DENVER, June 7, 1999 — Industry pundits say it’s not a question of whether, but exactly how and when, we will be using smart devices everywhere in the coming digital age. And, the future may not be very far off. Smart devices that seem like the stuff of science fiction now — cell phones that tell the refrigerator to defrost itself, or desktop office computers with home links that will let the dog in — are already possible with leading-edge software, digital devices and information appliances.
The fourth annual Microsoft Windows CE Developers Conference (DevCon), opening here today, is a showcase for the future of appliance computing. Developers attending are clearly thinking
“beyond the PC”
and envisioning computing everywhere that links to everything.
Over the past four years, the Windows CE platform has enjoyed steadily increasing interest from independent software vendors (ISVs) and hardware vendors, who have the opportunity to add value in devices from consumer appliances to mobile computing.
Windows CE is a portable, scaleable development platform for digital appliances, embedded systems and knowledge-management devices. Unlike the proprietary operating systems that characterized the early market for information appliances and smart mobile devices, Windows CE provides seamless connectivity and communications between the broadest range of digital devices and information appliances of any small-footprint operating system, and it works across processors, brands and form factors.
“Windows CE is enabling a new market for computing and embedded applications that will make it easier to share knowledge everywhere and connect everything at all levels, including devices, transports and servers,”
said Harel Kodesh, vice president of the productivity appliance division at Microsoft Corp., who is presenting one of the conference’s keynote addresses.
“The exciting new hardware and software solutions created by our partners, building on the Windows CE platform, will provide real value for our mutual customers, with a flexible platform that can power devices at work, on the road and at home.”
Growing Third-Party Support
Reflecting the growing interest in products employing Windows CE, more than 40 third-party companies at the conference are issuing new releases of applications and products that support the Windows CE platform. Strolling down the aisles or attending the keynote addresses, visitors will see such innovative consumer-oriented devices as Smartcards, next generation Palm-size PC’s, in-car navigation systems, TV set-top boxes, Internet-browsing cell phones and multimedia entertainment players, plus demonstrations of Windows CE-based products by more than 100 hardware and software companies.
There is plenty for corporate IT professionals to see as well, including end-to-end solutions enabling seamless connectivity to back-end servers and desktop applications. This leverages critical data for IT managers and empowers knowledge workers to access key information anytime and anywhere they want it, enabled by the next wave of wireless and Internet-enabled connectivity.
For example, this week Microsoft will unveil SQL Server for Windows CE, which offers scalability from embedded, palm-size and handheld devices all the way up to the enterprise-level data center. SQL Server for CE offers compatibility with a consistent programming model and API set, essential functionality, and the small footprint for such devices.
Windows CE and SQL Server present a distinct advantage for many kinds of business-related productivity devices, because they use tools common to corporate applications, information management and development, thus reducing total costs and learning curves while leveraging existing infrastructures and support.
Young Developers Getting Hip to Windows CE
Also indicative of Windows CE momentum, the prestigious Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the oldest and largest professional computing society in the world, this year sponsored its first ACM Quest for Windows CE Applications development contest. More than 250 students registered for the contest, sponsored by Casio, Everex, Hewlett Packard and Microsoft, with 26 making it to the semi-finals with innovative applications for the Windows CE platform.
Winners were selected in April in categories covering education and science, personal productivity, IR control and communication, engineering and finance, and games and sports. Winner of the Overall Most Original prize was Daniel D. Bui, University of Florida, for his MedPad application, which allows medical students to easily record patient information while doing their rounds. The data can then be uploaded to a main computer in the hospital, easing data transfer and eliminating the need for manual input.
Benefits for Partners and Users Alike
Benefits of Windows CE for developers include the platform’s synergy with 32-bit desktop Windows technologies, which enables ISVs to leverage their existing Windows development expertise and use the same development tools they already apply for corporate development.
Because it is based on the 32-bit Windows kernel, Windows CE also ties easily into Windows back-end and desktop applications, supports leading desktop and Web standards, and makes it easier for IT to support Windows CE-based devices. At the conference, developers will see new development tools designed to facilitate the adaptation of Windows CE, such as the new version of Platform Builder.
Consumers today are most likely to think of Windows CE in connection with palmtop or handheld computers. However, the platform is tuned to support a much broader class of devices, which will link desktop, server, Web, entertainment devices, homes, and individual intelligent appliances in end-to-end solutions for knowledge management.
New and emerging technologies, including Universal Plug and Play, wireless communications, Smartcards, eBooks and home networks, will also play into the future of the Windows CE platform.
For example, Universal Plug and Play uses Internet protocols to connect devices — in essence, connectivity without a PC. Consumers will be computing every day, but without having to know anything about the protocol, underlying operating system or software, or even connecting to a desktop PC.
Just as consumers today expect TVs and microwaves to simply work and serve, they will expect the same ease-of-use and consistent performance from Windows CE-based devices. They won’t be disappointed. In fact, Windows CE and Universal Plug and Play are steps toward linking all devices into a smart network — a single computing system with distributed components.
The Knowledge Management Vision
Windows CE is also part of the Microsoft vision for knowledge management, a business discipline and technology strategy that recognizes the value of intellectual capital and the need to treat it as a managed asset. In this view of management practice, the goal is to make available the intellectual capacity of the enterprise to individual knowledge workers, anytime and any place, to radically enhance and empower their contributions to the workplace.
The three main tools in the knowledge-management toolbox are organizational dynamics, business processes, and emerging technologies, such as Windows CE and the devices it enables. These all will work together to build an environment that fosters creation of new ideas, sharing of intellectual assets, and unified management of information resources regardless of time, place or device.
Microsoft’s approach to knowledge management is to drive technology advancements focused at the intersection where most organizational knowledge is created, shared or applied — this is the point where an individual knowledge worker or team is engaged in accomplishing a specific task.
It is at this point where physical, cultural and technological barriers currently prevent companies from achieving the next step toward greater productivity and the efficient harnessing of knowledge resources. Windows CE is a key initiative for breaching the technology barriers. Microsoft Windows platforms, including Windows CE and related converging technologies, can help eliminate time and physical location as barriers to effective knowledge sharing.
According to Kodesh,
“Windows CE will fundamentally redefine the category of intelligent devices. This is not about PIMs — it’s about enabling anything you can imagine. It’s not about recreating what’s already been done, because the marketplace is screaming for more — color, music, spoken word, multimedia, Internet connectivity from a range of devices, and more. Windows CE will power this because Microsoft is committed to enabling hardware and software developers to innovate these products, and we will continue to invest heavily in the technology and tools to support them.”