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Microsoft takes Gazelle secure browser on road trip

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Microsoft will next month present its browser-as-operating-system project to an international symposium of computer and security experts.

The Microsoft Research team behind Gazelle plans to discuss the architecture and principles behind their baby at the Usenix Security Symposium in Montreal, Canada.

Gazelle is designed to answer the growing problems of security, rendering, and performance caused by the increasing reliance on the browser in the course of day-to-day computer use.

AJAX is widely used by websites, and nowadays, people access multiple sites simultaneously. But AJAX poses a security threat through cross-site scripting, potentially providing hackers with access to a PC, while multiple tabbed browsing can slow performance and cause systems to crash.

Gazelle is a kernel that tries to sidestep these issues by treating the browser as a self-contained operating system. It's designed to protect website instances from each other and from the host machine by managing access to the PC's underlying resources.

Microsoft senior researcher Helen Wang working on Gazelle said Microsoft's work could lead to browsers evolving into multi-principal - translated: multiple website - operating systems. "Web applications would take a giant step forward in functionality and quality."

"I would like to see Web applications achieve function and quality parity with desktop apps," Wang said on the Microsoft Research site. "That's the ultimate goal of this research."

Work from Microsoft Research generally feeds into the company's products. Head of Research Rick Rashid recently noted his early work on data compression, networking, and operating systems went into Windows - an annual, multi-billion-dollar franchise for the company.

This latest work on Gazelle comes as others in the industry are thinking in terms of taking the browser to its next level.

Mozilla Labs last month launched a competition to re-invent the whole idea of tabbed browsing to cleanly and easily create, navigate, and manage multiple websites within the same browser instance. "Today, 20 plus parallel sessions are quite common; the browser is more of an operating system than a data display application," Mozilla Labs said.

Microsoft's early results with Gazelle have been mixed.

A version of the company's Internet Explorer built on Gazelle proved to be slower and use more resources than IE 7 on new tabs for a blank page and for navigating a number of sites. The Gazelle model only beat IE 7 on start-up times. ®

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