Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates spent the majority of his recent “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit discussing his philanthropic work and the chances of eradicating certain diseases in the third world, but eventually the topic of software came up. (When you’re Bill Gates, such questions are hard to dodge.)
“What one Microsoft program or product that was never fully developed or released do you wish had made it to market?” one Redditor asked.
“We had a rich database as the client/cloud store that was part of a Windows release that was before its time,” Gates responded. “This is an idea that will remerge since your cloud store will be rich with schema rather than just a bunch of files and the client will be a partial replica of it with rich schema understanding.”
Another Redditor asked whether that rich database was WinFS, to which Gates responded: “Correct.”
WinFS, short for Windows Future Storage, was a data-storage and management platform designed as an advanced storage subsystem for Windows. Based on relational databases, and meant to help users manage everything from structured to unstructured data, the project encountered an all-too-typical fate, its technologies eventually integrated into other projects.
“There are many great technical innovations the WinFS project has created—innovations that go beyond just the WinFS vision but are part of a broader Data Platform Vision the company is pursuing,” read an official Microsoft blog posting from 2006. WinFS elements such as unstructured data support found their way into the then-current release of MS SQL Server, codenamed Katmai; others ended up in ADO.NET. “With most of our effort now working towards productizing mature aspects of the WinFS project into SQL and ADO.NET, we do not need to deliver a separate WinFS offering.”
Gates, who still claims he writes “some C, C# and some Basic,” also answered a Redditor’s question about the “push against the open and free Internet,” suggesting that open software most certainly has its place.
“There are two things this could reference,” he wrote. “One is the free/pay for software mix. The Internet has benefited from having lots of free stuff and lots of commercial software. It has been interesting see people inventing hybrid models. Even stuff that is pretty commercial often has free versions for some audiences. Even the most open stuff often have services people choose to pay for.”
He then tackled what he termed the “anonymous versus identified” tension present online. “This is another one where both will probably thrive since you want anonymity for some things and full identity for others. I am surprised how little progress has been made in the identity space but it will improve.”
When asked what people bought him, one of the world’s richest men, for his birthday, Gates responded:
“Free software. Just kidding.