Microsoft researcher talks tools, telescope, and iPhone

Speaking to developers at PDC 2008, Rick Rashid notes the Mach kernel he developed at Carnegie Mellon 25 years ago is at the heart of Mac OS X. Plus: toolkits and Worldwide Telescope software.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
2 min read
Rick Rashid
Microsoft researcher Rick Rashid speaks to developers Wednesday at the Professional Developer Conference. Ina Fried/CNET News

LOS ANGELES--As he began his speech on Wednesday, Microsoft Research chief Rick Rashid talked up his ties, not just to Microsoft's products, but also to those from Apple.

"If you use a Macintosh or an iPhone, which honestly I would not recommend, you would be using code that I wrote more than 25 years ago," Rashid quipped to a crowd of developers at the company's Professional Developer Conference here. In his Carnegie Mellon days, Rashid helped create the Mach kernel that is at the heart of Mac OS X (Note: I originally stated that it was at the heart of FreeBSD, but others have pointed out that's not accurate).

Rashid noted that it's also a testimony to the staying power of core technology ideas.

"If you'd asked me 25 years ago if I thought code I was (writing, would be) running today on a cell phone, my reaction would have been 'what's a cell phone?'" Rashid said.

"It just shows you things really do survive and get used in interesting ways," Rashid said.

Later in his talk, Rashid is expected to show off some of the latest technology from the labs. (I'm betting we see Microsoft's Sphere surface computer, since Microsoft started the keynote Wednesday with a thank you note to the company that makes the display that powers Sphere.)

Update, 9:12 a.m. PDT: Microsoft put out a release noting some of the things Rashid will cover.

Microsoft plans an update to its Worldwide Telescope software and also detailed the Microsoft CCR and DSS Toolkit 2008, software developer tools that aim to "make it easier to develop loosely-coupled concurrent and distributed applications."

sensor map
Microsoft sensor technology is being used to create maps for research and work related to protecting the environment. Elinor Mills/CNET News

Other topics include: DryadLINQ (a project that enables ordinary programmers to write large-scale data parallel applications to run on large PC clusters), a tool to help kids learn to program known as Boku, as well as Second Light, a surface computing research project I wrote about earlier this month.

Meanwhile, Microsoft researcher Feng Zhao is discussing how computers factor into the world's energy use. In the U.S. for example, computing uses about 1.5 percent of all electricity, according to a 2006 EPA report. However, computers can also be used to make other systems, such as heating and air conditioning, more efficient.

A slide of updated telescope software features.
A slide of updated telescope software features. Elinor Mills/CNET News

Zhao showed a sensor map from Microsoft research that helped chart the temperature in the main convention hall over the last couple of days. He noted that Microsoft uses 10,000 such sensors throughout its data centers.

"It's...good for our customers," he said. "It's also good for the world."

Update, 9:45 a.m. PDT: Rashid discussed the update to the telescope software, which Microsoft is calling the "equinox" update.

The new update, going live now, offers more than double the data of the original release, including 55 new panoramic images from the Apollo moon and Pathfinder Mars missions.

The demos drew loud applause as Rashid showed a wide range of views, including a display of the entire viewable universe.