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Microsoft releases "robust" new operating system

By Barry Collins

Posted on 5 Mar 2008 at 08:30

Microsoft researchers have released the source code of a new operating system designed to make computer software "reliable and robust".

The Singularity OS has been in development at Microsoft Research since 2003. Now the developers have released the code publicly for the first time, in a bid to encourage software development on the platform.

Singularity deliberately rips up the rule book for the way operating systems are designed. The OS is written with dependability - rather than ease-of-use or backwards compatibility - as its ultimate goal.

"We asked ourselves: If we were going to start over, how could we make systems more reliable and robust?" says Jim Larus, research area manager at Microsoft. "We weren't under the illusion that we'd make them perfect, but we wanted them to behave more predictably and remain operating longer, and we wanted people to experience fewer interruptions when using them."

The OS is coded in an extension of C# - rather than more simple C or C++ - to avoid the flaws of today's operating systems, such as their susceptibility to buffer overruns from worms or viruses.

The code is also broken down into software-isolated processes (SIPs) so that one part of code isn't dependent on another, thus preventing system crashes when one process hangs. "In the past, creating many processes in an operating system was impractical from a cost perspective, largely because they required special support from the hardware," claims Galen Hunt, the general manager of Microsoft Research's operating systems group.

"Rather than use hardware to build boundaries between processes, we figured out a way to build processes using a software technology called static analysis."

"We figured out how to describe the form in which communications should take place between two processes, and using static analysis, we can check the codes of the processes at compile time," Hunt adds. "So before the code ever runs, we can confirm that the processes communicate correctly."

So will Singularity be the ultra-reliable successor to Windows Vista? Afraid not. "They were clear from the beginning that Singularity would bear no resemblance to a full-fledged operating system such as Windows, nor was it ever intended to replace Windows," the Microsoft website claims. "They sought to create an operating system for the research environment, structured to embody the design criteria of dependability and robustness, and to demonstrate the practicality of new technologies and architectural decisions."

Who would want a dependable, robust operating system on their desktop, anyway?

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