Microsoft, R2 Studios: The home-automation connection

Microsoft, R2 Studios: The home-automation connection

Summary: Microsoft is no stranger to the home-automation scene. If Redmond's rumored acquisition of id8 R2 Studios turns out to be true, there'd be plenty of synergies.

TOPICS: Microsoft, Start-Ups

The Wall street Journal reported on January 2 that Microsoft quietly bought id8 Group R2 Studios to boost its Xbox business.


A few subsequent reports -- none of which still has been confirmed officially by Microsoft, for what it's worth -- noted that the startup, which is the brainchild of the creator of the Slingbox, has been working on mobile apps that tap into home-automation systems. Given Microsoft's mission to morph the Xbox from just a gaming console to the center of users' living rooms, the Xbox-home-automation tie-in makes sense.

The addition of Kinect, Microsoft's gesture/voice-controllable sensor for Windows and Xbox, makes the home-automation possibilities even more interesting. More than a few individuals have created Kinect hacks to control their lights, open garages and more.

Xbox isn't the only part of Microsoft that has home-automation leanings. For years, Microsoft has been licensing embedded versions of its Windows operating system. The company has been working to improve the management of "the Internet of things" even before the company moved its embedded team into its Server and Tools business (which is home to Microsoft's systems-management products and technologies).

At the same time, Microsoft Research has been working on a project called "HomeOS" since at least 2010. Rather than controlling heating, air-conditioning and other home systems, HomeOS seems to be more about simplifying the connections and management of the many electronic gadgets and systems typically found in homes.

A white paper describing the project never said that HomeOS is derived from or based on Windows. (There are other operating system research projects and incubations at Microsoft, including Singularity and Midori, neither of which is Windows-based, so it's not a given that HomeOS is Windows-centric.) But HomeOS was built using C# and the .Net Framework 4.0, according to the white paper.

Microsoft Research currently is licensing (free; non-commercial use) the HomeOS prototype to academic instituitions "to encourage teaching and research on connected homes and devices," the HomeOS page on Microsoft's Web site says. Microsoft researchers also have tested HomeOS in more than a dozen homes.

(There's another related Microsoft Research effort, known as PreHeat, which is all about controlling home-heating systems, based on occupancy information.)

As the Wall Street Journal report noted, patents also are a big part of why Microsoft, Google, Apple and other rumored R2 suitors were interested in the startup in the first place. With SmartGlass and other technologies, Microsoft has been striving to make connectivity between the TV, phones, tablets and PCs seamless. 

Topics: Microsoft, Start-Ups


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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  • Given MS's security history.....

    I think I'll pass.
    Alan Smithie
    • 2003 vs 2013

      You said history and that is accurate. You do know that Microsoft products of today are some of the most secure available? That includes ie9, ie10, Win7, Win8, Windows Phone, etc.. Check this out:
      • The Iranians might be to differ

        Ask them about stuxnet.

        Where governments first tread, script kiddies will follow.
        Alan Smithie
        • You do know...

          that Microsoft has been linked to the development of Stuxnet. The created it, they can also block it.
          • "has been linked" -- by whom?

        • Siemens

          Stuxnet attacks Siemens control systems.
        • Then it sounds like you're completely screwed when it comes to security,

          since, if Microsoft is so good at creating secure objects, and then being so good at breaking secure objects, then you have no place to hide.

          When cybersecurity companies go out looking for people to work on their teams, they might be inclined to hire someone who is very good at hacking, since they might be better equipped to develop a more secure system. That being the case, wouldn't Microsoft have the most knowledgeable hackers in the industry? If that's the case, then you might also want to purchase the systems developed by "the best" in the industry?