Microsoft Moves Forward on Networking Your Home's Things
By Barry Levine / CIO Today. Updated July 16, 2013.
Microsoft is moving along in its effort to network everything in your house. In the latest chapter, the company has added a new framework to its HomeOS project called the Lab of Things (LOT).
LOT, the company notes on its Web site, is a "shared infrastructure designed to help researchers develop and evaluate technologies in the home environment" using HomeOS.
LOT offers a common framework for writing applications and drivers, and provides such capabilities as logging application data from houses into Microsoft Azure, maintaining system functionality remotely, and remotely updating applications. LOT will also provide the data from field tests that Microsoft needs to find out how HomeOS is actually being used, and how effectively.
The Lab of Things resides on top of HomeOS in a PC-like abstraction for in-home hardware, and is intended to simplify the ability to code apps and manage sensors. Microsoft envisions homes running HomeOS on a dedicated computer it calls the Home Hub, which contains the apps for a given house and controls such devices as lights, TVs, game consoles, other PCs, appliances, printers, home security equipment and other electronics.
A beta of the LOT software development kit has been released, and Microsoft has been making the HomeOS prototype available to academic institutions in order to encourage "teaching and research on connected homes and devices." The universities conducting research on HomeOS include Indiana University, University of Michigan, University of Washington, University College London, Southampton University and Lancaster University.
A key question is what problem Microsoft is trying to solve. On its HomeOS Web site, the technology giant points out that "it is impossible for most users to view video captured by the security camera on their smartphone when they are not at home." It notes that heterogeneity across devices and across homes makes it difficult to develop interconnected applications.
'More Layers of Complications'
But HomeOS is also being touted for purposes other than getting your security camera to talk to your smartphone. Microsoft has suggested there might be possibilities in home healthcare, energy management, and various kinds of home automation that add value not currently available.
Charles King, an analyst with industry research firm Pund-IT, pointed out that "past efforts of this kind have not been particularly successful." He noted that, "for certain kinds of home devices, consumers just don't want more layers of complications."
Even the simplicity of a single interface controlling all those devices in the home, he said, could end up just layering another level of complexity. For instance, King said most modern home security systems are already available with a smartphone application, and most appliances work fine as is. He also noted that Microsoft, which was late to the game for mobile, wants to make sure that it is relevant in any consumer environment going forward.
Since one of the major capabilities of LOT is the collection of data, especially by the participating universities, the major result of this project may end up being data about how users use their home electronics rather than commercial products themselves.