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WinFS Decision Shows New Thinking At Microsoft

Microsoft's decision to kill plans to ship its next-generation file system as a standalone application probably reflects changes in the software giant.

From a technical standpoint, Microsoft Corp.'s decision to kill plans to ship its next-generation file system as a standalone application probably won't have much impact on customers, but the move reflects changes in the software giant that are both welcome and troubling.

The company announced late Friday in a blog on its developer network that pieces of WinFS, which is available as a beta 1 release, would become part of the next version of the SQL Server database, code named Katmai; and the evolving ADO.Net, which is basically Microsoft's programming interface for data access.

WinFS was originally set to be a technology pillar within Longhorn, the codename for what became Windows Vista. In 2004, Microsoft surprised customers with the decision to ship WinFS separate from Longhorn.

The latest announcement is not expected to affect customers on a technical level, because the data store technology will eventually find its way in products. In addition, the search capabilities and file system in Vista, as seen through its current beta release, is expected to be good enough.

"WinFS has long been a solution in search of a problem," David Smith, analyst for Gartner Inc., said Monday. "Vista beta has reasonably robust search. It's good enough, which is what people were looking for."

The loss of WinFS as a single deliverable was also not a big surprise. After it was removed from Longhorn, Gartner predicted that there was a 30 percent chance that the technology wouldn't ship at all.

For at least one expert, what was more troubling about the WinFS decision was how the announcement was made. Microsoft publicized the move in a blog posted late Friday when it would likely be missed by many business technology reporters and analysts.

"We're seeing a new aggressive push on the part of Microsoft in the use of blogs as a PR mechanism," Joe Wilcox, analyst for JupiterResearch, said. "It's a very effective mechanism for taking tight PR control over potentially hazardous announcements."

The tactic helps mitigate negative coverage by making it less likely it'll appear the next day on the front page of daily newspapers' business sections.

"The news will come out in spurts, and the big dailies may overlook it all together," Wilcox said. "By Monday, it becomes old news."

This is not the first time Microsoft has made a big announcement through a late Friday blog. Two weeks ago, Microsoft took a similar approach in announcing that WinFX would become version 3.0 of .Net Framework, the development platform shipping with Vista. WinFX is the programming interface for Vista.

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