What Art Thou, Midori?
Published: August 6, 2008
by Alex Woodie
There's been a lot of speculation of late concerning future versions of Microsoft Windows, including a so-called "incubation project" that's codenamed "Midori." While Microsoft isn't saying a whole lot about Midori, that hasn't stopped people from contemplating what it might look like, including the possibility that it may be de-coupled from the legacy Windows kernel entirely, providing a fresh start for Microsoft as it seeks to create a new online computing platform.
According to SD Times, which claims it has seen Microsoft internal documents related to Midori's design, Midori is a next-generation platform for distributed computing that's created from the ground up for task concurrency and extreme parallelism. According the magazine, the new operating system is based on "Singularity," a previous research project, and includes a new application and programming model, internally called the Asynchronous Promise Architecture, that implements an abstraction layer on physical machines and their processors, thereby allowing users simple and easy access to applications running anywhere--on a desktop, on a hosted server, in peer-to-peer fashion, on an edge-device, or way up in a "cloud" data center.
Applications built on Midori will be able to access resources, like processing power or storage, across the network without the program incompatibility and development complexity that exists today. A key accomplishment of the model will be a programming model that's able to withstand the rigors of the Internet--the high levels of latency and periodic disconnectedness that dooms many applications and services that are sensitive to silence from the other end of the line. With Midori, applications will be able to pick up where they left off with no ill-effects.
The new asynchronous model has obvious connections to "Oslo," the codename of Microsoft's new service oriented architecture (SOA) strategy launched last October. By providing a programming model that enables various processes to run anywhere on the network, SOA application developers will be saved the pain of trying to account for this complexity as they stitch together new applications from distributed components.
Midori will implement a fully object-oriented operating system, including new "sandbox" techniques for isolating applications and program services from one another, which will increase security against certain types of attacks, according to SD Times. The magazine says Midori will use the Bartok compiler and runtime system (currently a research project), and will go far in closing the gap between privileged and unprivileged code (a source of security problems) and work to eliminate common programming errors. It will also implement a new multi-threaded presentation foundation that will replace Windows' current single-threaded design, which mandates that a Windows OS can only update one screen at a time, the magazine reports.
Microsoft has said that Eric Rudder, senior vice president of technical strategy for Microsoft, is heading up the Midori project. It has said little else about Midori, except that it's an "incubation project." Rudder, as you will remember, was assigned to work on Bill Gates' special projects back in 2005. Before that, he was head of the Server and Tools business, which was moved from the Platform and Services Division (PSD) to the Microsoft Business Division (MBD) in May 2007.
Microsoft's leadership is currently in a state of flux as it repositions itself to better address the industry's shift to an online-centric computing model. Last week it announced that the PSD has been split into two groups, including one group dedicated to building Windows and Windows Live, and another dedicated to building Online Services. The company also announced that PSD President Kevin Johnson will be leaving the company.
Those aren't the only personnel changes afoot. Jeff Raikes, who is currently president of the MBD, is retiring next month, and will be replaced by Stephen Elop, formerly chief operating officer (COO) at Juniper Networks, who was hired earlier this year. And of course there's Gates and the end of his day-to-day involvement in the company he founded 33 years ago.
Obviously Microsoft has a lot of work to do if it wants to lead computing into the future, as it has led the industry in the past. The last few years have seen a tectonic shift away from the hosted application model to an online service-based model, and the trend is only expected to continue. The software giant tried to buy some credibility in this department with a $44 billion acquisition, but Yahoo wanted no part of it. Now, as Web-based services and software as a service (SaaS) offerings become more popular, Microsoft is afraid that customers will no longer shell out the big bucks to buy software that's tied too closely to Windows.
A clean break in the form of Midori could be just what Microsoft needs to start fresh and really take advantage of the huge resources that distributed and parallel computing can deliver. With its integrated programming tool stack still the envy of the computing world, Microsoft has a huge head start compared to the untold number of Web-based startups that are biting at Microsoft's heals.
Unfortunately, the Windows operating system's huge momentum may make it difficult to implement dramatic change. Remember WinFS, the exciting new file system that was to debut with Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008? It was deemed too drastic a change, and dumped in favor of more incremental operating improvements, such as the User Account Control (UAC) and other security features. However, while the security upgrades made Vista more secure, it also hurt compatibility of Windows XP-era programs, and sales have suffered.
If even a moderate change like UAC roiled users, what would something like Midori do? Microsoft may get around this by positioning Midori not as an operating system but a new layer for cloud computing that other Windows systems could connect to. If not, millions of legacy Windows users may not take kindly to being left out of the new distributed computing model, as envisioned in Midori. Microsoft has hinted that the next release of Windows--codenamed Windows 7 and slated for delivery in 2010--will contain some nifty virtualization features to maintain compatibility with applications written for the Windows NT kernel (the heart of every Windows client and server release since Windows XP). Let's hope Microsoft brings all of its resources to maintain this level of compatibility with Midori. It seems like an almost insurmountable job, but maybe Microsoft can pull it off.
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