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Windows CE merges embedded, Web services

Posted: 15 Nov 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:embedded systems? Windows CE? Linux? Internet Protocol? open source OS?

Tomorrow's embedded systems will be access points for a growing array of network services, according to executives at Microsoft Corp. as they rolled out on Nov. 14 software to help enable the shift. The Windows giant is also launching a new initiative to reach out more broadly to hardware developers as it competes with Linux to command a rising share of the embedded software market.

In Microsoft's vision, embedded devices will troll networks automatically seeking relevant services. They will also report their capabilities to networks to help spawn a market for new services.

The release of Windows CE 6.0 R2 is the first big step in that direction. The code now supports the so-called Devices Profile for Web Services defined by Microsoft along with Canon, Ricoh, Intel and Lexmark. The spec defines ways to describe, discover and communicate securely with Web services. The new version of CE also supports the Web Services for Devices interface in Windows Vista.

"Starting with this release you will see over the next 12 months a new class of operating systems and tools focused on getting connectivity built into embedded systems in a way that that can enable finding and exposing new services," said Kevin Dallas, general manager of a new standalone Windows Embedded division created in February.

"We will start with fundamental services like monitoring and managing devices, but there is a huge opportunity for things like location and advertising services on embedded devices," added Dallas.

The shift is all about bringing the richness of networking to embedded systems in an easy-to-use way, said Ilya Bukshteyn, director of marketing for the Windows embedded group. Microsoft's OSes will enable horizontal services that tap into hardware capabilities for data on location and other details, and its tools will help developers write Web services that run across embedded systems, he added.

Bundle of features
Like many Microsoft releases, CE R2 also includes a laundry list of new features. They include improved support for voice over Internet Protocol, three-way audio conferencing, video conferencing, new controls for Internet Explorer and Windows Media that support faster page rendering, a new font engine that supports plug ins for global languages and support for multiple monitors. In a move that emulates its archrival Linux, Microsoft is also reaching out to a broader set of hardware developers in a two-pronged initiative code-named Spark.

Under Spark, Microsoft is making bundles of its embedded OSes, tools along with third-party hardware reference designs available at costs designed to appeal to academics and hobbyists. Bukshteyn said the packages will be available essentially for the price of the reference design hardware, typically a few hundred dollars. Commercial developers generally pay more than a thousand dollars just for the software.

"We think this could be where a lot of next generation applications and devices will come from," said Bukshteyn of the hobbyist and academic developers

In addition, Microsoft will no longer charge to certify software written by third parties to enable new chips and other hardware to run on embedded Windows platforms. The certification used to cost about $1,500 for each board-support package a third-party created. Overall, Microsoft claims it is spending about $5 million in community and academic development.

Promising dynamics
Just prior to the new release, ten vendors expressed support for the new version of CE, two of them with plans for hardware. STMicroelectronics will ship CE R2 software for its embedded Windows chip set aimed at set-top boxes and personal navigation devices. Systems integrator Adeneo Corp. will also provide a new board support package.

According to market watcher Venture Development Corp., Microsoft commands a growing lion's share of the commercial market for embedded operating systems with a 32 percent share of a total $1.4 billion market in 2006. That's up from about 28 percent of a $1.1 billion market in 2005, VDC estimates. The company includes in its figures sales of operating systems on cellular handsets.

By contrast, commercial sales of embedded Linux amounted to just $110 million in 2006. However, market researchers have no way of tracking the use of non-commercial versions of Linux and home-grown operating systems, both of which are generally popular in the embedded market, said Stephen Balacco, director of embedded software analysis at VDC.

About 47 percent of embedded developers currently say they use a commercial OS, 21 percent use a non-commercial open source OS, 20 percent use homegrown software and 10 percent use a commercial Linux version, according to an annual embedded systems survey conducted by CMP Media, publisher of EE Times.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times




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