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Microsoft forges ahead with new home-automation OS

More than a decade ago, Microsoft execs, led by Chairman Bill Gates, were touting a future where .Net coffee pots, bulletin boards, and refrigerator magnets would be part of homes where smart devices would communicate and interoperate. Microsoft hasn’t given up on that dream.

In 2010, Microsoft researchers published a white paper about their work on a HomeOS and a HomeStore — early concepts around a Microsoft Research-developed home-automation system. Those concepts have morphed into prototypes since then, based on a white paper, “An Operating System for the Home,” published this month on the Microsoft Research site.

The HomeOS is a “PC-like abstraction” for in-home devices, like lights, TVs, surveillance cameras, gaming consoles, routers, printers, PCs, mobile phones and more. These devices appear to the HomeOS user as peripherals connected to a single PC.

The white paper never explicitly says that HomeOS is derived from or based on Windows. (There are other operating system research projects and incubations at Microsoft, including Singularity and Midori, neither of which is Windows-based, so it’s not a given that HomeOS is Windows-derived.) But it was built using C# and the .Net Framework 4.0, the new white paper on the technology explained. The core of HomeOS is described in the white paper as “a kernel that is agnostic to the devices to which it provides access, allowing easy incorporation of new devices and applications. The HomeOS itself “runs on a dedicated computer in the home (e.g., the gateway) and does not require any modifications to commodity devices,” the paper added.

More info here.

Brazilian Rainforest Study Could Yield New Model for Environmental Research

The Amazon rainforest alone stores an amount of carbon equivalent to a decade of global fossil fuel emissions, and plays a crucial role in the world’s precipitation and oxygen-transfer processes — earning it the nickname, the “lungs of the world.” Because of its sheer size, changes in the forest affect not only the local environment, but global weather, by altering wind and ocean current patterns.

Understanding how those processes work on a small scale was the goal of the recent Brazilian Rainforest Sensor Network project — a joint effort from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Johns Hopkins University, the São Paulo Research Foundation, the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research, andMicrosoft Research.

It’s part of an effort to help scientists better understand the planet’s delicate and complex systems, and the impact of human activities. Rob Bernard, Microsoft’s chief environmental strategist, says that information technology is playing a key role in that quest. Microsoft is working on several fronts to help scientists understand and share environmental information, and demonstrate the potential of this research.

“With the world’s population expected to hit 9 billion people by 2040, all of us need to better understand our impact on the planet,” Bernard says. “In order to understand, we need to have better information and better ways to visualize that information.”

In 2009, scientists from the groups working on the Amazon project converged in Mata Atlântica, the Atlantic coastal rainforest in the state of São Paulo, southeast Brazil, to develop, build, test and deploy a wireless sensor network for collecting environmental data.

Program Manager Rob Fatland of Microsoft Research’s External Research division was brought onboard the project for his expertise in deploying sensor networks into rugged environments.

More info here.

The Fourth Paradigm: Data-Intensive Scientific Discovery

Increasingly, scientific breakthroughs will be powered by advanced computing capabilities that help researchers manipulate and explore massive datasets.

The speed at which any given scientific discipline advances will depend on how well its researchers collaborate with one another, and with technologists, in areas of eScience such as databases, workflow management, visualization, and cloud computing technologies.

In The Fourth Paradigm: Data-Intensive Scientific Discovery, the collection of essays expands on the vision of pioneering computer scientist Jim Gray for a new, fourth paradigm of discovery based on data-intensive science and offers insights into how it can be fully realized.

More info here.