Microsoft's MashupOS leaps like a Gazelle

Microsoft's MashupOS leaps like a Gazelle

Summary: Tracking Microsoft Research projects is a tricky business. Take "Gazelle," for example. Gazelle, according to a new Microsoft technical report, is a "secure web browser constructed as a multi-principal OS."


Tracking Microsoft Research projects is a tricky business.

Take "Gazelle," for example.

Gazelle, according to a new Microsoft technical report, is a "secure web browser constructed as a multi-principal OS." I'm betting Microsoft will show off Gazelle at its TechFest '09 research fair, which opens in Redmond on February 24. (The first day of TechFest is primarily for the press and analysts; the rest of the week, it is geared toward Microsoft employees.)

Gazelle is actually the new name for a project Microsoft demonstrated last year at its TechFest Research fair under the codename "MashupOS." I still don't thoroughly understand what Gazelle has that IE 8, Chrome, Opera and other current browsers don't -- other than an operating system kernel that "exclusively manages resource protection and sharing across web site principals." (Go here for a  slightly more understandable explanation of what Microsoft Research is attempting to do in the browser-security space.)

According to the research paper, Helen Wang and other Microsoft researchers have built a Gazelle demo:

"We have built an IE-based prototype that realizes Gazelle’s multi-principal OS architecture and at the same time utilizes all the backward-compatible parsing, DOM management, and JavaScript interpretation that already exist in IE. Our prototype experience indicates that it is feasible to turn an existing browser into a multi-principal OS while leveraging its existing capabilities."

Microsoft researchers are quick to note that they make no promises about how, when and if their research projects will become standalone products or parts of other commercial products. But I still like keeping tabs on them, given that years after an MSR project debuts under one codename, it may end up shipping with an entirely different one. (PlayTable + several years of development + multiple codenames ultimately yielded Surface, for instance.)

When will Gazelle/MashupOS yield a new browser, or at least a more secure IE? It's anyone's guess -- just like it is when trying to predict when any of Microsoft Research's developments will find a home in one or more product groups....

Topics: Software, Browser, 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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  • Definition of multi-principal (as I understand it)

    Today when you use a browser, all code that runs in your browser's process runs as "you" -- your user account in Windows or whatever OS you're running. (In Protected Mode IE, it is a restricted token, but it is still fundamentally "you".)

    Multi-Principal essentially means that when you browse, instead of the process running as "you", it runs as user "". Browsing runs it as user "". Thus you automatically get all of the OS's security mechanisms for separation of user privelege.

    Of course since today's mashups depend on communication between different domains, you need to have someone (Gazelle's "browser kernel") brokering the communication between these different processes.
    • very interesting

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