Microsoft ships Windows XP Embedded

Microsoft Corp. Wednesday launched Windows XP Embedded, hoping it would be a catalyst for its .Net initiative, which relies heavily on smart devices with embedded operating systems that can interoperate with each other, PCs, servers and network services.

Windows XP Embedded was designed in a modular fashion, so its services and features could be assembled into any configuration for any device. It has more than 10,000 components that can be assembled into a custom operating system.

Microsoft has lacked that sort of flexibility with Windows NT Embedded, which was not originally designed in a modular fashion and has not made serious inroads into the embedded operating system market.

Microsoft has been fighting an uphill battle for years to win acceptance in the embedded market. A US$5 billion deal signed in 1999 to supply set-top boxes to AT&T Corp. has been unraveling because Microsoft has been unable to deliver competent embedded software. The embedded market has been ruled by smaller companies, such as Wind River Systems Inc., and more recently by Linux and Java from Sun Microsystems Inc.

Microsoft is hoping XP Embedded will spawn a generation of smart devices key to its .Net initiative, a plan to deliver software over the Internet as a set of services.

“We committed to providing the latest Windows technologies to our embedded customers within 90 days of the general availability of Windows XP, and we are excited to launch Windows XP Embedded ahead of that commitment,” Jim Allchin, group vice-president of the platforms division, said in a statement before delivering the keynote at the company’s second annual Windows Embedded Developers Conference in Las Vegas.

Windows XP launched on Oct. 25.

Windows XP Embedded is targeted for use in smart, feature-rich, network-connected devices such as thin clients, self-service kiosks, industrial automation systems, retail point-of-sale devices, and advanced set-top boxes. It includes many of XP Professional’s rich features such as multimedia and plug-and-play features.

Microsoft also is busy developing the next generation of embedded platforms, including Windows CE .Net and Windows .Net Embedded Server, a version of the Windows .Net Server platform, which is slated to ship in the first half of 2002.

Vendors are already jumping on board.

Wyse Technology said it will ship the first Windows XP Embedded thin client before March 2002. The Wyse 9440XL will replace the company’s top-of-the-line 8440XL thin-client terminal, which runs on Windows NT Embedded.

“The advantage will be greatly enhanced peripheral support and an easier and faster way to develop custom images of the operating system,” says David Rand, director of field marketing for Wyse. The 9440XL will support two thin-client computing protocols – Citrix’s Independent Computing Architecture and Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol – as well as a local browser and local application execution for fault-tolerance and performance enhancements.

The terminal can be incorporated into a Microsoft Active Directory access control infrastructure, but the 9440XL also features local password and user name security. Wyse also is developing biometric and smart card authentication systems for the terminals.

The 9440XL also will ship with Wyse’s Rapport management suite, which supports automatic updates to firmware on the terminal and remote booting and maintenance.

Pricing has not been set.

Also, Annasoft, which offers software, training and licensing to developers of smart devices, announced it will support Windows XP Embedded. The company also will offer technical support, development services, training and educational resources to those developing devices using Windows XP Embedded.

In order to jumpstart interest, Microsoft announced a free evaluation kit and a 90-day promotional price of US$995 for the Windows XP Embedded tool suite.