Back to the Future – With Midori is Microsoft Aiming to Deliver “Cairo” for Cloud Computing?

It’s “Back to the Future” time at Microsoft, folks. In 1992 the GoogleGazer wrote a long piece on ‘The Road to Cairo” about Microsoft’s plans for an Object File Store (OFS) an object-oriented database designed to make it easy to search documents and other structured data by content no matter where located. It was announced by Jim Allchin in 1991and planned for release in 1993. Ten years later, in 2002 Computerworld reported that “Windows remains uncontaminated by many of the features originally slated for Windows NT and Cairo, including OFS.” While some of Cairo made it out the door as Windows NT 4.0, its charter to build technologies for a next generation operating system that would fulfill Bill Gates‘ vision of “information at your fingertips” promulgated in 1994 and made into a book published in 1995 called The Road Ahead , was, sadly, never fulfilled.

Why not?

Simply put, the infrastructure and technology just was not there yet. Moore”s Law, famously first stated in 1965 predicts that the number of transistors on a chip will double about every two years, a prediction that has held true for over 40 years now. Indeed, computers today are 128 times more powerful than they were back then, at least. The average connection speed over the Internet has increased at least 25-fold, and Google gives each (free) user of Google Apps 7 GB of managed network storage, so we’ve made great strides in the past 14 years in these areas.

Windows has not kept pace.  Its kernel has accumulated too much baggage. Windows has gotten overly complex, and scalability is a serious issue with it. Vista is acknowledged by all to be a failure. Mean time, Linus and Open Source have blossomed, and have matured to the point that venerable IBM announced at LinuxWorld that In a new partnership with Red Hat, Novell, and Canonical IBM will offer “Microsoft-free” personal computers with IBM’s Lotus Notes and Lotus Symphony software. The Linux desktop computer comes fully equipped and sells for 30% less. The goal is to provide a preintegrated stack that can serve as a complete alternative to Windows and Microsoft Office. As Microsoft was forced to acknowledge in its  SEC filings, Linux and Open Source pose a significant threat to Microsoft’s long period of domination and control of the operating system and desktop.

Suffering from acute Billionaire’s Agita, Steve Ballmer saw that he needed to do something radical. He seems to have turned to a veteran Microsoftie, Eric Rudder, senior vice president for technical strategy, who worked closely with Bill Gates, and headed the Servers and Tools group until 2005. His mission, and he has accepted it, is to “incubate” a project called Singularity that came out of Microsoft Research and to turn it into into Midori, a scalable, saleable product for Cloud Computing that is unburdened with the accumulated baggage of Microsoft Windows.  Ballmer chose well. Rudder is an out-of-the-box thinker. The GoogleGazer first met him shortly after Eric joined Microsoft in 1988. He is not only a clear-thinking, very smart and hard-working fellow, he is one of a handful of really nice people in the senior ranks of Microsoft. He is rumored to be Ballmer’s ultimate successor, when the time comes (really, he would be Bill’s successor). The affable and usually talkative Rudder was absolutely tight lipped about Midori, and when I asked him for comment, he first said, “I’m currently out of the country (he was in the UK); Frank should be able to make sure you get a reply for your blog,” handing me off to  Waggoner Edstrom PR flak Frank X. Shaw. The best Frank could come up with was,

Sorry that I don’t have more for you – Microsoft not really saying much about Midori:

  • Microsoft is always thinking about and exploring innovative ways for people to use technology.
  • Midori is one of many incubation projects underway at Microsoft, as such we are not talking about it at this time.

On the other hand while Shaw was not talking, some hard-working journalists seem to have gotten their hands on the real poop. David Worthington at SD Times writes that he has seen the Midori documents. He says,

Building Midori from the ground up to be connected underscores how much computing has changed since Microsoft’s engineers first designed Windows; there was no Internet as we understand it today, the PC was the user’s sole device and concurrency was a research topic.

Today, users move across multiple devices, consume and share resources remotely, and the applications that they use are a composite of local and remote components and services. To that end, Midori will focus on concurrency, both for distributed applications and local ones.

According to the documentation, Midori will be built with an asynchronous-only architecture that is built for task concurrency and parallel use of local and distributed resources, with a distributed component-based and data-driven application model, and dynamic management of power and other resources.

In Midori, concurrency (vital to support Cloud Computing) is a basic design principle.The technically inclined reader can work through this paper from Microsoft Research for some insight: “SCOPE: Easy and Efficient Parallel Processing of Massive Data Sets,”

While the GoogleGazer thought he was alone in observing the similarities to Cairo (which at one time employed over 1,000 developers), Mary Jo Foley of ZD Net seems to have found some other old geezers with long memories. We all see Cairo written all over Midori.

Everyone agrees that Midori is critical to Microsoft’s long-term health, but everyone also agrees that its delivery date is still off in the future. Ms. Foley writes:

[I]t’s likely to be launched sooner than a typical Microsoft Research project, but not so soon as to obviate the need for Windows 7 and Windows 8. In other words, we’re looking at a new non-Windows operating system to debut some time before CEO Steve Ballmer retires (a date Ballmer has said is nine or so years away), but not before late 2009/early 2010 (the target date for Windows 7).

The GoogleGazer sold his Microsoft stock at its peak years ago (one of the few times that he got it right). Present Microsoft shareholders fervently hope that Eric can pull off getting Midori to market sooner rather than later.

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