with another community release to show their continued progress, and to meet Jim’s stated goal of a WinFS beta at Longhorn RTM. There aren’t any release plans to announce, so until there are, you are right to be skeptical.

    To be fair, the Exchange web storage system did actually ship…but it certainly wasn’t the long-lived integrated storage platform we had hoped it might be. And SPS was never about being the replacement for the file system — arguably the indexing features and the portal UI were more exciting than the doc management store (and that’s coming from a guy who spent 3.5 years building the doc management UI 😉

  6. Jeremy says:

    Randy, Stéphane,

    The WinFS plan announced at PDC always anticipated a set of built-in schemas. There’s a good overview of WinFS at http://msdn.microsoft.com/data/winfs/default.aspx?pull=/library/en-us/dnwinfs/html/winfs03112004.asp

    There was also a big visio diagram of the scheams as they existed at the time. It’s out of date now, but gives at least a flavor of the plans,

    download.microsoft.com/download/2/7/a/27ab8218-e3d8-4261-b8e4-6ffc7bd8f199/winfsschemadiagram.vsd

    The Office team gets upset if I pretend to know anything about their plans for Outlook and MAPI, so no comment on that one 🙂

  7. One big difference is that the WinFS schemas describe how to store those Item types in a WinFS store. XML schemas generally aren’t tied to a specific store, but in fact are as store-independent as possible.

    Incarnating the various Item types in a WinFS Schema Definition lets the store know how to apply WinFS services to it like sync, rules, transactions, full-text search, relationships and so on.

  8. Ian Ringrose says:

    I work for an ISV (independent software vendor), we have to write software that works on the computers our customers have. Even if only 1% of the users at out customer’s site cannot run our software that is enough to loose an order! Therefore we will not be able to make use of WinFS, until it is on at least 95% of the computers within our target market.

    This will not happy for LH until something like 5 years after LH has shipped!

    What we need is a set of API that will work with WinFS if the customer has it, otherwise will just provide a FileSave/FileOpen replacement that lets the user see/manage their metedata. A plug in for explore that can also show the metadata would be good.

    Having the metadata indexed with rich search support can wait until LH.

    Thinking back a long time, what made Windows 95 catch on so fast was Win32s, vendors could write 32 bit software that would work (just about) on Windows 3.1. As soon as a customer upgraded to Windows 95, all these Win32s packages worked a lot better. LH needs the same, software that will take advantage of it from day one.

    ringi at bigfoot dot com

  9. Just to be clear, lots of interesting and useful things have come out of this seemingly neverending quest for an better filesystem (OO is probably the wrong term). Just not what was promised. It reminds me a lot of AI. Lots of cool stuff, but not what we aimed at. In the case of AI, I think the underlying conceptual basis was fundamentally wrong (just my opinion used for an analogy, let’s not start that argument here) and I wonder whether or not that is the case here. Is WinFS a workable system that just needs some extra time for the technology to catch up? Or is it a flawed concept that will never work? I don’t know, but I suspect Microsoft is in as good a position as anybody to figure that out.

  10. Bashmohandes says:

    Do you remember the first days of Longhorn when we first heard about WinFX there were three parts (Indego,…