In a handful of real homes, Microsoft is testing a prototype of a home-automation operating system on which its researchers have been working for several years.
More than a decade ago, Microsoft execs, led by Chairman Bill Gates, were touting a future where .Net coffee pots, bulletin boards and refrigerator magnets would be part of homes where smart devices would communicate and interoperate. Microsoft hasn't given up on that dream.
In 2010, Microsoft researchers published a whitepaper about their work on a HomeOS and a HomeStore — early concepts around a Microsoft Research-developed home-automation system. Those concepts have morphed into prototypes since then, based on a whitepaper, "An Operating System for the Home" (PDF), published last month on the Microsoft Research site.
The HomeOS is a "PC-like abstraction" for in-home devices, like lights, TVs, surveillance cameras, gaming consoles, routers, printers, PCs, mobile phones and more. These devices appear to the HomeOS user as peripherals connected to a single PC.
The whitepaper never explicitly said that HomeOS is derived from or based on Windows. (There are other operating system research projects and incubations at Microsoft, including Singularity (PDF) and Midori, neither of which is Windows based, so it's not a given that HomeOS is Windows derived.) But it was built using C# and the .Net Framework 4.0, the new whitepaper on the technology explained.
The HomeOS test bed, as illustrated in a new Microsoft Research whitepaper.
The core of HomeOS is described in the whitepaper as "a kernel that is agnostic to the devices to which it provides access, allowing easy incorporation of new devices and applications. The HomeOS itself "runs on a dedicated computer in the home (eg, the gateway), and does not require any modifications to commodity devices," the paper added.
Microsoft has been testing HomeOS in 12 real homes over the past four to eight months, according to the latest updates. And 42 students have built new applications and added additional devices to support it, as well.
The HomeStore is still part of the HomeOS environment. The idea of the HomeStore is to simplify the process of finding new applications, drivers and devices, much like smartphone app stores do today.
As is true with all Microsoft Research projects, there's no guarantee of when and if HomeOS will be commercialised, or even "adopted" by a Microsoft product group. The fact that the Softies are sticking with this project and continuing to enhance it increases that likelihood, in my opinion, however.