Microsoft forges ahead with new home-automation OS

In a handful of real homes, Microsoft is testing a prototype of a home-automation operating system on which its researchers have been working for several years.

More than a decade ago, Microsoft execs, led by Chairman Bill Gates, were touting a future where .Net coffee pots, bulletin boards, and refrigerator magnets would be part of homes where smart devices would communicate and interoperate. Microsoft hasn't given up on that dream.

Microsoft
In 2010, Microsoft researchers published a white paper about their work on a HomeOS and a HomeStore -- early concepts around a Microsoft Research-developed home-automation system. Those concepts have morphed into prototypes since then, based on a white paper, "An Operating System for the Home," published this month on the Microsoft Research site.

The HomeOS is a "PC-like abstraction" for in-home devices, like lights, TVs, surveillance cameras, gaming consoles, routers, printers, PCs, mobile phones and more. These devices appear to the HomeOS user as peripherals connected to a single PC.

The white paper never explicitly says 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-derived.) But it was built using C# and the .Net Framework 4.0, the new white paper on the technology explained.

The HomeOS test bed, as illustrated in a new Microsoft Research white paper. Microsoft
The core of HomeOS is described in the white paper as "a kernel that is agnostic to the devices to which it provides access, allowing easy incorporation of new devices and applications. The HomeOS itself "runs on a dedicated computer in the home (e.g., the gateway) and does not require any modifications to commodity devices," the paper added.

Microsoft has been testing HomeOS in 12 real homes over the past four to eight months, according to the latest updates. And 42 students have built new applications and added additional devices to support it, as well.

The HomeStore is still part of the HomeOS environment. The idea of the HomeStore is to simplify the process of finding new applications, drivers and devices, much like smartphone app stores do today.

As is true with all Microsoft Research projects, there's no guarantee when and if HomeOS will be commercialized, or even be "adopted" by a Microsoft product group. The fact the Softies are sticking with this project and continuing to enhance it increases that likelihood, in my opinion however.

About the author

    Mary Jo Foley has been a tech journalist for almost 30 years. She is editor of ZDNet's "All About Microsoft" blog. She authored "Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft Plans to Stay Relevant in the Post-Gates Era" and co-hosts the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT Network.

     

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