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In the News
- Exclusive: Latest Windows Vista, Longhorn Server, WinFS, SQL Server 2005 Timelines Revealed
- Surprise! Microsoft Ships WinFS Beta 1

==== In the News ====
by Paul Thurrott, thurrott@windowsitpro.com

Exclusive: Latest Windows Vista, Longhorn Server, WinFS, SQL Server 2005 Timelines Revealed
According to very recent internal Microsoft documentation, the software giant is planning an aggressive release schedule for several products over the next year or so. I've come across the release schedules for Windows Vista (formerly code-named Longhorn), Windows Future Storage (WinFS), and Microsoft SQL Server 2005 (code-named Yukon). Here's what I found out.

Windows Vista
Despite rumors to the contrary, but in keeping with the schedule I first published on the SuperSite for Windows months ago, Microsoft is planning to ship Windows Vista Beta 2 in late 2005, not in early 2006. According to internal documentation I recently reviewed, Vista Beta 2 is scheduled to be "feature complete" by September 29, 2005. Then, Vista Beta 2 will enter lockdown mode between October and November 9, 2005. After that date, Vista Beta 2 will be in escrow and will ship on December 7, 2005, about 3 weeks later than the last schedule I obtained stated.

What about post-Beta 2? According to a second set of documentation I viewed yesterday, Microsoft will ship Vista Release Candidate 0 (RC0) on April 19, 2006, and Windows Vista RC1 on June 28, 2006. Microsoft currently plans to release Vista to manufacturing on August 9, 2006, and make the product broadly available by November 15, 2006.

Longhorn Server
Except for the release to manufacturing (RTM) date, all the Vista dates apply to Longhorn Server as well. But once we reach summer 2006, Longhorn Server will fork from the Vista client release schedule. We'll see an RC2 release of Longhorn Server on October 18, 2006, and the RTM release on January 10, 2007, according to the latest documentation. That's a much earlier release date than previously anticipated.

WinFS
Microsoft surprised a lot of people by shipping WinFS Beta 1 yesterday (see story below), and as it turns out, the project is suddenly well ahead of schedule. I've seen two contradictory schedules for WinFS. In the more recent schedule, WinFS Beta 1 will be followed by at least one Community Technology Preview (CTP) release, which is currently due February 15, 2006. Then, on May 1, 2006, Microsoft will release WinFS Beta 2. Beta 3 is currently scheduled for November 15, 2006, with a Beta 3 Refresh release expected in April 2007. WinFS is currently scheduled for RTM in third quarter 2007, well after Longhorn Server.

SQL Server 2005
SQL Server 2005 will ship within months. On September 13, 2005, the first day of the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2005, Microsoft will announce that SQL Server 2005 has hit the RC1 milestone, and the company will place the code into escrow in anticipation of the final release. The English language version of SQL Server 2005 is currently expected to RTM on October 14, 2005, about 3 weeks before its public launch. Other language versions will ship in December 2006 and January 2007.

Because software development is an iffy proposition, and many of these dates are quite a ways out, it's likely that Microsoft will miss target dates and have to adjust accordingly. But for now, these are the most recent schedules for the products listed above. Plan accordingly.

Surprise! Microsoft Ships WinFS Beta 1
After spending the past year lowering expectations, Microsoft pulled a rabbit out of its hat yesterday and released the first beta of Windows Future Storage (WinFS), the company's upcoming data storage engine. Seen as a technical albatross of sorts to company outsiders, WinFS has nonetheless been under active development for years. And now, I'm told, Microsoft feels it's time to get WinFS out in the world and garner developer feedback.

"WinFS is alive and kicking," Tom Rizzo, director of SQL Server product management, told me yesterday afternoon. "We wanted to get it out there before the PDC \[Professional Developers Conference 2005 in about 2 weeks\] and give developers a chance to check it out and give us feedback at PDC and beyond."

According to Rizzo, the focus for WinFS hasn't changed--it's still the foundation for a rich relational file-system engine for Windows. "With WinFS, we will provide rich new ways to organize and visualize data," he said. "And as a final piece, it's a platform. It's not just for end users: Developers can extend WinFS, integrate their applications with WinFS, synchronize data between their applications and WinFS, and build support for their own data types into WinFS, using full-featured, managed code APIs."

With WinFS Beta 1, Microsoft is adding support for Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2). (Previously, Microsoft stated that WinFS would run only on Windows Vista and Longhorn Server.) Indeed, WinFS Beta 1 works only on XP. When you install WinFS, you see a new top-level object in My Computer called WinFS Stores. Inside this storage area, which you can access via any existing Windows application as if it were the native file system, you can create and organize individual data stores.

Microsoft designed WinFS Beta 1 for developers, rather than end users, but it's interesting to see how well the WinFS data stores are integrated with Windows Explorer, and Windows applications such as Microsoft Word can store documents in these data stores if desired. "\[Legacy shell/application\] integration is a major milestone," Rizzo confided. "It took months of work to make it seamless. Often with software, the simplest thing for users is complex underneath."

Microsoft plans to ship more betas or Community Technology Preview (CTP) versions of WinFS, and those releases will work with Vista betas in addition to working with XP. When Vista ships in late 2006, WinFS will still be in beta, but at a later time, the final release will be made available to Vista and XP users as an add-on and probably for free. "We'll ship WinFS as we do the Windows .NET Framework today," Rizzo added, "as an out of band update for Windows." Future Windows versions will no doubt incorporate WinFS natively, but Rizzo declined to state whether it would ship as part of Longhorn Server, currently due in 2007.

Although Rizzo expects WinFS to morph into the Windows file system at some point, he doesn't see Microsoft replacing the drive-letter-based system we use today with the cleaner WinFS namespace any time soon. "Legacy application support will stop us from fully leaving the drive-letter-based file system behind," he told me. "However, we will likely extend WinFS in the future with a feature from SQL Server 2005 called mount points. With mount points, you will be able to mount WinFS data stores arbitrarily at any point in the file system. So we'll have mount points in the future. But we'll probably be stuck with drive letters for the next 10 to 20 years as well."

Finally, WinFS is only a code name. Final branding for WinFS will be determined at a later date, Rizzo told me.

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