As Linux gains ground in the embedded system market, Microsoft is scaling up and opening more of its Windows CE kernel and giving CE developers free copy of Visual Studio to drive more development of Windows embedded devices.
The Redmond, Wash. software giant on Wednesday released its sixth-generation embedded systems tool kit, Windows Embedded CE 6.0.
As part of the announcement, Microsoft said it would give customers and integrators such as BSquare, Centrality and Micros Systems access to 100 percent of the new CE 6.0 kernel source code. Microsoft also said it would include a free copy of Visual Studio 2005 Professional and make the current Platform Builder IDE a plug-in to the Visual Studio 2005 platform.
In the previous release, Microsoft released 56 percent of the kernel's source code under its shared source initiative. In 6.0, Microsoft hands over 100 percent of the kernel source code but not the entire CE 6.0 tool kit, Microsoft acknowledged.
Microsoft's generosity wasn't driven by rising competition from Linux but rather manufacturers' increasing demand for transparency to the kernel source code, which allows them to debug prototypes faster, lower development costs and achieve faster time to market, said Mukund Ghangurde, group product manager of Windows Embedded CE.
Wyse, a large manufactuer of embedded appliances and thin client devices that run Windows CE, Windows XP Embedded, Linux and its own proprietary OS, said opening up the kernel will give Windows CE device makers the flexibility to modify the kernel if and when needed. That's a luxury now afforded to them by the Linux open-source operating system.
Microsoft said the kernel and the entire tool kit were designed to enable the industrial automation, consumer electronics and medical device industries to build more intelligent, complex devices such as set-top boxes, handhelds, global positioning systems and projectors.
The new kernel offers a major boost in performance, including the ability to support 32,000 simultaneous processors and as much as 2 Gbytes of virtual memory for each process, while delivering on real-time capabilities. The current kernel supports only 32 concurrent processes.
"We designed the kernel to allow manufacturers to build more scalable devices," Ghangurde said.
For example, the 6.0 kernel offers new data and voice components for cellular devices to enable real-time data connections between machines including parking meters, vendor machines and GPS devices.
In addition, the 6.0 kernel includes components that will exploit Windows Vista's built-in ability to wirelessly remote the desktop experience to projectors used for corporate presentations, Microsoft said. It also incorporates better support for multimedia to allow for development of networked media devices, DVRs and IP set-top boxes, Microsoft said.
Microsoft said the tool kit is available Wednesday and expect devices developed with the tool kit to begin shipping in the next nine to 12 months.
A Wyse spokeswoman wouldn't comment on the company's development plans on CE 6.0 but said the new CE 6.0 kernel design will benefit the security and application performance on devices running CE.
Global firms including Unitech, Commodore, Advantech, General Software, Intelligent Instruments, Micros Systems and Wyse pledged to make available Windows Embedded CE 6.0-based devices this quarter.
BSquare has developed a Windows Embedded CE 6.0 service package that allows OEMs to plan a strategy to migrate to CE 6.0, said Brian Crowley, president and CEO of BSquare. The company's professional services arm has already helped customers move to the 6.0 platform, he added.