Microsoft may choose never to release its vaunted and long-overdue project WinFS, following its removal from the next version of Windows, according to analysts Gartner.
The recent announcement that WinFS would not debut in Longhorn after all - following a warning this spring that features would be axed - makes Longhorn look increasingly like a product intended to simply fill in a gap in the schedule, Gartner said in a research note to customers. However, the firm is sticking with its recommendation that companies standardise on Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (SP2), so that they have a choice to shift to Longhorn if it turns out to be worthwhile.
Along with delivering Longhorn in the second half of 2006, Microsoft is releasing parts of Longhorn's WinFX developer interface, which will give Windows XP compatibility with Longhorn's Indigo middleware subsystem and Avalon user interface graphics subsystem. Analysts have questioned what the difference will be between Longhorn and Windows XP with WinFX.
The WinFX move will help boost the installed base for Longhorn-compatible applications long before Longhorn has a significant market share, according to Gartner - and will also allow companies to stick with Windows XP for longer. "Most companies will run some Windows XP through 2011," Gartner said. "Most Windows servers in 2010 will still run Windows 2003 Server."
Gartner said Longhorn now looks primarily like a move to drive revenue and smooth the feathers of customers who have committed to subscription-style licences under the Licensing 6 programme. "Microsoft’s earlier assertions that Longhorn was not a date-driven release no longer seem accurate," Gartner stated. "Gartner believes that Microsoft wishes to release a new version of Windows by year-end 2006 to shore up revenue and appease customers that paid for Software Assurance on the client OS under Enterprise, Open or Select agreements."
Microsoft has said Longhorn will still include local desktop searching as a taste of the power of WinFS' relational database capabilities, but Gartner sees this as a hint that WinFS may never arrive. "Because Microsoft has committed to improving search without WinFS, it may choose never to deliver the delayed WinFS," Gartner said.
Gartner recommended that companies standardise on Windows XP SP2 so that they will have the option of buying into the first Longhorn release or waiting for a future release that includes WinFS. In the mean time, customers shouldn't make plans that include the system, Gartner said.
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said in November that WinFS was the realisation of a 10-year dream for him around search technology and termed it his Holy Grail. The storage subsystem is designed to break data away from individual applications and interfaces so it can be stored and shared universally. It will also allow data searches across the desktop PC, network and Web services.
The removal of WinFS makes makes Longhorn more of an evolution from Windows XP rather than the revolution Microsoft has been touting, Microsoft officials admitted at the time of the announcement last week. "The path to get to our very ambitious vision for Windows is different and is more evolutionary in appearance rather than one big leap like we have described in the past," said Greg Sullivan, lead product manager for the Windows client group at Microsoft.