Microsoft has applied for a patent for a distributed operating system that matches the description of one its researchers have been developing, known as Helios.
(Thanks to ZDNet blogger @Manan for the link to the patent application.)
The patent application, dated March 2009, is for "an operating system distributed over heterogeneous platforms." From the patent abstract:
"An illustrative operating system distributes two or more instances of the operating system over heterogeneous platforms of a computing device. The instances of the operating system work together to provide single-kernel semantics to present a common operating system abstraction to application modules. The heterogeneous platforms may include co-processors that use different instruction set architectures and/or functionality, different NUMA domains, etc. Further, the operating system allows application modules to transparently access components using a local communication path and a remote communication path. Further, the operating system includes a policy manager module that determines the placement of components based on affinity values associated with interaction relations between components. The affinity values express the sensitivity of the interaction relations to a relative location of the components."
The three inventors listed on the patent application are all among those leading the Helios project.
Like a few other Microsoft operating system projects, Helios is based on the Microsoft Singularity operating system. Singularity is a non-Windows-based microkernel developed by Microsoft Researchers, including Galen Hunt, who is one of the inventors listed on the patent application. Other Microsoft operating-system projects based on Singularity include the Midori operating system that is currently in incubation at the company, and its Barrelfish operating system project, which Microsoft Research is developing in conjunction with university researchers.
As I noted in a blog post earlier this year, Microsoft researchers built Helios by modifying the Singularity research development kit (RDK) to support satellite kernels, remote message passing and affinity. They implemented satellite-kernel support on two different hardware platforms: an Intel XScale programmable PCI Express I/O card and cache-coherent NUMA architectures. Helios “treats programmable devices as part of a ‘distributed system in the small,’” according to Microsoft’s description, and “is inspired by distributed operating systems such as LOCUS, Emerald and Quicksilver.”
As Microsoft Research officials often repeat, there is no guarantee when or if any Microsoft Research project will be commercialized. But a patent application does make Helios seem more definitive and concrete....