Microsoft is looking to unify electrical appliances within the home and establish itself in the burgeoning “smart home” market with the development of HomeOS. Essentially a lightweight “smart home” operating system that aims to make it easy for users to manage their home networks and ease the creation of applications by third party developers, HomeOS is designed to provide a central hub through which various household devices can be controlled.

Like a personal computer that instantly recognizes attached devices such as a USB mouse, Microsoft is seeking to overcome the problem of getting various, currently incompatible devices to communicate with each other. This would make adding new devices to the network as simple as plugging in a USB mouse to a computer.

The current prototype HomeOS system, which includes support for devices such as light switches, security cameras and TVs, is a Windows system running on US$350 worth of hardware through which all commands are relayed. Microsoft Research has demonstrated the simplicity and intuitiveness of the system using the HomeMaestro app on a Windows Phone that lets users set up “rules” that trigger an appliance – turning on a lamp when opening a door, for example. These rules can also be chained together to perform more complex behaviors involving multiple devices.

Google’s Android@Home project promises similar functionality, but maybe Microsoft’s ace in the hole will come from the HomeOS Homestore. Following in the footsteps of Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Market, this is an app store of sorts that will allow users to find and install third party apps. Like the Android model, developers can target a type of device of a single device, meaning users will have the benefit of apps made for niche devices.

With the amount of technology now found in the average home only set to increase, it seems it’s only a matter of time before someone is able to bring the various devices together under the one roof, as it were.

While Microsoft certainly has the financial and technological teeth to put it in a good position to lead the smart home charge, there's still quite a few steps it needs to make before HomeOS is ready for primetime. As it will probably struggle to launch a home revolution on the back of the struggling Windows Phone platform alone, making the “Home Maestro” home control app compatible with Android and iOS would probably be a good start.

Source: Microsoft Research

The video below shows the prototype HomeOS system being demonstrated using the HomeMaestro app.