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's the author of "Microsoft 2.0" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which examines what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.


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