Microsoft’s Next OS is Based on Linux, Not Windows

Posted on April 16, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Internet of Things (IoT) with 92 Comments

Microsoft announced a new operating system for IoT called Azure Sphere OS. But here’s the shocker: It’s based on Linux, not on Windows.

I’ll pause a moment while you let that one sink in.

Ready? OK. Here’s the story.

During a live security briefing webcast today, Microsoft announced an end-to-end Internet of Things (IoT) solution that pairs its Azure-based cloud services with IoT devices.

“Of course we are the Windows company,” Microsoft’s Brad Smith said during the webcast while holding up a tiny IoT-optimized micro-controller unit (MCU) chip. “But what we’ve recognized is, the best solution for a computer of this size—in a toy—is not a full-blown version of Windows. It is what we are creating here.”

And what Microsoft is creating here is Azure Sphere OS, a new operating system aimed at tiny MCU-based IoT devices that is based on Linux.

“It is a custom Linux kernel complemented by the kinds of advances that we have created in Windows itself,” Smith continued. “For anyone who has been following Microsoft, I’m sure you’ll recognize that, after 43 years, this is the first day that we’re announcing that we’ll be distributing a custom Linux kernel. It’s an important step for us. It’s an important step, I think, for the industry. And it will enable us to stand behind the technology in a way I believe the world needs.”

To that last bit, Smith is referring to the 10-year support lifecycle for Azure Sphere OS, which of course matches the support lifecycle for Microsoft’s enterprise offerings.

Since this was a security webcast, you might be wondering what role security plays in all this. As it turns out, security is the third piece, after the Azure cloud and the Azure Sphere OS, in this puzzle. And Microsoft has created a new Azure Sphere Security Service that it says will guard every Azure Sphere device, securely broker device-to-device and device-to-cloud communications, detect emerging threats, and renew itself as needed.

I’m going to review this webcast with an eye towards better understanding this new offering. But it’s impossible to hear this news without thinking about the recent changes to Windows and my editorializing about Microsoft’s cloud- and IoT-based role in this next wave.

More soon.

 

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