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Microsoft's 'Gazelle' Browser Concept Going on Tour

Why can't a Web browser be more like an operating system? That's a question being investigated with "Gazelle," an ongoing project at Microsoft Research.

Microsoft plans to describe Gazelle in greater detail next month at the Usenix Security Symposium in Montreal, according to an article published this week at the Microsoft Research Web site. Usenix is a computer security conference for academic researchers.

Gazelle is pure research led by Helen J. Wang of Microsoft Research in Redmond, Wash. She and her colleagues published a paper in February explaining the construction of the Gazelle Web browser. The paper critiques security handling by both Internet Explorer 8 and Google's Chrome browser. Gazelle will seek a different approach -- one in which the browser acts more like an operating system to control processes.

The essence of Gazelle is its "browser kernel" concept, which will handle interactions more securely, much as an operating system does with applications. The browser kernel consists of approximately 5,000 lines of C# code and is "resilient to memory attacks," according to the authors of the paper.

"Gazelle is all about constructing the browser as a multi-principal OS: How should a browser-based OS provide protection and resource management to its applications?" the Microsoft Research article explains.

In Gazelle parlance, the word "multi-principal" refers to the various Web sites that the browser has to handle all at once. The browser kernel in Gazelle treats all such principals as potentially hostile elements. It isolates them so that a Web site or component won't crash the browser.

The Microsoft Research article emphasizes that Gazelle is still at the research stage; Microsoft doesn't have a "product prototype." However, such research does tend to find its way into Microsoft's products.

Rick Rashid, senior vice president at Microsoft Research, claims that the organization's work has "influenced virtually every product the company has developed." Microsoft pours "as much as 17 percent of its total annual revenues" into research and development, Rashid explained.

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, quantified that spending in a February speech.

"Our company will continue to invest more than US$9 billion a year in R&D, because we think it's that R&D spending that will cause us to remain strong," Ballmer said.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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