Microsoft has launched what it calls its Lab of Things, a cloud-based framework that links to the company’s HomeOS, which monitors and controls connected devices inside home environments. The Lab of Things arrived Monday at the Microsoft Research event, and apparently HomeOS has been around for a while. A quick trip through the Microsoft research page shows examples of the HomeOS efforts going as far back as 2010 and a big media push from last spring.
But in digging into HomeOS and the Lab of Things news today, I’m struck by how odd Microsoft’s vision seems to be with regard to the connected home. For example, Microsoft’s HomeOS vision centers around a home PC (it can be a netbook or a laptop) that the devices talk to — something that seems more at home in 2003 than in 2013. However, Lab of Things looks like part of an evolution to that disparity, by tying the HomeOS to Microsoft’s Azure cloud.
From the documentation around the Lab of Things:
Lab of Things is a shared infrastructure designed to help researchers develop and evaluate technologies in the home environment. Lab of Things provides a common framework to write applications and has a set of capabilities beneficial to field deployments including logging application data from houses in cloud storage, remote monitoring of system health, and remote updating of applications if needed (e.g. to change to a new phase of the study by enabling new software, or to fix bugs).
Microsoft’s HomeOS supports Z-wave devices as well as sensors built using Microsoft’s Gadgeteer hardware. Since this is a research-oriented project, the idea is pitched to academics who want to try to set up connected home environments. They use the HomeOS and Lab of Things to set up the connected devices on a home network (in this case the laptop running HomeOS is akin to any number of hubs out there on the market) and then tell the devices what they want them to do.
But it’s strange because the entire effort is built around a PC and web-based interface whereas most of the connected home environments on the market today focus on their mobile apps. Clearly the Windows mobile experience isn’t as unified (does your device run Windows Phone, Windows 8 or Windows RT?) or as widespread as Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android OS, which is probably why HomeOS is laptop bound, but it’s still jarring. Also odd is the emphasis on academia and the use of HomeOS as a research project, when companies like SmartThings, Revolv, Lowe’s and AT&T are releasing connected home products into the market and finding them commercially viable.
Yet, with the emphasis on making wireless protocols a non-issue for the end user; the focus on existing as well as build-your-own devices; the ties back to a cloud environment for monitoring the system and storing data; and an easy-to-program developer environment for building apps for the connected home, there’s a lot to like. And while I’m not sold on the idea that the connected home will have a single hub to manage everything, it’s an idea that several vendors are pitching and might win out.
So if this is Microsoft’s vision for its role in the connected home, it’s worth looking into. Although if Microsoft is really serious, it should push this project out of the academic realm and into commercialization once it gets its mobile house in order.