Microsoft used its annual TechFest gathering of research-lab technicians in Redmond last week to launch a new prototype operating system, "Singularity".
Available on the company's CodePlex collaborative open-source website, the operating system is available for free to the academic and research communities in the hope that they will use it to develop new kinds of computer architecture.
According to Microsoft, Singularity is not the next Windows but is a "concept-car style" project, built from the ground up, with the specific goal of being more reliable than current operating systems and allowing researchers to test how operating systems and applications interact with each other.
Speaking at TechFest this year, Rick Rashid, senior vice president of Microsoft Research, said that the company is attempting to use technology developments to create a lasting and positive impact on the world's most pressing issues, from education and healthcare to energy and the environment.
"Computing impacts every facet of our lives, from the way we work to the way we learn and live," said Rashid. "Our job in research is to continuously advance technology to make our lives better in tangible ways."
Rashid also used TechFest to demonstrate the BEE3 hardware project designed by Microsoft, alongside researchers at the University of California, to allow configuration research and experimentation within computer architectures. "The idea behind it is to build a computer system that is configurable so that you can program one computer to be another computer, or to work with another kind of architecture, or experiment with new kinds of algorithms," said Rashid.
Created by Rashid himself nearly 17 years ago, Microsoft Research now generates about a quarter of the company's patents. In addition to the department at the company's headquarters in Redmond, the group has expanded to create R&D operations in San Francisco, Massachusetts, Beijing, Silicon Valley and Bangalore.