Windows NT Embedded 4.0: Ushering In the PC-Plus Era

REDMOND, Wash., Aug. 9, 1999 — The PC may be the most visible component of the Information Age, but embedded systems are everywhere, powering telephone systems, industrial machinery, medical devices — even cash registers. Until recently, the software that made these devices work came from a variety of third parties; most embedded systems ran on custom-built, proprietary platforms, making their development and management a costly and time-consuming process.

In an era in which connectivity and interoperability are key, it’s important that embedded systems be easy to develop, implement and manage. They should operate safely and reliably, communicate well with other devices and adapt easily to changing technology. To help its customers meet these goals, Microsoft today announced the availability of Windows NT Embedded 4.0, a platform that enables original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to build embedded systems on the rock-solid, flexible and scalable Windows NT platform.

“As 32-bit processors become commonplace in the embedded systems market, customers are demanding more functionality from these devices,” said Microsoft Lead Product Manager Vince Mendillo. “They want better connectivity, richer features and scalability — and developers want to meet those needs quickly.

“If you want to build this rich functionality and you’re using a proprietary system, you have to start from scratch. But since Windows NT Embedded already has the rich Windows NT feature set, developers can provide more functionally rich solutions for their customers, using Microsoft development platforms like Visual Studio — or any number of third-party tools. And because it’s Windows NT, they can easily integrate those devices with the rest of their IT infrastructure.”

This platform will benefit businesses and end users in several ways. Consumers will see improved functionality in a wide range of devices, including office automation systems, cash registers, sophisticated patient monitors and automated voice response systems. In addition, businesses will save time and resources by standardizing their operations on Windows NT Embedded 4.0, leaving them free to concentrate on serving their customers.

The number of devices already in development using Windows NT Embedded 4.0 is impressive: more than 600 developers participated in the beta program, building over 900 devices for a wide range of specialized applications. Everything from set-top boxes to cryogenics equipment was developed on the platform; now that NT Embedded 4.0 is officially released, Mendillo expects a flood of new products to appear by next year.

Among the first products developed using Windows NT Embedded 4.0 is CryoSeal, a medical device that harvests life-saving proteins, enzymes and growth factors from blood plasma. The device, which will be available later this year, is the first of its kind to manufacture these enzymes from a patient’s own blood — rather than that of a donor — reducing the potential for contamination and potentially saving thousands of lives. And thanks to Windows NT Embedded 4.0, machines like this can be developed faster than ever.

“Because we can use a variety of third-party rapid development tools on the Windows platform, we can develop our products and get them to market much quicker than before,” says Richard Klosinski and Jim Hobbs, who led the development effort. “For equipment as expensive and complex as CryoSeal, Windows NT Embedded 4.0 was the best choice.”

Windows NT Embedded 4.0 consists of three components. The Windows NT source files serve as the foundation, providing all the features of Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack 5, including multi-adapter support, networking capabilities and the full Win32 API. To build a customized embedded system, OEMs can use the Target Designer and Component Designer, two graphical tools that allow developers to “pick and choose” the components they need and assemble a system that best fits their needs. Using the platform, developers can build everything from remotely administered “headless” devices (with no monitor or keyboard) to devices with a variety of peripherals and full graphical user interfaces.

The release of Windows NT Embedded 4.0 fits well within Microsoft’s overall strategy for embedded systems; the wide range of non-PC devices demands a flexible system that can accommodate their unique needs, and the Windows platform can meet the needs of any device, from digital cameras to live-saving medical equipment.

“For embedded systems, we basically have two platforms,” Mendillo said. “We have Windows CE for devices such as digital cameras, PC companions and cellular phones, which need to run on all kinds of processors without using much power. Windows NT Embedded 4.0 is for devices that need a more PC-like architecture: manufacturing systems, telecommunications systems, office automation and medical devices. When you need a rich feature set, BackOffice integration, robust networking and management on a PC architecture, NT Embedded 4.0 is a perfect fit.”

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