Microsoft looks for embedded system innovation

Microsoft makes embedded systems development easier

Ever dream of designing a toaster that sears a design of your own making on a piece of bread? If that's the kind of project you might like to tackle in your spare time, Microsoft has a new programme that could help.

At the Embedded Systems Conference, held in California last week, Microsoft was set to introduce a low-cost hardware and software bundle designed for hobbyist developers of small devices.

"There are tons of people out there that love to tinker with the OS and hardware," said Mike Hall, software architect for Windows Embedded at Microsoft.

For US$200 to US$400 (NZ$254 to NZ$508), a hobbyist or academic researcher can buy a package that includes Windows CE 6, developer tools, Visual Studio and a hardware reference board from one of five hardware vendors. Windows CE is Microsoft's operating system that typically powers small portable devices such as car navigation systems, music players like the Zune, medical devices and robotics.

Vendors participating in the programme include Via Technologies and AdvanTech.

In addition to a toaster that imprints an image on a piece of toast, Hall has seen hobbyists use Windows CE to build home automation and security products and robots.

Microsoft is also trying to make it easier for commercial developers to create products based on its embedded software. Often, developers have an expertise in a specific area like user interface or multimedia, but they may lack the core skills required to port the operating system to new hardware, Hall said. As a result, Microsoft has built a Windows CE certification programme "so that new customers working with CE can find certified developers to work on their custom applications and designs," he said.

Microsoft also plans to introduce packages of software designed for specific markets. The first such package will be called POSReady, which will include the operating system and other technologies often used in machines like cash registers and information kiosks.

Microsoft already offers such a POS (point of service) bundle, but a new one will come out next year as part of the effort to make similar packages for different device categories. "We're leaving it open for additional 'Ready' offerings as we move forward," Hall said.

Microsoft is also changing the names of some of its embedded products. Windows Embedded CE will be called Windows Embedded Compact, and the next version is forecast for release next year. Windows XP Embedded, the operating system that runs PC-based products like ATMs and industrial control systems, will be called Windows Embedded Standard. The next version of that software should come out this year.

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