Microsoft experiments with 'HomeOS' and home app store ideas

Summary:Microsoft Research is working on a project known as "HomeOS," which will provide a way to isolate non/less-technical users from the heterogeneous and often incompatible mess of devices they are attempting to network at home.

It looks like the Softies may still have designs on an OS -- and an app store -- for the living room (beyond Windows Home Server).

Microsoft Research is working on a project known as "HomeOS," which will provide a way to isolate non/less-technical users from the heterogeneous and often incompatible mess of devices they are attempting to network at home.

(Thanks to Charon of, who sent me a pointer on September 10 to the HomeOS project.)

From a description of an as-yet-unposted white paper, entitled, "The Home Needs an Operating System (and an App Store)," here is the researchers' premise:

"We argue that heterogeneity is hindering technological innovation in the home---homes differ in terms their devices and how those devices are connected and used. To abstract these differences, we propose to develop a home-wide operating system. A HomeOS can simplify application development and let users easily add functionality by installing new devices or applications. The development of such an OS is an inherently inter-disciplinary exercise. Not only must the abstractions meet the usual goals of being efficient and easy to program against, but the underlying primitives must also match how users want to manage and secure their home. We describe the preliminary design of HomeOS and our experience with developing applications for it."

Microsoft researchers from the company's Networking and Systems and Networking teams are due to present their work in late October on HomeOS at the Association of Computing Machinery's HotNets IX workshop in Monterey, Calif.

As always, with Microsoft Research projects, there is no guranteed commercialization guarantees or promised ship dates. HomeOS may fizzle or bits of it may be rolled into other products and services. But the existence of the project has me wondering a few things:

  • Didn't Microsoft already try this, in a way, with PlaysforSure, which the company buried a couple of years ago?
  • How does Microsoft's nearer term "personal cloud" synchronization strategy mesh (pun intended) with the HomeOS concept?
  • Why not just make Windows Home Server work with more devices and protocols? Why start over from scratch?
  • What the heck is a HomeOS app store? Will it supersede the Windows Phone 7 and forthcoming Windows 8 marketplaces? What kinds of apps will it feature?

Here are a couple of other interesting tidbits related to HomeOS that I unearthed:

There already was a HomeOS research project, dating back to 2004 or so, that was created by George Washington University researchers. While some of the concepts and goals may be similar, I doubt the two HomeOS projects are related, since the GWU one is based on a central server written in Java that interconnects applications and home management services.

In the summer of 2009, Microsoft researchers participated in a workshop in conjunction with the University of Washington where the top was "Unraveling the technological knot in homes." The focus there was on simplifying the mix and management of interconnected devices, infrastructure and services. So the HomeOS project isn't suddenly materializing out of nowhere. As Charon of Ma-Config noted, one of the HomeOS researchers also is involved in Microsoft's Menlo mobile futures project. Perhaps there are synergies there, as well.

In any case, the white paper once it's out should provide more clues and details as to what Microsoft's thinking in this area....

Topics: Windows, Enterprise Software, Microsoft


Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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