New file system has long road to Windows

Firm made "mistake" to promise more than it could deliver with new system, top Windows exec tells CNET News.com.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
5 min read
Microsoft's long-awaited new Windows file system is still a work in progress.

Although Microsoft hopes to ship a test version of WinFS in late 2006, it could be several more years before the revamped storage mechanism finds its way into Windows Server.

The software maker has already decided that WinFS will ship separately from Longhorn, the new desktop version of Windows that is due in 2006. On Friday, Windows Server Chief Bob Muglia said that WinFS will also not be a part of the server version of Longhorn that ships in 2007.

"WinFS in not in the Longhorn client," he said in an interview. "It is also not in Longhorn Server."

It is not even clear if Microsoft will include it with the Longhorn update that is scheduled to follow a couple of years later.


What's new:
Microsoft's long-held dream of a new file system continues to be a years-off proposition. WinFS is not part of Longhorn and may not be possible even in the next update after that.

Bottom line:
Though its file system hopes remain a long-term goal, the software giant has plenty of other server work to keep itself busy, with Longhorn Server and two updates to the current OS on tap.

More stories on WinFS

"That would be the earliest," Muglia said. "We have to look and see if that is possible still, because it is a major new file system."

Instead, WinFS may not debut in the operating system until the next decade, when the version of Windows beyond Longhorn, code-named Blackcomb, is slated to ship.

"In terms of something major like WinFS, we still need to figure it out," Muglia said.

When it removed WinFS from Longhorn earlier this year, Microsoft said it would offer developers a beta version of the file system at the same time as Longhorn, but separate from the new OS.

Muglia said he is confident that Microsoft's advanced file system, a decade-old dream, will eventually make it into the operating system. However, he said the company did err by talking about plans before it knew it could deliver.

"We've been working on this for a long time, and this team is going to deliver," he said. "Our mistake, frankly--and it was a mistake--was to go out and talk about it before we really had clarity as to how we would be able to deliver it and all the complexities there."

He stressed that Microsoft is trying to do things with WinFS that no one has ever done before.

"This isn't a relational database," he said. "This is a brand-new data model, and it satisfies a whole class of applications that frankly have been unsatisfied from a data model perspective since the beginning of history. We've been working on things like this for a long time."

Meanwhile, Microsoft's server unit has plenty of things to work on in the nearer term. First up are two updates to Windows Server 2003, which are in various stages of testing. Service Pack 1 of the OS, which reached the "release candidate" stage earlier this week, should ship by March, Muglia said.

A set of additional features for the OS, known as Windows Server 2003 "R2," entered a private beta this week and is slated to ship in the second half of next year. Microsoft was more specific about its release in a note to testers, promising an October ship date.

"I just heard that we said that, and I was annoyed that we actually sent that out," Muglia said. "I feel good about the second half. We'll find out about October as we get closer."

The R2 release includes several already available features, such as Windows SharePoint Services and Active Directory Application Mode, or ADAM. It also has new features such as Active Directory federation services and a basic storage area network (SAN) management feature. With R2, Microsoft is adding features designed to make it easier for companies to manage branch servers with centralized file and print services as well as remote hardware management.

Leading up to Longhorn Server
At the same time, Microsoft is working to get the server version of Longhorn to the beta stage. The company plans to have a test version of Longhorn Server ready in the second half of 2005. Earlier this year, Microsoft expressed hope that a beta might ship in the first half.

With Longhorn Server, the company has several priorities, one of which is to make the operating system more easily tailored to specific roles. Large businesses will be able to customize their installation of the OS to tailor a server to a particular task, such as an application server or media server.

Windows Server 2003 has limited ability to dedicate a server to the role it is performing. Longhorn Server will enable much finer-tuning of setups. "In Longhorn, it is possible to create images that can then be deployed to a given server with just the roles configured in it and just the software that's needed to run that role," Muglia said.

The goal, Muglia said, is to make the operating systems more secure, by exposing only the code needed for the tasks being performed. Such servers should also be easier to manage, because Microsoft should be able to make it simpler to automate tasks unique to each type of server.

However, Muglia said that the goal is not to create a host of different packages scaled to different tasks and sold at a lower price.

"It's not the cost side," Muglia said. "Most of our customers, frankly, are asking for more flexibility in terms of what they deploy on servers, not focusing on cost-reduction through specific editions."

Although the company has separate Web server and storage versions of its OS, Muglia said he doesn't see each of these roles becoming a separate product, although he stressed that packaging decisions for Longhorn Server have not yet been made.

In addition, Muglia said there will be some new management features and changes that will reduce the need for system reboots. Improvements in terminal services and rights management are also planned.

He said Microsoft is still on track for its 2007 launch but noted that the company is "still in the earlier stages on Longhorn."

"We're working in lockstep with our client brethren," he said, noting that the release date for Longhorn Server is later primarily because more testing time is needed for a server release. "It's still a little early to know exactly what will be in the release."

Microsoft still has work cut out for it moving its customers from Windows NT 4 to current versions of Windows Server. Although Muglia said he is pleased with efforts so far, 20 percent of that customer base still has not switched, he said.

The operating system will reach the end of formal support at year's end, though Microsoft is offering paid custom support to customers that are still developing their transition plans.

CNET News.com's Mike Ricciuti and Martin LaMonica contributed to this report.