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WinFS Beta 1 and Microsoft’s Search Strategy

Will developers’ adoption of WinFS help check Google’s advances?

If you think Microsoft isn't worried about competition from Google, you've probably been too busy to keep up with industry news. An obvious sign of Microsoft's concern was last summer's furor over former Microsoft Vice President Kai-Fu Lee's defection to Google. But to me, what spoke volumes about Microsoft's fear of Google was the sudden announcement of WinFS beta 1 in late August, just before Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference (PDC). I can't help thinking it was no accident that Microsoft shoved the much-delayed WinFS out the door following a flurry of Google announcements, several of which were aimed squarely at Microsoft.

On August 24, in our WinInfo Daily UPDATE email newsletter, Paul Thurrott wrote about Google's aggressive releases: "Google's recently released Google Desktop 2 includes a feature called Sidebar that closely resembles UI work Microsoft is planning for Windows Vista, including extensible panes that can deliver Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds, email, news clips, photos, and other information. And its free Gmail email poised to steal share from Microsoft's Hotmail... Meanwhile, Google is also squaring off against Microsoft Internet Search and related technologies." (See "Google Enters IM Market with Google Talk,"

Google was even making headlines for things that weren't true, such as claims in the press that MSN 7.0 was a "reaction" to Google Talk. Google seemed to be everywhere. Then, on August 29, Microsoft announced the WinFS beta. Coincidence? I think not.

Microsoft intended desktop search functionality to be a key innovation in Vista; certainly, Microsoft wants to win the desktop search battle with Vista. Until a little over a year ago, Microsoft considered WinFS the engine that would drive powerful search capabilities on Longhorn client (now Vista). Then, delays in WinFS forced Microsoft to focus Vista's search capabilities on indexing metadata and full-text searching, rather than on exploiting the full functionality that WinFS promised.

As desktop search competition has heated up, I believe Microsoft has felt compelled to move WinFS into the picture to rev up Vista's potential to be a knock-your-socks-off release. I talked to Microsoft's Quentin Clark, director of program management, WinFS, about how Microsoft is positioning WinFS relative to Vista. He told me that WinFS's strength is that it's "a data platform" that unifies data "in one store and provides new ways of organizing that data. Vista delivers part of it: Indexing technology lets users use metadata and full text search to find information. WinFS is a new storage system, so as a developer piece it's a lot more deep. You have new APIs to call. For example, Windows Contact is a new type that ISVs can use in applications."

Getting developers to write code incorporating WinFS functionality is a great way to help make WinFS a winner in desktop search. Releasing the WinFS beta immediately before PDC was an interesting move in Redmond's strategy for beating Google. It will be fascinating to see how this tactic plays out. In the meantime, you can read about the two companies' desktop search offerings in Tony Redmond's "Lookout vs. Google," page 53. Find out how each stacks up for searching email.

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