Microsoft experiments with 'HomeOS' and home app store ideas

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.

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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 Ma-Config.com, 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, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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47 comments
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  • I will probably pass

    I guess my household would not be up for a solution aimed at non-technical users. In any event, it seems crazy not to simply beef up the features of Windows Home Server. It's already decent in the 1.0 version, so why start over?
    bmgoodman
    • That's usually what happens to research projects

      @bmgoodman

      You start with a HomeOS research project. As it matures you take parts of that project and incorporate it into your other product lines. Just because Microsoft is working on a stand alone HomeOS doesn't mean they plan on replacing Windows Home Server, in fact it will likely find its way there eventually.

      There have been many such projects. Some go away forever, some get rolled into other projects, some end up as a stand alone product. We'll have to wait and see. The research division and Microsoft doesn't concern themselves with commercial products, they worry about research.
      LiquidLearner
      • RE: Microsoft experiments with 'HomeOS' and home app store ideas

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      • RE: Microsoft experiments with 'HomeOS' and home app store ideas

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    • RE: Microsoft experiments with 'HomeOS' and home app store ideas

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  • MS is part of the problem, not the solution

    What I expect out of this is another layer of complexity, not anything truly revolutionary. And of course it will be proprietary to Microsoft, so other companies will support it only begrudgingly and have "differentiated" offerings.
    terry flores
    • RE: Microsoft experiments with 'HomeOS' and home app store ideas

      @terry flores

      So IBM should make everything compatible? How about Apple? Heck, Linux too?

      I have a new word for you to look up in the dictionary, "Competition".
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      • You mean like

        bonjour (zeroconf - open standard)
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  • Sounds neat

    I'm not exactly sure what the paper is talking about, but I think it may be proposing that devices should be able to easily connect up to a home network, and that these devices should be able to be controlled by applications, via common APIs. Therefore if a radio is connected up to a network, applications should be able to control it through e.g. a radio API. (Hopefully this HomeOS will support plug and play for all devices hooked up to a network.)

    So maybe there will be stereo, TV, washing machine, thermostat, alarm, etc. APIs allowing applications to control devices throughout the house, from PCs and other control devices (e.g. smartphones). I think that would be neat.
    P. Douglas
    • It already exists. It's called zeroconf

      Apple uses it for bonjour.
      frgough
      • RE: Microsoft experiments with 'HomeOS' and home app store ideas

        @frgough How much to you have to pay Apple$ to run bonjour?
        jgoode1
      • RE: Microsoft experiments with 'HomeOS' and home app store ideas

        jgoode@...
        Bonjour, Samba, SMB, all the same in essence all free
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      • RE: Microsoft experiments with 'HomeOS' and home app store ideas

        @jgoode Nothing to use Bonjour- you just download it and install it.
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