Microsoft says it has not lost its focus on integrated storage even though it will not deliver the technology as promised in the Vista client operating system.

Last week, the company killed its highly anticipated WinFS universal file system for Vista and also said it would not deliver the anticipated Beta 2 of the technology.

Instead, pieces of WinFS will be integrated with other products, namely the next version of SQL Server, codenamed Katmai, and the next version of the programming tool ADO.Net, which will ship in the next release of Visual Studio, codenamed Orcas.

"The WinFS stand-alone component is dead. There is no spin on that," says Corey Thomas, group product manager for SQL Server. "But I do not want people to take away from that that we are not focused on integrated storage."

Despite how Microsoft tells the story, the fact is that it has switched from a tangible, single shipping product in WinFS to talking about a broad strategy statement called the Data Platform Vision. The vision was introduced just two months ago and includes many different products but is centered on SQL Server.

The company is now actively trying to explain why all roads lead to the same goal as WinFS, why it killed WinFS and set a tone for what appears to be an uncertain future for integrated storage in Windows.

WinFS, once one of the four pillars of Vista, was to be a unified storage technology for Windows that would bring together all data types making search and data retrieval and application development much easier. Microsoft's chief software architect Bill Gates once called unified storage his holy grail.

Trouble with WinFS was brewing as early as 2004 when Microsoft announced that WinFS wouldn't ship with Vista but would instead be later released as an add-on. As early as two weeks ago at its annual TechEd conference, Microsoft officials were still touting WinFS.

"Right now we know how to deliver on some of the goals of integrated storage," says Thomas. He said the goals still include new storage technology for Windows, but would not say when or how the technology would be added to the operating system.

"Some of the [WinFS] technology may be used in future versions of Windows but we are not at a point where we can say how," he said. But Thomas did say search and organisation features in Vista represent some of Microsoft's integrated storage goals.

What percentage of those goals he would not say.

Microsoft, however, has now switched gears to its Data Platform Vision.

The vision was first introduced two months ago by Paul Flessner, senior vice president of server applications and a former IT manager who is credited with building Microsoft's strength in the database market.

Flessner said in April that the data platform Microsoft envisions will store and manage all of the different varieties of data, such as XML, e-mail, time/calendar, file, and document and it would all be available from any device. And he said it would include a set of services such as search, query, analysis, sharing, and synchronisation.

"We will work on this vision over the next several releases of SQL Server, which we expect to deliver on a anticipated schedule of one release approximately every 24 to 36 months," he said.

Microsoft said the integrated storage and automation features of WinFS will help SQL Server deliver on tenants of the Data Platform Vision, including "always on" features and support for the storage and retrieval of digital data.

Microsoft has been down this road before when it first introduced SQL Server 2005, then code-named Yukon. The Yukon technology was designed to store structured and unstructured data and serve as the underlying data storage component for various server applications.

A version of Exchange, codenamed Kodiak, was supposed to include a storage technology called the Web Storage System that was built on the Yukon technology. The name was later changed to the Web Store but the project died on the vine

At the time, Flessner said, "We have this great storage technology that Microsoft owns and we will share that technology with other products."