Longhorn without the plumbing?

by Preston Gralla

Microsoft announced last week that Longhorn, to ship in 2006, won't include WinFS, the next-generation file system that Microsoft has been touting for some time. WinFS was designed to make it easy to store and find any information on your PC. It promised to make illogical folder organization a thing of the past, and let you categorize your data any way you want, without the straightjacket of tree-like hard disk structures we've all come to hate.

If you're surprised that Longhorn has been scaled back, and that WinFS would be the primary victim, you haven't been paying attention. Longhorn has been delayed time and time again, and Microsoft has been recently been hinting that when it ships, it won't include all of its promised features. More evidence came earlier this summer, when it became clear that the upcoming Office 12 will support older versions of Windows in addition to Longhorn. Originally, it was only supposed to support Longhorn.

WinFS was the logical piece to leave out. The task of re-architecting a file system from the ground up, and making it as groundbreaking as Microsoft planned, was daunting enough. But also making it backwards-compatible made it that much tougher.

Better to ship Longhorn by 2006 without WinFS than delay it even longer. Windows XP was released in 2001, and so the 2006 release date will mean five years between major Windows revisions, the longest time between Windows revs in Microsoft history.

Once again, Microsoft has shown that its reach exceeds its grasp. Missed deadlines are certainly nothing new to the company; neither is promised technology materializing late. But I'd prefer that Microsoft set aggressive technology goals, and then be forced by market forces to reign them in, than that it be complacent about new technology and be content to merely fix Windows at the edges. It's been complacent about Internet Explorer, and IE has become inferior to browsers like FireFox as a result. So here's a cheer for Microsoft's initial attempt to get WinFS into Longhorn, and let's just hope that the new file system eventually makes it in our direction.

What do you think of the decision not to include WinFS in Longhorn? Let me know.


2004-08-30 11:09:07
not a filesystem
Despite some marketing blurb to the contrary, WinFS isn't a filesystem in the traditional sense of an API used by the kernel to access physical storage. Its a high-level API that sits on top of the "real" filesystem (NTFS) and a relational metadata store. It also applies only to your "Documents and Settings" folder, not even the whole disk.

I guess MS want us to think of it as a filesystem on steroids, or people would start to think of it as a document management system that's missing features from that class of system - workflow etc.

From the early press releases, where WinFS was a filesystem & search facility for your whole LAN, to something thats just a local search engine for /some/ of your files, this feature has withered so much its surprising they can't deliver it, or find someone to write it for them (or maybe they have) -

I'm not writing this to knock MS, I actually hoped WinFS was what they originally said it was; I'm just disappointed with the reality.