Microsoft Courts Developers for Rebranded Windows Embedded Software

In a bid to beef up its embedded systems business, Microsoft is reaching out to a broader cadre of developers while also looking to expose its existing ones to the entire Windows development stack.

Microsoft is kicking off the effort today at the Embedded Systems Conference Silicon Valley 2008 in San Jose, Calif., where the company is disclosing the next release cycle of its family of embedded system software.

Redmond is rebranding its embedded products, which include Windows CE and Windows XP Embedded, under the names Windows Embedded Compact and Windows Embedded Standard, respectively. The effort also includes added certification.

The revamped developer outreach could be pivotal as developers face an onslaught of options, including open source distributions. Microsoft finds itself needing to shift its message to embedded systems developers after last year's move to split it from its mobile communications business.

As a result, instead of holding the annual Microsoft Mobile & Embedded DevCon, Microsoft is using this week's more extensive industry conference to address its existing developers as well as those not currently proficient in Microsoft's various Windows embedded platforms.

"We want to expand the developer pool that we are touching," said Mike Hall, a software architect with Microsoft's Windows Embedded Product Group. For its own developers, Hall said Microsoft wants to expose them to the larger Microsoft stack, including .NET 3.5 and Silverlight, among others. Hence the decision to bring its developers to the Tech-Ed conference in Orlando in June.

While he applauds Microsoft's plan to add application development certification, including the announcement of a Windows CE certification exam, Directions on Microsoft analyst Greg DeMichillie questions whether developers will benefit from having Microsoft bring in embedded developers to Tech-Ed.

"If I'm an embedded developer, am I really going to go to a breakout session on how to cluster Exchange Servers?" DeMichillie said. "When you have a conference that is trying to serve that many different constituencies, both corporate and commercial developers, you really run the risk of not serving any of them particularly well."

DeMichillie also pointed out that renaming Windows CE in particular could cause confusion. "People are going to think that Windows CE and Windows XP Embedded are kissing cousins, and they are very different operating systems underneath," he said.

Windows Embedded CE is intended for small footprint devices, typically 300 KB to 700 KB components, according to Microsoft, while the company defines the current Windows XP Embedded as reduced footprint systems requiring a minimum of 40 MB.

The first product to take on the new name will be Windows Embedded Standard, the successor to Windows XP Embedded, which Microsoft will launch at Tech-Ed.

Windows CE, rechristened as Windows Embedded Compact, is slated for release in the second half of 2009, Microsoft said. Also, in line with Microsoft's rebranding effort, Windows Embedded Point of Service will be renamed Windows Embedded POS Ready, and is slated for release at some point next year.

Microsoft is also offering versions of Windows XP and Vista targeted at OEM-based applications. Called Windows Embedded Enterprise, they will be the same as their desktop counterparts and, like them, cannot have components removed.

Also worth noting: Microsoft did not disclose any timetable for an embedded version of Vista.

"That's fine. Vista requires more power, more graphics and more processors," DeMichillie said. "For an embedded developer, that's going the wrong way. It shows that Windows XP is going to be with us in the embedded space for a long time."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of and news editor of Visual Studio Magazine.