With the Internet increasingly taking on the role of the PC operating system and the growing prevalence of virtualization technologies, there likely will be a day when the Windows client OS as it has been developed for the past 20-odd years becomes obsolete.
According to published reports, Microsoft Corp. seems to be preparing for that day with an incubation project codenamed Midori, which seeks to create a componentized, non-Windows OS that will take advantage of technologies not available when Windows first was conceived.
Although Microsoft won’t comment publicly on what Midori is, the company has confirmed that it exists. Several reports — the most comprehensive to date published on Tuesday by Software Development Times — have gone much further than that.
That report paints Midori as an Internet-centric OS, based on the idea of connected systems, that largely eliminates the dependencies between local applications and the hardware they run on that exist with a typical operating system today.
The report claims Midori is an offshoot of Microsoft Research’s Singularity operating system project that creates “software-isolated processes” to reduce the dependencies between individual applications, and between the applications and the OS itself.
With the current ability to run an operating system, applications and even an entire PC desktop in a virtual container using a hypervisor, there is less and less need to have the OS and applications be installed natively on a PC, said Brian Madden, an independent technology analyst.
“Why do you need it?” he said. “Now we have hypervisors everywhere.”
Madden suggested that a future operating system could actually be a hypervisor itself, with virtual containers of applications running on top of it that can be transferred easily to other devices because they don’t have client-side dependencies to each other.
And while he has no information about Midori beyond the published reports, he said descriptions of it as an Internet-centric system that provides an overall “connectedness” between applications and devices makes sense for the future of cloud computing and on-demand services. Microsoft likely recognizes the need for this, even if the actual technology is still five or more years out, Madden said.
“They’re preparing for the day when people realize we don’t need Windows anymore,” and thinking about what the company has to do to remain relevant, he said.
Indeed, Microsoft has been emphasizing its virtualization strategy, based on its new Hyper-V hypervisor. The company also is moving full steam ahead with plans to virtualize applications and the desktop operating system as well.
Using virtualization in these scenarios would eliminate the problems with application compatibility that are still giving headaches to Windows Vista users, and that have made the OS a liability rather than a boon for some Windows power users and enterprise customers.
If Midori is close to what people think it is, it will represent a “major paradigm shift” for Windows users and be no easy task for Microsoft to pull off, said Andrew Brust, chief of new technology at the consulting firm Twentysix New York.
Brust said the challenges faced by Microsoft on a technology like Midori would include technical complexities as well as the “sobering compromises” that must be made when a product moves from being a research project into commercialization. “I would expect those in abundance with something of this scope and import,” he added.
Although he hasn’t been briefed by Microsoft on Midori, Brust said the idea makes sense because the company needs to drastically update Windows to stay current with new business models and computing approaches — particularly to help it compete against Google Inc. on the Web.
“Breaking with the legacy of a product that first shipped 23 years ago seems wholly necessary in terms of keeping the product manageable and in sync with computing’s state of the art,” Brust said. “If Midori isn’t real, then I imagine something of this nature still must be in the works. It’s absolutely as necessary, if not more so, to Microsoft’s survival as their initiatives around Internet advertising, search and cloud computing offerings.”