Microsoft unveils Project HomeOS

April 5, 2012 // 12:12 p.m.

Tags: #home-network #homeos #microsoft #microsoft-bob #microsoft-research #networking #user-experience #user-interface

Following the stellar success of Microsoft Bob (previous statement may contain traces of lie), the software giant is heading into the living room once more with HomeOS.

For those who are blessed with ignorance of the matter, Bob was a Microsoft project from the nineties in which the company attempted to provide an alternative user interface for non-technical computer users. Designed as an add-on for Windows 95 and Windows NT, Bob was not a commercial success: by the time Windows 98 was released, Bob had been consigned to the dustbin of history.

HomeOS, thankfully, is a very different project, although one with the same overall goal: to make computing easier for the less technical types.

'It is no secret that homes are ever-increasing hotbeds of new technology such as set-top boxes, game consoles, wireless routers, home automation devices, tablets, smart phones, and security cameras,' the Microsoft research team responsible for the concept explains in an introduction piece. 'This innovation is breeding heterogeneity and complexity that frustrates even technically-savvy users’ attempts to improve day-to-day life by implementing functionality that uses these devices in combination.

'To simplify the management of technology and to simplify the development of applications in the home, we are developing an "operating system" for the home. HomeOS provides a centralised, holistic control of devices in the home. It provides to users intuitive controls to manage their devices. It provided to developers high-level abstractions to orchestrate the devices in the home.'

HomeOS, then, is a potential solution to the growing heterogeneity of the modern home network; a single operating system for which manufacturers can write applications for command and control of devices from security cameras to home theatre systems. Such applications will, Microsoft explains, be made available on the HomeStore digital distribution channel - proceeds from which the company takes a cut, naturally.

For now, Microsoft is making the system available under a free licence for non-commercial use. It's already seen adoption by academics from universities across the US, and makes a claim of over a dozen prototype installations in homes.

What the company doesn't have yet, of course, is any customers. It's here that HomeOS is likely to struggle: an operating system to provide a single unified user experience for all network-connected objects in the home only works if all the network-connected objects have drivers and applications created for the operating system.

As a result, Microsoft risks finding its latest project in the limbo of Catch 22: manufacturers don't bother writing support for HomeOS into their products because nobody uses it, and nobody uses it because manufacturers have't written support for HomeOS into their products.

If you think Microsoft might be on to something with HomeOS, you can head over to the official website for video demos and a list of applications.
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