With an eye toward the Internet of Things in which everything around us is connected, Microsoft today unveiled a re-envisioned Windows Embedded CE operating system: Windows Embedded Compact 2013.
"It's now essential for businesses to tap into the vast potential of data if they want to compete," says Kevin Dallas, general manager for Windows Embedded at Microsoft.
"With Windows Embedded powering industry devices, that data is made readily available to drive real, actionable operational intelligence for industries. Windows Embedded Compact 2013 is a powerful, flexible platform for extending that capability to some of the smallest industry devices," Dallas says.
Windows Embedded CE is a modular, real-time OS with a specialized kernel that can run in less than 1 MB of memory. It first hit the market in 1996 as a solution for powering very small computers and embedded devices—for instance industrial devices and consumer electronics devices such as set-top boxes and game consoles.
"In that time, this little OS has evolved from one target category—small handheld devices—to a general-purpose embedded system that powers everything from tiny controls, to retail POS terminals, to the automation of high-end manufacturing," says Colin Murphy, technical program manager at Windows Embedded.
"Windows Embedded Compact continues to differentiate itself within Microsoft, and within the larger ecosystem, as an operating system targeting small-footprint devices that need real-time performance and silicon flexibility," Murphy says.
Microsoft says the new release is ideal for industry devices such as programmable logic controllers and human-machine interface panels used to monitor processes in manufacturing, RFID scanners in retail environments, and portable ultrasound machines and diagnostic lab equipment for healthcare.
By connecting these devices to backend systems via the cloud, Microsoft says the resulting intelligent system generates data that can be harnessed and analyzed to provide actionable insight.
New Embedded OS Adds Support for Visual Studio 2012
The new OS, which is now generally available, marks the first stable release in the line since March 2011. It adds a host of new tools and capabilities, including support for Visual Studio 2012.
"With this release, we focused on making developers' lives easier," says Steven Bridgeland, senior product manager of Windows Embedded. "Support for Visual Studio 2012 offers significant improvements for developers, including a simplified UI and sharper syntax colorization, and tools such as improved compilers, auto-generation of code snippets and XAML tools."
Specifically, developers can now use Platform Builder and Application Builder hosted in Visual Studio 2012.
"Platform Builder is the collection of all the development tools necessary for you to design, create, build, test and debug a Windows Embedded Compact-based platform," says Murphy.
"Platform Builder hosted in Visual Studio 2012 inherits not only the familiar Platform Builder experience that existing Windows Embedded Compact developers use, but also offers all of the latest Visual Studio 2012 experiences as well, says Murphy. This includes, but is not limited to, the latest ARM and x86 compilers and GUI including IntelliSense, which helps speed up app development."
Meanwhile, Application Builder is a new take on Visual Studio Smart Device Development.
"Application Builder partnered with an SDK spun from Platform Builder gives an application developer the ability to create applications targeting a specific device," Murphy says. "Application Builder SDKs are all-inclusive and contain not only all matching header and file libraries, but application templates and tool sets as well, ensuring matching files, end to end, from the device to the app!"
Microsoft Focused on Optimizing Performance of Embedded OS
Special attention is also paid to optimizing performance.
"Performance was a particular focus in this release," Bridgeland says. "We have spent countless hours optimizing our code to greatly improve system and network performance, making applications feel snappier."
Microsoft notes that it has made improvements to the core operating system, including memory management and networking capabilities. It has also improved file system performance to ensure devices running on Windows Embedded Compact are always available.
In addition, Microsoft optimized the startup with snapshot boot, which allows devices to boot within seconds to a known state, such as a specific UI with device drivers loaded.
Thor Olavsrud covers IT Security, Big Data, Open Source, Microsoft Tools and Servers for CIO.com. Follow Thor on Twitter @ThorOlavsrud. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Thor at email@example.com