Microsoft exec touts OS evolution

Operating systems need to evolve from performing traditional file management and I/O tasks to learning and accommodating user behaviors, a Microsoft Corp. executive said Tuesday during a keynote presentation at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference here.

Under the user-centric computing scenario presented by Microsoft's Rick Rashid, senior vice president of Microsoft Research, the operating system will migrate toward human-oriented performance rather than forcing users to cope with rigid file structures. Natural-language interfaces are continuing to emerge and improvements in storage technology will enable operating systems to track user behaviors to accommodate future tasks.

Additionally, there will be no distinction between local and distributed computers, according to Rashid.

"There are changes going on in computing right now that are really changing the relationship between the user, the human being, and the operating system," Rashid said.

Currently, however, the OS still is largely performing traditional tasks such as IO management, Rashid said. But he stressed, "I think the time is now to really rethink the fundamental relationship that people have with the OS."

New technology concepts need to be considered, such as "human-scale storage," for tracking and storing user behaviors, and a user-centric computing model to better enable computers to find what users seek, Rashid said. With a technology called "broad-spectrum parsing," users will be able to take large bodies of text and analyze them with data mining, Rashid said.

A Microsoft researcher, Rashid said, has built an application using natural-language technology to provide linguistic analyses of questions. The computer can search the network for related documents and use statistical techniques to correlate answers to questions, Rashid said.

"We have so much data in the network, and we're beginning to have the ability to really process data that's in an English form," rather than just finding a bunch of documents that might have nothing to do with the question at hand, he said.

Current operating systems, Rashid said, are like the "worst nightmare" of an administrator or a secretary. "It starts on the first day and learns nothing," he said.

"Currently, our systems aren't paying attention [to behaviors]," Rashid said. "We have to make our systems understand about probabilistic behavior."

Computers, for example, should remember behaviors and use those as contexts for searching data, Rashid said.

Computers with terabyte-storage capabilities will be able to track user behaviors to accommodate preferences, according to Rashid.

"In two to three years, a terabyte of storage will be pretty common," Rashid said. "In a terabyte of [data] you could literally remember every conversation you've ever had, from the time you're born to the time you die."

Also, security will be impacted. "In this world, centralized security models disappear and you're going to be thinking about digital rights management as a security mechanism for exchanging information," Rashid said.

An attendee said Microsoft was on the right track with its user-centric, intelligent operating systems efforts.

"Today's OSes don't actively learn," said John Barnhart, director of engineering at Walt Disney Internet Group, in Seattle. The concept of intelligent software already is taking hold in Microsoft Word, which detects errors, Barnhart said.

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