Microsoft goes public with its 'Drawbridge' operating-system research project

Microsoft goes public with its 'Drawbridge' operating-system research project

Summary: Drawbridge, a Microsoft Research project, expands on the "library OS" concept to streamline virtualization for application sandboxing.


Microsoft has begun taking the wraps off its hush-hush "Drawbridge" application-virtualization project.

"Drawbridge" is a Microsoft Research project developed by some of the same folks who helped create the Singularity microkernel operating system and the "Menlo" mobile operating system prototype. (Menlo was dedicated to replacing the Windows Embedded kernel with a Windows NT kernel in mobile devices.)

Drawbridge is a new adaptation of the "library OS" concept, as I blogged back in March. Microsoft researchers describe Drawebridge as which Microsoft researchers explain as the library OS concept as:

"(T)he personality of the OS on which an application depends runs in the address space of the application. A small, fixed set of abstractions connects the library OS to the host OS kernel, offering the promise of better system security and more rapid independent evolution of OS components."

In addition to including a Windows-centric library OS, Drawbridge also includes a "picoprocess," which its researchers describe as "a process-based isolation container with a minimal kernel API (application programming interface) surface" inside of which the Windows library OS runs.

As I noted earlier this year, the Microsoft Research Drawbridge team has built a working prototype of a Windows 7 library OS that can run the latest releases of Excel, PowerPoint and Internet Explorer.

From the introduction to the Drawbridge paper:

"Each instance has significantly lower overhead than a full VM bundled with an application: a typical application adds just 16MB of working set and 64MB of disk footprint. We contribute a new ABI (application binary interface) below the library OS that enables application mobility. We also show that our library OS can address many of the current uses of hardware virtual machines at a fraction of the overheads."

The researchers conclude: "Our experience shows that the long-promised benefits of the library OS approach—better protection of system integrity and rapid system evolution—are readily obtainable."

Microsoft published on October 17 a new Channel 9 video with MSR Operating System research manager Galen Hunt and other members of the team explaining Drawbridge

As with all Microsoft Research projects, there is no set timetable as to when or even if Drawbridge will become commercial products or parts of commercial products. However, lately at Microsoft there seems to be more effort to convert MSR experiments into shipping deliverables. So maybe Drawbridge will show up inside a future Windows version -- or maybe even as underlying technology enabling Microsoft to better run existing Windows apps (virtually) on mobile devices?

Update: Another fun codename fact. The mysterious Microsoft Research XAX, which had to do with picoprocesses, also was a precursor/related project to Drawbridge.

Topics: Software, Microsoft, Operating Systems


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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  • RE: Microsoft goes public with its 'Drawbridge' operating-system research project

    I thought you were going to say Microsoft went public about it's Linux patents. You got me.
    • LOL. MS going public with its patents

      I think that is never going to happen. MS only reveals the supposed infringing patents to companies signing NDAs. I guess they don't want to make it easy for vendors to "fix" Android or Linux (if they can) so as to avoid paying MS royalties (?) MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
      • RE: Microsoft goes public with its 'Drawbridge' operating-system research project

        @Mary Jo Foley
        Ram U
      • RE: Microsoft goes public with its 'Drawbridge' operating-system research project

        @Mary Jo Foley

        More like have them subject to public scrutiny and find them wanting due to prior art, obviousness etc.
        Alan Smithie
      • RE: Microsoft goes public with its 'Drawbridge' operating-system research project

        @Mary Jo Foley how disingenious of you, "the supposed infringing patents". Wrong Micosoft owns the patents, the companies that have agreed to royalty payments are hardware companies, you keep making the supposition that the patents are over Android, I say they are more likely over hardware and how smartphones work, remember Microsoft didn't go after the companies when it was just regular cell phones. You know that since day one Microsoft has spent a lot of money on R&D both for software and hardware, there not going after Apple is no surprise considering the cross-licensing deals that these two have had since the beginning. I remember attending a conference in 1988 where Bill Gates was one of the guest speakers and he was describing computers of the future and some of those descriptions sound like phones and tablets that we have today, we all know that in the early 90's both Apple and Microsoft previewed tablet computers unfortunately the cpu's and gpu's of the day were not powerful enough and minitureization wasn't down to a scale it is today, but they displayed them therefore establishing prior art. So quit slagging the company for protecting what they envisaged and proved by proof of concept and have every right to claim ownership of. If the patents were that weak then there are lots of courts to fight in both European and North American, I don't think they are being shallow like Apple and protecting a design.
    • RE: Microsoft goes public with its 'Drawbridge' operating-system research p

      @Return_of_the_jedi Since you brought up Linux (even though the article did not), how would I implement this 'feature' on Linux?
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • RE: Microsoft goes public with its 'Drawbridge' operating-system research project

        @Rabid Howler Monkey

        Linux is free but NOT support.
      • RE: Microsoft goes public with its 'Drawbridge' operating-system research project


        If that's so, why can I not download my free copy of SUSE or Red Hat Enterprise Linux? Or how about the dedicated server versions? Oh, but those copies include proprietary software, so there's a charge for them....
      • RE: Microsoft goes public with its 'Drawbridge' operating-system research project


        Actually, you can, but that's not the point. Linux source is free, but companies aren't under any obligation to provide you with binaries, or their own artwork/copyrights in the OS. For RHEL, you have CentOS effectively compiling all RHEL packages from source and with their own artwork. The money you pay for those distros is also for the updates.
    • Does anyone go public about infringing patents?

      I could be wrong here but the other big company that is doing a lot of patent saber rattling is Apple and I don't believe Apple publicizes the patents it is suing about until we find out about them in a court filing. If MS were actually to take anyone to court, they would publicize the patents in question just like everyone else does.

      In this regard, I don't think MS is behaving any differently than any other company. The difference obviously is that MS is clearly giving terms that are deemed reasonable and so court is avoided. Apple, on the other hand, is clearly giving terms that are deemed unreasonable (stop selling your product) and so finds itself in court a lot.

      However, please prove me wrong by showing an Apple press release describing ongoing negotiations with other companies regarding patents that are being violated before the associated lawsuit was filed. All I can find are press releases of lawsuits being filed.
    • ahahahah

  • RE: Microsoft goes public with its 'Drawbridge' operating-system research project

    Is Drawbridge going to replace the Windows series?
  • RE: Microsoft goes public with its 'Drawbridge' operating-system research project

    the article mentions neither Linux nor patents so where did this discussion come from?
  • It'll never get used.

    With this, you could seamlessly run Windows applications on a linux box. Microsoft will never allow this to become a product. All the good stuff produced by the really smart people at MS gets buried by their greedy, short-sighted management. Thanks Bill!
  • RE: Microsoft goes public with its 'Drawbridge' operating-system research project

    Well, putting convoluted patent office exploits aside for the moment and returning to the main subject of the article: Microsoft simply doesn't have the coding chops to pull this off cleanly. Better that they takes some well established older OS with modest hardware requirements like Win2k, remove the fluff, clean up the code and harden it, and then make that a RISC-like micro-OS. If you make it small enough you can use elementary hash checksums across the memory space as well as critical kernel elements without noticeable degradation given the advances in cheap fast hardware. But given the efficiencies of Microsoft's coding in recent years, I would more likely accidentally create a cold fusion reactor in my washing machine before Microsoft can pull anything off like this cleanly. But what do I know -- I'm just some random dude on the Internet....
  • Microsoft's Research Projects ...

    ... remind me of that "Dilbert" cartoon where he invented an anti-gravity device, only to sell the rights to a company that used it to offer ... ahem ... support to sagging older ladies.

    Microsoft comes up with a clever-sounding new virtualization idea, only to use it to run the same old Excel and PowerPoint and Internet Explorer.

    "Look, they took out the engine of my Morris Minor and replaced it with a sub-miniaturized nuclear atomic engine smaller than my thumbnail!"

    "Yes, but it still runs dog-slow as any other Morris Minor."
  • RE: Microsoft goes public with its 'Drawbridge' operating-system research project

    Hmm funny looks a bit like argante from Lcamtuf
  • RE: Microsoft goes public with its 'Drawbridge' operating-system research project

    Funny looks like Argante from Lcamtuf
  • Wow the rehashs never end...

    Windows NT the original edition... Remember the book written by Helen Custer "Inside Windows NT". Well if I am not mistaken this was already there. They took out this functionality in Windows 3.51, but I am surprised that their "research" department would bring it back.

    This ship is going down...
  • RE: Microsoft goes public with its 'Drawbridge' operating-system research project

    It's nice to see that MS has at least few bright people working on something innovative...... I hope the labs don't get killed.....