Microsoft unveils latest beta code for WinCE 4.0

Microsoft Corp. released the second beta version of Windows CE 4.0 Tuesday that marks the first time the software giant is letting the general WinCE development community download it from the company’s Web site.

Dubbed Talisker, the release is the company’s latest step in recreating WinCE as a set of software components that can be pieced together in different ways to run on an array of handheld and embedded computers. These devices are being fitted with ever more powerful microprocessors and unprecedented amounts of memory.

Microsoft is betting that application developers want a modifiable, full-featured, 32-bit operating system for the next generation of mobile computing.

Microsoft says Windows CE 4.0 will be available by year-end and pricing will be announced closer to the time.

Palm Inc., Microsoft’s archrival in the PDA market, is trying to tackle the same set of issues: Palm engineers are beefing up the PalmOS and porting it to the powerful ARM microprocessor. PalmOS for ARM is also expected to be ready by the end of the year.

To encourage its own developers, Microsoft has created what it calls an emulation edition of Talisker, from for Windows 2000 or Windows XP PCs. The software lets developers build and test their applications on the PC, without having to buy specialized target hardware.

Alternatively, developers can download the “technology preview” edition, which can run on a range of processor architectures, including ARM, MIPS, SHx, and x86.

The second beta release also includes support for the IEEE 802.1x “zero configuration” standard, which lets device users roam automatically between different wireless LANs. Today, moving between different wireless LAN products requires users making a series of software adjustments. The first beta, which was released in April 2001, supported the short-range radio technology, Bluetooth.

Beta 2 also supports network card drivers based on the NDIS 5.1 standard, and the WinSock 2.0 API for network applications. These two interfaces will make it easier for software vendors and equipment makers to port their existing Microsoft XP drivers to Talisker, according to Megan Kidd, Microsoft product manager for the embedded and appliance platforms group.

Other changes include:

– A “platform wizard,” which includes several pre-configured operating system images aimed at specific devices.

– Support for DirectX and the latest Windows Media codecs, to support a wide range of multimedia types.

– A number of internal changes intended to make WinCE more resilient to application failures, and use internal resources more efficiently.