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Microsoft prepares to make perhaps the biggest leap in its history

For a company like Microsoft, constant change is inherent for survival. The company recognizes this and with each iteration of its Windows operating system, it tries to react to the lessons learned from the last OS and the current market trends. Windows 7 will try to learn and grow from Windows Vista, just as Vista tried to grow from XP before it.

However, one thing for Microsoft has always stayed constant -- the Windows brand name. Since November of 1985, with the release of Windows 1.0, Microsoft has never strayed far from the brand name that made it in the OS business. But now as it sees the need to evolve yet again. Internal company documents have revealed it is doing the unthinkable -- it is designing a non-Windows branded OS.

Such ideas at Microsoft's OS division might be branded as heresy by some, but others laud the move. As Microsoft feels that no existing technology is sufficient for the OS's unique challenges, the new OS will be an entirely new design, built from the ground up. The system is codenamed Midori and it will be released sometime post-2010.

The new OS will focus on a rapidly growing field of computing -- cloud computing. Cloud computing -- or the movement to shift hardware and software, particularly storage, out of home PCs and into computing clusters -- is gaining significant momentum. Thanks to widespread high speed internet, an internet-connected box communicating remotely with hardware can perform visually approximately as well as a box with dedicated hardware. Further, by adopting a server-style hardware system for the cloud computing resources, costs will drop, the driving motivation behind the push to adopt cloud computing.

The internal documents reveal Microsoft to be focusing on this internet-centered aspect, emphasizing connectivity. The new OS is built on Microsoft Research's Singularity experimental OS, an entirely new OS codebase created but not yet publicly released. Midori will run on native hardware (x86, x64 and ARM), via hosting with Windows Hyper-V hypervisor, or even hosted within a Windows process of future operating systems.

Early reports indicate that Eric Rudder, senior vice president for technical strategy at Microsoft and an alumnus of Bill Gates' technical staff, is in charge of the new OS's development. Rob Helm, director of research at Directions on Microsoft confirmed that the rumors are likely true stating, "That sounds possible—I’ve heard rumors to the effect that he [Rudder] had an OS project in place."

Microsoft's plans detail efforts to make Windows and Midori applications coexist and work together nicely, although some efforts are also being made purely to migrate applications to Midori. Midori will be built upon an asynchronous-only architecture that is built for task concurrency and parallel use of local and distributed resources. This will help it manage various hardware and software resources over the net. It will also feature a distributed component-based and data-driven application model, and dynamic management of power and other resources.

The new efforts focus on allowing applications to run in a variety of environments from P2P networks to traditional servers to cloud computing clusters. Microsoft will use high level abstraction of the hardware resources to help programs work together; a scheme Microsoft internally calls Asynchronous Promise Architecture. In order to allow for cloud-hosted applications, Microsoft is focusing on three development branches -- execution techniques, a platform stack and a programming model that can tolerate cancellation, intermittent connectivity and latency. The OS features a new stack and techniques, which will allow for extreme multi-threading, with more threads than ever before running simultaneously.

The new efforts by Microsoft attempt to take the very complex program of cloud computing resource management and multitasking and break them down into a simple interface that will be useable by programmers. Forrester Research senior analyst Jeffrey Hammond says, "Mere mortal developers need a programming model/application model that lets them distribute processing to massively parallel devices without having to become experts. Even with the quad-core Intel chips today, you have to have specialist teams to take full advantage of them."

Among other things, Microsoft will migrate APIs, applications, and developers to a constrained model of state management. It is also using metadata heavily and looks to do away with dynamic loading. The new OS will be supported by .NET for programming projects. Much work will be done in incorporate easy to use abstraction and multitasking into the .NET framework.

The new OS will be slimmer with two kernels: a micro-kernel for low level and a second kernel for high level. It will also be more secure, with the components isolated and their communication channels more secure.

Ultimately, the programming and technical details of the new OS will likely matter little to the home user. What will matter is Microsoft is hoping to provide them with a more secure, cheaper OS+netbox option, which could possibly fall in the $250-$350 range. To add a bit of final perspective on Microsoft's groundbreaking new efforts its worth considering -- the last time Microsoft wrote an entirely new OS on this magnitude, there was no internet as we know it today. The changes that have come since are a key reason why Microsoft's decision to start from scratch may prove a savvy one.

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