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What is Microsoft's MeTAOS?

Microsoft looks to be building a new foundational layer on top of SharePoint, the Office 365 substrate, Azure, Microsoft's machine-learning infrastructure in the name of improving users' experiences when using its productivity cloud.

Some hardworking Microsoft sleuths have been unearthing some new codenames and leads this weekend. Thanks to @h0x0d (The Walking Cat) and Tero Alhonen (@terhoalhonen) we have a bit of information about Microsoft's "MeTAOS" and "Taos." (Windows Central's Zac Bowden says these are basically one in the same, with "Taos" just being an abbreviation for "MeTAOS," which sounds logical to me.) Here's more on what I believe these names are and how they will figure going forward in Microsoft's cloud and AI strategies. Microsoft already has a "productivity cloud" in place with its Microsoft 365/Office 365 set of offerings. Underpinning Office 365 is a layer called the "substrate," which is Microsoft's customer data platform. (The idea of a substrate inside Microsoft has been around for a while and was initially part of Exchange's data store architecture.) 

Microsoft is now endeavouring to build a large-scale distributed platform, or foundation, which will sit on top of SharePoint, the Office 365 substrate, Azure, Microsoft's  machine-learning infrastructure and more. MeTAOS sounds to me like Microsoft's attempt to advance the substrate vision and messaging by emphasizing how its AI technology will make it more useful across all of the platforms where Office 365 apps currently work. 

MeTAOS/Taos is not an OS in the way we currently think of Windows or Linux. It's more of a layer that Microsoft wants to evolve to harness the user data in the substrate to make user experiences and user-facing apps smarter and more proactive.  

A job description for a Principal Engineering Manager for Taos mentions the foundational layer: "We aspire to create a platform on top of that foundation - one oriented around people and the work they want to do rather than our devices, apps, and technologies. This vision has the potential to define the future of Microsoft 365 and make a dramatic impact on the entire industry." A related SharePoint/MeTA job description adds some additional context: "We are excited about transforming our customers into 'AI natives,' where technology augments their ability to achieve more with the files, web pages, news, and other content that people need to get their task done efficiently by providing them timely and actionable notifications that understands their intents, context and adapts to their work habits." In short, MeTAOS/Taos could be the next step along the Office 365 substrate path. Microsoft officials haven't said a lot publicly about the substrate, but it's basically a set of storage and other services at the heart of Office 365. Microsoft's goal is to store all the files and information (or at least a copy of this information) which users employ to create, collaborate and communicate in the substrate. As Office 365 expert Tony Redmond noted in a post on last year, Microsoft's vision is that the substrate enable Office 365 to act like a "planetary-scale people operating system."

Redmond discussed a video by Jeffrey Snover, Microsoft Technical Fellow and (now former) Architect for the Intelligent Substrate Platform in Office 365. In that video, Snover compared Office 365 to Windows, noting that both featured built-in apps and a Store; write-consistent application programming interfaces, and the ability to manage and protect resources, with the resources in Office's case being users, documents, messages, calendars and security services. So far, the Office 365 substrate has been largely a first-party thing, with different Microsoft units, like OneDrive, SharePoint, Teams, Outlook and Bing tapping into/powering it. Microsoft intended to reach out to third-party developers about the substrate in 2019 via a Substrate Day event. But that event never happened, and this part of the substrate strategy seems to be further delayed by what's happening with the COVID-19 pandemic. (Microsoft has a placeholder Substrate page for developer documentation and more but it's still not publicly available.) MeTAOS is about making available more broadly the "intelligence" into Microsoft's intelligent substrate via a new foundational layer that builds on top of the substrate and other core Microsoft technologies. Microsoft's unified search service also is likely a key piece of this plan, given anything stored needs to be able to be found and surfaced. 

That's my interpretation from trying to connect the dots. Anyone else have any more info or guesses?

Update: There's also seemingly a Fluid Framework angle to all this (Thanks to Alhonen for trying the trick.) Fluid Framework is infrastructural technology that Microsoft has built to improve coauthoring performance and allow users to create and embed components inside applications and documents that will always remain up-to-date because of this fast collaboration technology. 




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