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Refrigerator? No, That
Refrigerator? No, That's a Peripheral in Microsoft's HomeOS

By Barry Levine
April 30, 2012 11:55AM

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Applications developed for Microsoft's HomeOS include one that generates an e-mail with photos snapped by in-home cameras whenever a front or back door is opened or if the doorbell rings, face-recognition reminder systems, and Microsoft Kinect cameras that provide gestural control for devices. Microsoft has released new details on HomeOS.

Watching and controlling home surveillance cameras from your smartphone. Remotely setting all the energy devices in your house. These have been the stuff of home automation dreams for years, but now Microsoft, hoping to move things along, is releasing new details on progress made by its HomeOS research project.

In a new video and white paper, the technology giant presents the platform, which treats virtually any electronic device in the home as a controllable peripheral. The research paper, An Operating System for the Home, mentions that the platform has been running as a prototype in a dozen homes for four to eight months, and that a variety of applications have been built by students and researchers.

'A Single Logical PC'

The idea of a connected home is not a new one, and dozens of companies and labs have discussed, developed, and proposed concepts and solutions in recent years. In 2010, for example, Microsoft released a white paper about HomeOS, along with a HomeStore for apps, drivers and drives. The newly released research paper and video describe the prototypes and applications that have been developed from that concept.

Home automation and control has not yet achieved critical mass because of such factors as technical complexity, a huge array of manufacturers for home devices, lack of standards, setup time, and cost. Microsoft's newest research attempts to address all of these issues.

Microsoft's proposed solution, as the paper states, is to create a platform where "all devices in the home appear as peripherals connected to a single logical PC," which could be a smartphone or tablet. The company said the HomeOS platform has been under development for more than two years. Microsoft has also had a prototype smart home in operation in Redmond, Wash., the company's headquarters, for some time.

The key aspects of the platform are a device-agnostic kernel, and protocol-independent services that allow developers to address simple abstractions in order to access devices, rather than the devices themselves. HomeOS supports several existing device protocols, such as Z-Wave and DLNA.

Applications developed for the HomeOS platform include one that generates an e-mail notification with photos snapped by in-home cameras whenever a front or back door is opened at unexpected times or if the doorbell rings, face-recognition reminder systems that are keyed to individual household occupants, and Kinect cameras that provide in-the-air gestural control for standard devices.

Possibly Businesses as Well

The current platform prototype was built using C# and the .Net Framework 4.0, but it is not yet clear to what extent, if any, the new HomeOS involves Windows.

We asked Information Technology Intelligence Consulting's Laura DiDio if the whole idea of a home operating system was a solution in search of a problem.

She said that a HomeOS could have a real market, especially if "the case could be made that it helps save money through energy management." If so, DiDio said, it could also become appealing to businesses on that factor alone.

But, she noted, "although this platform concept has been around for a long time, it still needs to mature and coalesce."

DiDio added that the tipping point might not be reached until utility companies, broadband companies and manufacturers begin to come together around such a platform, and until Microsoft -- or someone else -- addresses the issue of what kind of support will be available when this home or business platform doesn't work.

Tell Us What You Think



Posted: 2012-04-30 @ 1:15pm PT
Automation Dreams?? I've been using z-wave camera, door locks, thermostat & light switches for a couple of years with all the features you mention including text notification when someone unlocks the front door with their unique code which I supplied. Unlike what you describe as the Microsoft approach, the vera system uses my router so it works even if the PC is turned off. I can change the thermostat setting, view my living room camera, turn lights on and off all with my iPhone app. What is Microsoft doing that is new to "move things along"?

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