Is a Streaming OS in Microsoft's Future?

A new patent application shows Microsoft is planning on an operating system that boots through a chain of storage devices, a big change from your typical OS.

The traditional desktop operating system has always been on the PC itself, or occasionally booted from a server, but a patent filed by Microsoft in early 2010 gives hints that the company is planning on a remote OS that can be loaded from a variety of sources.

Microsoft already has a number of existing remote boot/non-local OS installation technologies, like PXE boot, Remote Desktop, and terminal services, those have their limitations. They are good for reimaging a PC but use can be limited, and they can only come from one source.

A patent filed by Microsoft in February 2010 and dug up by the sites Geek.com and Conceivably Tech show Microsoft is working on a "streaming" OS that loads from the cloud, and from not one server but many.

The patent is titled "Fast Machine Booting Through Streaming Storage" and reading it can give you a headache. In a nutshell, it describes booting a computing through a chain of storage devices with different priorities.

The implication for security is tremendous. Malware couldn't lock on to anything because there is no locally-installed OS. Infestation will be made much harder, since the OS is coming from several places on the network, which will be secured and locked down tight. It will make updates a lot easier, too. The monthly Patch Tuesday cycle won't have to be pushed to hundreds of clients; just send it to the server.

"Described is a technology by which a virtual hard disk is maintained between a far (e.g., remote) backing store and a near (e.g., local) backing store, which among other advantages facilitates fast booting of a machine coupled to the virtual hard disk," says the patent.

The system also requires a very small amount of code on the virtual disk before it can begin booting, which is a change from needing the entire OS loaded on the local client before you can boot the system.

"The virtual disk is available for use immediately, rather than needing to download an entire operating system image before booting from that downloaded image. For example, during a boot operation, only a relatively small amount of data is needed from the boot disk, which is available from the far data and/or the near data," the patent says.

Microsoft has a number of highly experimental operating systems in the works: Singularity, Midori and Barrelfish. These OSes never see the light of day as they are, but pieces of them do inevitably wind up in the final product sold at market. It could be that this patent is the culmination of one or all of those three.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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