Foley on Microsoft

5 Futuristic Microsoft Technologies

From Codebook to Orleans to XAX, here's five upcoming Microsoft technologies Mary-Jo Foley says to watch out for.

Microsoft execs love to brag that its researchers invented the technology that made Kinect and Windows Phone 7 possible -- but there's more than consumer technologies coming out of Microsoft Research (MSR). There are projects that could well drive whatever OS and browser succeed Windows and Internet Explorer. Not just that, MSR is also building leading-edge frameworks, tools and infrastructure for cloud computing. And in virtualization, MSR is experimenting with new and improved programming languages and tools.

Microsoft's pat answer, when asked about MSR projects, is that there's no guarantee if or even when they'll be commercialized. I've found most recent MSR projects to be anything but research for research's sake. Here are five I'm currently watching like a hawk.

Codebook brings social networking to a new audience: software developers. Codebook connects "artifacts" and people in software repositories. It's different from the Microsoft Team Foundation Server collaboration platform, though I could see it becoming an adjunct. MSR built a social search portal, "WHoseIsThat," using the Codebook framework.

"We improve the search experience in two ways: first, we search across multiple software repositories at once with a single query; second, we return not just a list of artifacts in the results, but also engineers," researchers explain.

There are many MSR OS projects that evolved from Singularity, a microkernel, non-Windows-based OS developed a few years ago. One of these is SafeOS, also known as Verve.

Verve is about building an OS stack with verifiable and type-safe managed code. That stack includes a nucleus for accessing hardware and memory, a kernel for building services on the nucleus and applications that run on top of the kernel.

Type safety and improved garbage collection are the focus of two other Microsoft projects -- "Redhawk" and "MinSafe" -- both of which were precursors to the Midori distributed OS incubation, according to my sources. Microsoft officials repeatedly declined comment on Redhawk or MinSafe, but from what I hear, the efforts focus on a managed-code execution environment that's lightweight and appealing to developers put off by the overhead of the current CLR, which is at the heart of the Microsoft .NET Framework.

ServiceOS, in spite of its name, is more browser than OS. It's the newest name for the MSR projects formerly known as "Gazelle" and "MashupOS."

ServiceOS aims to tighten security by isolating the browser from the OS.

According to a note on the MSR site, there are some definite and fairly near-term commercial goals for ServiceOS. "The ServiceOS project aims to address many challenges faced by our Windows Phone platform, post-Windows 8 platform, the browser platform and Office platform," according to the note.

Today, the Microsoft programming model for the cloud is .NET. At some point in the future, it may become Orleans. Orleans is a project in the Microsoft eXtreme Computing Group, which is chartered with research and development "on the cutting edge of ultrafast computing." A prototype of Orleans exists and a few other MSR projects, like the Horton online-query execution tool, are built on Orleans.

Orleans has three main components: The programming model, the programming language and tools, and a runtime system. Orleans uses standard .NET-based languages (currently only C#) with custom attributes, according to the Web site.

XAX, at its simplest description, is a browser plug-in. It allows users to safely run x86-native code as a browser extension, using "PicoProcesses," a micro-virtualization framework. Applications are sandboxed, making XAX akin to ActiveX, but actually secure, as one of my contacts explained.

XAX relies on both application and system virtualization. Parts of applications and system components work in a hardware virtual machine (VM). Applications reside in PicoProcesses, which are in VMs. Interestingly, XAX is OS- and tool-independent. Maybe it could end up plugging in one day to ServiceOS/Verve?

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She has a new book out, Microsoft 2.0 (John Wiley & Sons, May 2008), about what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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Reader Comments:

Sun, Feb 2, 2014

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Sun, Jan 19, 2014

Hello, Interesting stuff. Your findings seem to be in line with what I wouldhttp://b DOT, but it is always nice to see this verified by some studies. Maybe it would be more interesting to check if, once a developer has started using generics he/she does less casting/non-generic code use after that? Otherwise I wouldhttp://b DOT it is hard to compare across projects, people, their significance in contributing code (amount/person and their love of generics), few would bother changing old stuff except iteratively at the most, etc.Also, I am not sure if I understand your graphs properly but it seems that as generics become used more (blue line goes up) the red line goes down or flattens. What is that? Increased use of generics leads to less code? Cheers,Teemu

Sat, Jan 18, 2014

The graphs are the resluts of several complex forces. For example, in the paper there are some graphs that show different uses of generics by developers. Because some developer's still use raw types, casts are still being introduced. The reduction of casts in the program should have two sources and one assumption:- A migration effort to replace old code with generics should reduce casts.- An unified embrace of generics by all developers should stop the introduction of any new casts.- Assumption: With generics, no casts are needed. In effect, the number of casts (normalized to program size) should be reduced.Interestingly, we found that the first two did not happen.Something that is still unknown is why this assumption may fail: i.e. casts may still be needed with the use of generics. This is something that only a more detailed code inspection can find. We may find for example networking code or interfaces between different libraries may still require casting.This is something we will examine in more detail in the future.Ideally, we should have a model that can explain how much of casts is caused by a) lack of migration, b) mixed adoption (programmers introducing raw types), c) failures of generics.

Thu, Jul 21, 2011 Steven

I am interested in getting my hands on Xax (no, not the Urban Dictionary kind). My company is embarking on a monumental task to move our desktop application onto the web. Xax sounds like an interesting solution but there is very little information about Xax on the web. I have read the paper: "Leveraging legacy code to deploy desktop applications on the Web" by John R. Douceur, Jeremy Elson, Jon Howell, and Jacob R. Lorch It appears to be written in 2008. Where is it today? Is it still futuristic 3 years later?

Fri, Feb 11, 2011

There is a typo in the title, "Me too" is misspelled as "futuristic". SourceForge, been around for years (so how is Codebook futuristic)? Same goes for the rest which are products already out in the open source community and have been for years. New for Microsoft, yes. In the near future for Microsoft, perhaps. But futuristic? We are talking a company known for commercialization and acquisition, not innovation.

Fri, Feb 11, 2011

.NET can already run on Linux using the Mono project.

Fri, Feb 11, 2011 Alex

LoL, yeah I saw the Urban Dic definition for XAX. Too funny, but I don't think that is what Microsoft or Mary Jo Foley had in mind.

Fri, Feb 11, 2011 Michael

I'd also be interested in knowing if there are any plans to get .Net working on Mac or Linux to broaden the reach of MS software. As a developer, this is the one area that frustrates me.

Fri, Feb 11, 2011 James

Check out the Urban Dictionary definition for XAX. It's the first result that comes up when you google it.

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