REDMOND, Wash. — March 2, 2011 — When users interact with an embedded device today, whether a parking meter during their commute, a self-checkout cash register at their supermarket, or specialized diagnostic equipment in their workplace, they expect quick and dynamic interactions, and that the device is always ready when they need it. They expect the user experience to be intuitive and the controls to be easy to use. Microsoft Corp. understands the usability expectations of users and the design criteria of OEMs and designed Windows Embedded platforms to meet the needs of developers and designers building the next generation of devices. Whether you are building products for consumers or for the enterprise, Windows Embedded provides the tools developers need to create standout, immersive user experiences and the technology to speed those devices to market faster.
We caught up with D’Arcy Salzmann, senior product manager for Windows Embedded at Microsoft, who spoke with us about the tools available to developers and designers with Windows Embedded Compact 7. He shared several insights — from how developers can accelerate a device’s time-to-market to the ways in which these tools and technologies provide developers with the ability to quickly build rich and seamless device experiences.
Q: WENC Editorial Staff: Hi D’Arcy, thanks for meeting with us today. Could you tell us about Windows Embedded Compact 7 and why developers and designers familiar with Microsoft tools should be excited about the opportunity with specialized devices?
D’Arcy Salzmann (DS): Absolutely. Windows Embedded Compact 7 presents a great opportunity for developers and designers who are familiar with Microsoft tools and technologies like Visual Studio, Expression Blend and Silverlight to take advantage of and leverage their existing skills in a quickly growing market. Specialized devices are everywhere, and the demand is skyrocketing, whether we’re talking about connected TVs, portable medical devices, manufacturing and industrial automation, or retail systems. Every industry is turning to specialized devices to engage users, help customers and delight consumers. There’s enormous potential here, and we want to help our customers and partners make the most of what we see as an exciting opportunity.
With Windows Embedded Compact 7 we ship a complete toolkit to help developers and designers quickly and easily build devices with intuitive, attractive user experiences. Using the Microsoft tools that come with Compact 7 — tools like Platform Builder, Visual Studio, Expression Blend and the Silverlight for Windows Embedded user interface (UI) framework — developers spend less time setting up and configuring their environment and more time designing and developing their devices. Our tools provide tangible productivity gains for developers, helping them get devices to their customers more quickly. It’s also a benefit to OEMs. Because so many developers already use Visual Studio, as the device business has exploded, they are productive faster because they don’t have to learn new development environments to create these specialized devices. Faster ramp up and a big community of skilled programmers is one reason OEMs prefer Windows Embedded.
Q: WENC Editorial Staff: Tell us a little bit more about Silverlight for Windows Embedded, the user interface framework that ships with Windows Embedded Compact 7. How does including the UI framework help developers and designers?
DS: Developing a simple UI on an embedded device is something that embedded developers have a lot of experience doing. But as customer demands for usability and attractiveness have increased, it’s evident to developers that building rich, intuitive UIs is a complex and time-consuming process. And using traditional ways of building device and application UIs means freezing the design very early in the development of a device. The market moves quickly today and throughout the development of a device, new information and requirements are flowing in. But if you’re still building UIs the old way, you can’t easily iterate on the user experience without affecting the development schedule.
Silverlight for Windows Embedded changes all of that. Today an attractive UI is expected but so too are faster development cycles. Silverlight for Windows Embedded allows device designers, the UI specialists, to iterate on the device’s usability without impacting the developer who is writing the underlying business logic. Great UIs are the secret sauce behind the success of devices today, and not just consumer devices. From the time users turn it on until the moment they power it down, the complete device experience plays and increasingly large role in the success and adoption of the device. And it’s really one of the most important ways for OEMs to create sustainable competitive differentiation. Your competitors can match hardware factors like processor power, memory or industrial design, but user experience is a lot harder to copy. OEMs know that their future lies in offering a better experience than their competitors.
This is where Silverlight offers device developers something that’s not available anywhere else. It’s one of the most exciting features in our Windows Embedded Compact 7 release. The evolution of Silverlight for Windows Embedded and the appropriately named Windows Embedded Silverlight Tools (WEST) that go with it help OEMs deliver the experiences their customers expect. Using Silverlight for Windows Embedded actually speeds up the development process. Developers and device designers can work concurrently and iteratively, something that wasn’t possible before. Once designers have an updated UI ready, they pass it to the developer who, using WEST, imports the UI to the device project. If designers want to resign the layout it doesn’t impact them at all, because the UI and the business logic are separated. No more do developers need to hardwire the UI to the application logic.
Many designers aren’t programmers. The Microsoft Expression Blend tools provide designers with a creative workbench to build the user experience. In short, any design created by a designer can be quickly implemented by a developer. In traditional device development, that UI is created early in the project, and delivered to the developer as a static graphic or wireframe. The device developer then has to translate that vision into UI code and connect the UI to the application logic.
This is incredibly cool because with Silverlight for Windows Embedded and Expression Blend, developers no longer have to do the tedious, error-prone “by hand” UI coding. All the UI elements are handled by the Silverlight for Windows Embedded graphics engine in a Windows Embedded Compact 7 device. Building UIs with Silverlight for Windows Embedded means that specialists have more time to focus their creativity where its most valuable. Designers use Microsoft Expression Blend to create the UI, and developers use Visual Studio to write, compile and debug the code behind the UI. In essence it frees developers from having to play the role of both designer and developer, which is pretty common when creating specialized devices. It also allows designers to play a much greater role in the device, since they can iterate for much longer than was previously possible.
Microsoft is making the device development process faster and more enjoyable, something that designers, developers and OEMs all like.
Q: WENC Editorial Staff: Can you discuss Visual Studio in Windows Embedded Compact 7 and how it benefits developers?
DS: Developers know Visual Studio as the powerful integrated development environment (IDE) they use every day. Visual Studio has been designed from day one to let developers focus on the quality of their code throughout the entire application life cycle, from design to deployment.
The version that ships with Windows Embedded Compact 7, Visual Studio 2008, is tightly integrated with both Platform Builder and the Compact Test Kit, giving developers a complete embedded workbench.
Because we provide the complete, ready environment, a device developer doesn’t have to spend a lot of time creating and configuring tools. This helps developers focus on what matters: rapidly creating secure, manageable and reliable applications.
Q: WENC Editorial Staff: Now that we know how Visual Studio helps developers and designers create the next generation of breakthrough UIs, how does Microsoft Platform Builder fit in the picture?
DS: Platform Builder is the heart of building an embedded device. It’s used for building the device software image that runs on the target hardware, and for creating device drivers and SDKs so that other developers can build applications for the device once it’s finished. We’ve integrated Platform Builder tightly into Visual Studio, which means developers can do all their device development in one place.
WENC Editorial Staff: Thank you for your time today D’Arcy. It was great to learn more about Windows Embedded Compact 7 and the powerful tools the platform includes to help developers and designers accelerate the development processes and build innovative devices.
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