REDMOND, Wash. — Nov. 14, 2011 — For the past several months, Microsoft’s Windows Embedded business has been laying the foundation for an entirely new category within the traditional embedded market — solutions known as intelligent systems that can extend enterprise software and cloud services out to everyday devices such as point of service (POS) terminals, in-car infotainment, medical equipment and even bar-top game machines.
According to Windows Embedded general manager Kevin Dallas, like so many other transformations in the technology world, the move toward intelligent systems is all about information.
Kevin Dallas, general manager of Windows Embedded
“With today’s pervasive network connectivity, the emergence of cloud services and low-cost yet high-powered microchips, traditional embedded devices can now connect and participate as part of a broader IT infrastructure and exchange real-time data all the way to the customer’s fingertips,” Dallas says. “Intelligent systems offer endless possibilities for organizations to collect and act on information in real time, from understanding customer buying habits to tracking product shipments around the globe.”
With so much potential, the opportunity for developers is a big one. According to analyst firm IDC, the market for intelligent systems will swell substantially in the next few years, from 800 million units today to more than 2.3 billion by 2015. Shipments of embedded devices already exceed cell phones and PCs, and IDC predicts the market for intelligent systems will soon represent a $520 billion industry.
“Once that data is generated and captured, it becomes a currency of its own,” Dallas says. “Data and insights are the fundamental benefits that organizations can realize from an intelligent system, and whether it’s in science, medicine or commerce, we’re only beginning to see what people can do with this technology.”
One Trusted Platform
Dallas says there are two primary pillars for developers and organizations to innovate with intelligent systems. One is the ability of the system to gather and harness data in new ways. The other is delivering an immersive new experience for end users, customers and enterprise workforces alike.
Both have factored heavily into Microsoft’s road map for the Windows Embedded platform, with a blend of technologies to connect devices seamlessly across an organization, manage those devices easily on the IT side, and also allow extensive customization and differentiation with a new user interface and features for touch, gesture and speech control.
“A lot of our customers are asking about Kinect, for example, in the medical industry, the banking industry,” he says. “‘How can I bring that kind of natural experience to my industry?’ This is an exciting opportunity, and it’s part of what I love about what we’re doing to help deliver the tools for innovation with Windows Embedded platforms. We’ll make it possible, and let our partners and developers make it happen. The only thing missing is your imagination.”
Dallas says extending intelligence from a device into enterprise software also requires tight integration with the back-end infrastructure. To facilitate that, Windows Embedded is focused on key areas of the operating system, all the way down to the kernel itself, improving the file system to handle the data generated by an array of devices. The team is also working closely with Windows Azure to ensure customers can seamlessly include cloud computing in their intelligent systems.
“What sits on top of this, across the device and your cloud architecture, is Visual Studio,” he says. “Visual Studio allows you to create a distributed application that works seamlessly across your intelligent system. We are planning to support all of the latest Microsoft tools and frameworks, so developers have one trusted platform to build upon, from the device to the cloud.”
Product Road Map Specifics Unveiled
With the company’s vision in place, Windows Embedded recently laid out details about how the company will deliver on its vision for intelligent systems over the next year. The plan involves continued support for a variety of platforms, while also aligning tightly with the upcoming Windows 8 and the new experiences it will enable.
“Windows 8 represents the potential to reimagine not only the PC experience, but also the specialized device experience,” Dallas says. “Our road map builds on Windows Embedded’s history of aligning the platform with Windows to support an integrated experience across devices, phones, PCs and the cloud.”
Windows Embedded Enterprise v.Next, providing full Windows application compatibility and the power of Microsoft’s premium operating systems on embedded devices, will be available for use in a number of different devices, such as ATMs and kiosks, a quarter after Windows 8 is generally available for PCs. Windows Embedded Standard v.Next — which will deliver the power, familiarity and reliability of the Windows operating system in a highly customizable and componentized form — will undergo a community technology preview for developers during the first quarter of 2012. General availability of Windows Embedded Standard v.Next will occur three quarters after Windows 8 is generally available for PCs. Microsoft is not disclosing specific dates for the Windows 8 release schedule at this time.
Dallas also confirmed that Microsoft updated Windows Embedded Compact 7, the current generation of the Windows Embedded CE platform, in October 2011, and Windows Embedded Compact v.Next will follow in the second half of 2012, introducing support for Visual Studio 2010.
Windows Embedded Standard v.Next will support the ARM architecture, in addition to continuing support for the Intel x86 and x64 architectures. Windows Embedded Compact will continue to provide a proven, real-time operating system and a full tools suite for a streamlined development experience on small-footprint, specialized devices. Windows Embedded Standard v.Next will deliver technologies for customized, rich user interfaces, enhanced always-on connectivity, and all of the management and security functionality provided by Windows 8.
“Windows Embedded Compact and Windows Embedded Standard represent Microsoft’s platforms for intelligent systems.” Dallas says. “We need Windows Embedded Standard v.Next to take the lead around application-rich devices, and Windows Embedded Compact v.Next to take the lead around real-time, small form-factor devices. Both are critical to the success of our partners and enterprise customers building intelligent systems.”
“Also, if you’re thinking about the future of Windows Embedded Handheld, Windows Embedded POSReady and Windows Embedded Automotive, and our entire portfolio of products, know that we are investing in these to include the latest Microsoft technologies as well,” he says.
For partners and enterprises on the fence about whether to build now or wait for Windows 8, Dallas has some simple advice: Build now.
“Intelligent systems are here today,” Dallas says. “They exist all around us. And now you can build amazing intelligent systems today on the Windows Embedded platforms, knowing you’ll have a direct path to upgrade and enhance those systems as Windows 8 rolls out.”