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Will Microsoft Take a Sip of 'Midori'?

Eric Rudder, Microsoft's senior vice president for technical strategy, is now overseeing the Midori effort.
After some 23 years of Windows development, Microsoft appears to be more seriously considering the delivery of a non-Windows operating system. "Midori," the code name for a componentized operating system being built from scratch, has been kicking around the Redmond labs for four or five years.

Recently, however, sources familiar with the project say Midori is now in "incubation," meaning the product is likely meandering its way closer to commercial availability. Midori is just one of a number of incubations under Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer.

However, another indication that the company is beginning to take Midori more seriously is that Eric Rudder, a longtime Microsoft veteran and senior vice president for technical strategy, is now supervising the project.

Predictably, the only thing that Microsoft officials will say publicly about Midori is that it's nothing but a research project. But sources inside and outside the company, who asked not to be named, have shared a bit more about Microsoft's next-generation OS effort.

Working with Windows
Midori began life in Microsoft Research's labs under the code-name "Singularity," a microkernel-based OS developed from scratch as a proof-of-concept as to the benefits of managed code. But based on published reports in late July, Microsoft is structuring Midori to run across parallel- and concurrent-computing configurations, and the company will make some of Midori's elements available as software, and others as "cloud" services.

Microsoft officials won't discuss when or how the company might take Midori to market. Based on the most recent information, it appears the Midori team is still in early planning phases and is wavering on the extent to which it should break Windows compatibility.

But just because Midori isn't Windows at its core doesn't mean Microsoft is going to abandon Windows developers and users. By running Midori in a virtualized environment on top of Windows or, conversely, running Windows apps virtualized atop Midori, Microsoft might still be able to release a more modern OS.

Reportedly, an important goal for Microsoft to achieve is for Midori applications to interoperate smoothly with existing Windows applications, as well as offering a migration path.

Microsoft is working on a couple of projects related to Midori that the company will likely commercialize or productize before the new OS ever comes to market. Both Redhawk and MinSafe, interrelated projects from the Developer and Windows Divisions, respectively, are aimed at providing a new, managed-code execution environment. Because they're both lightweight, they should be more appealing to those developers put off by the perceived overhead of the current Common Language Runtime (CLR) at the heart of the .NET Framework.

Downsizing
In any case Microsoft appears to be thinking smaller when it comes to its OSes. Not only is Midori coursing its way through the development labs, but there's also MinWin, a boiled-down Windows core that's supposed to live at the heart of next-gen versions of Windows. It's unclear, though, if MinWin will make it into Windows 7 -- the successor to the beleaguered Windows Vista -- due in late 2009 or early 2010.

With Windows XP containing 27 million lines of code and Vista a whopping 50 million, many industry observers believe it's way past time for Microsoft to deliver slimmed-down versions of its OSes. It would not only be more practical and cost-effective for users and developers, but also open up more market opportunities for the company in the burgeoning small-footprint market.

"Microsoft has to address this problem -- otherwise, it will be this fortress that everyone will try to go around. Eventually the company will find it can't stop all these people from going around them, and they're going to miss a lot of opportunities," says Al Gillin, research VP, systems software, for IDC in Framingham, Mass.

Gillin adds that Microsoft has already put in place some of the pieces for a componentized approach to OS development, most notably with the work it did on Windows Server 2008.

"With Windows Server 2008, they spent a lot of time on the componentization of the OS. Today that work can't be leveraged for client purposes -- it's mainly used for the Server Core roles. But if you can have a Server Core, why can't you have Client Core?" Gillin asks.

Microsoft officials, of course, decline to discuss how they might bring Midori to market -- whether the company would attempt to sign bundling deals with existing PC manufacturers, or if Midori would be available only through a Web site. Based on the latest information, Midori doesn't appear to be around the corner, so Redmond will have more than a little time to figure that out.

About the Author

Ed Scannell is editor of Redmond. Mary Jo Foley is a Redmond columnist, is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades.

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