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Microsoft developing HomeOS to manage appliances on single system

02 Apr 2012

Microsoft has shed light on a new operating system it is developing that  is designed to let users control their homes systems, such as lighting, heating and locks with the wave of the hand.

HomeOS is an attempt to create an operating system that can connect all manner of home-based appliances that can now be connected to a network in a user-friendly manner, so it can be operated by computing novices.

At its most basic, HomeOS would allow users to view feeds from home security systems on their smartphones when away from their house, but it could also be used to control heating systems and other similar systems.

Microsoft researchers said HomeOS would ensure, "all devices in the home appear as peripherals connected to a single logical PC".

The firm has been running HomeOS in trials with users and programmers and has just released a research paper documenting their progress.

It recruited 12 users to live with the system and assess how easy it was to do a number of tasks, including configuring a music application, which uses motion-detectors and speakers to enable music to play continuously in different rooms as an occupant moves through the house.

Other tasks included configuring the system to allow residents to automatically unlock the front door when they arrived at the house, but to restrict the times that guests could come and go freely.

To test how easy the system was for developers, the researchers got 10 volunteers to design a pair of applications, having been given a few minutes instruction on HomeOS. One of the applications was to control the lights in the house, based on an occupant's previously defined preferences.

The application had to be able to discover which rooms had cameras, and be able to integrate facial recognition components and dimmer controls.

HomeOS has also been given to more than 40 other developers, who've had free rein to play with it. One developer used it to link light controls with an Xbox console, using the Kinect system to enable users to control the lights with a wave of their hand.

However, the system still has some way to go before it is ready for mainstream use, the researchers concluded.

For example, many of the devices that can be connected have limited application programming interfaces, restricting the extent to which they can be made to work with HomeOS.

“Our hope is that this work spurs the research community to further explore the home as a future computing platform,” added the researchers.

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