Doing the impossible

It's funny how circumstances can change your perception of what's possible. A few months ago, key Microsoft architects were telling me that it would be impossible to decouple the Avalon presentation subsystem from the Longhorn OS. Now they're huddling in conference rooms trying to figure out how to do just that. It makes me wonder what else might turn out to be possible after all.
Here's an interesting footnote to the WinFS news: According to John Montgomery, director of product management for the developer division at Microsoft, good old full-text search will play a larger role in Longhorn. Empowering us to find and organize our stuff was, after all, one of the major goals of the project. The early rhetoric discounted full-text search in favor of the highly structured WinFS approach and suggested it would be impossible to deliver the desired benefits any other way. Now architects are huddling in conference rooms trying to figure out how to do the impossible. Of course, Apple had already previewed a similar strategy for the forthcoming Tiger version of OS X. If Steve Jobs can demonstrate Spotlight in 2004 and if Apple can ship it in 2005, Microsoft ought to be able to match that by 2006. [Full story at]
In a session on corporate blogging at this year's Foo Camp, intranet bloggers at Google and Microsoft were able to compare notes. The conclusion wasn't shocking: internal content is indexed and made available more aggressively at Google than at Microsoft.

For those who discount Microsoft's strategy, that's another link in an evidence chain leading to the conclusion that WinFS will never ship. As I mentioned [1 min, mp3] on last week's Gillmor Gang show, I see no reason to leap to that conclusion. We will want a universal database, with hybrid object/relational/XML capabilities, on the desktop. Microsoft is closer to delivering it than anyone else, and the WinFS delay doesn't change that.

But we also want the Google effects: aggregation, search. As usual, the discussion tends to polarize. We need to get past the clich├ęs -- "structured search trumps freetext search" versus "freetext search trumps structured search" -- and recognize that these are complementary modes that need to work well individually and better together.

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