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Microsoft projects aim to rival Chrome OS

Gazelle and Menlo first steps towards a modern browser/OS

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The reorganization of Microsoft's mobile unit disappointed many with its conservatism, putting a division that needs radical thinking more directly under the control of CEO Steve Ballmer, who remains firmly grounded in the traditional Windows business norms.

There was scarcely any mention of the projects that could drag Microsoft's mobile software efforts into the modern web-based world, notably Midori, described as its "first post-Windows OS", and Gazelle, a browser-as-OS development that could rival Google Chrome OS.

Undeterred by their low profile ZDnet's expert Microsoft watcher, Mary Jo Foley, has been checking up on the projects. Gazelle, now renamed ServiceOS, sounds somewhat like Chrome OS, though - true to Windows roots - it has a larger OS layer than Google's full-browser platform. The browser itself is isolated from this OS layer for greater security and becomes the key system for access to web services.

In a recent white paper, two researchers on the project, Helen Wang and Alex Moschuk, wrote: "Existing browsers rely on resource access control and sharing mechanisms built into traditional OSs. Unfortunately, such mechanisms are ill-suited for many complex web services, such as those embedding mash-ups of other web services." ServiceOS, then, builds resource sharing and access control into the heart of the browser, creating a less unwieldy OS. ServiceOS manages many resources from the processor and memory to devices like cameras and network bandwidth.

Earlier in the month, Foley also investigated progress on Midori. Its starting point appears to be a project called Menlo, which will create a version of Windows NT, the underlying system for full Windows, to replace Windows CE, the foundation of Windows Embedded and other cutdown platforms. Menlo has an associated R&D initiative, Experiment 19, which is looking to create a complementary graphics platform. The effort is headed up by Galen Hunt, a senior researcher who also led the firm's Singularity project, which has created a microkernel-based OS. This remains in the labs for now, but is expected to be the basis of Midori, a future system designed to be Microsoft's first 'post-Windows' OS. Midori will be optimized for multicore ARM or x86 processors and mobile devices, say insiders, and offer a "clean break from the existing Windows user interface model" at the presentation layer.

This is unlikely to be commercialized for another couple of years, if ever, but Menlo may be more immediate and targeted at the next release of embedded/mobile OSs at Microsoft. A job posting referred to it as a project "exploring the future of computing when mobiles becomes users' primary PCs".

Copyright © 2010, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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