Microsoft tweaks Windows for non-PC devices

Offering its partners a closer look at its software plans for non-PC devices, Microsoft Corp. Wednesday announced several enhancements it will make to versions of Windows used in embedded systems, as well as a timeline for the release of software updates and new development tools.

Windows CE .Net and the embedded version of Windows XP will get a number of updates and new tools before the end of the year, said Megan Kidd, product manager with Microsoft’s embedded platforms group, on the eve of the Embedded Systems Conference in San Francisco.

The first service pack for Windows XP Embedded will ship in that time frame, she said. That set of security fixes and software updates will be released around the same time that Service Pack 1 is set to be released for the desktop version of Windows XP.

Microsoft also plans to release an update to Windows CE .Net by the end of the year, code-named Jameson, which will have added support for IPv6 (Internet Protocol Version 6), SMS (Short Messaging System) and document viewers for additional Microsoft Office applications, Kidd said.

Windows CE .Net, which is used in devices such as in-car computers and cell phones, was first released in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Just last month, the company disclosed plans for a future version of the operating system code named Macallan that will ship in 2003. However, Jameson will be released before Macallan, Kidd said.

As expected, a compact version of the .Net Framework is also on tap for release by the end of the year, Microsoft said. The .Net Framework is a cornerstone of Microsoft’s Web-based platform for delivering software and services, and the compact version will provide technology and protocols for creating .Net services that can run on non-PC devices such as handheld computers and cell phones.

In addition to the .Net Compact Framework, Microsoft plans to release a set of Smart Device Extensions for its Visual Studio .Net tool kit, also aimed at helping developers build applications for small devices, Kidd said.

Aiming to ease the development process for companies building these small computing devices, the software maker Wednesday also announced additional resources available to them. They include a Web site launched Wednesday that includes information and downloads for device drivers for Windows CE devices, the company said.

Device makers will also have the option to purchase additional support services from Microsoft, which would assure them a single point of contact for technical assistance and consulting services, the company said.

Microsoft also announced that it will release a Windows CE .Net Device Emulator, a 30MB program that developers can use to view applications developed to run on the operating system. Typically, developers need a full version of Windows CE .Net in order to view applications. The emulator software is comparable to Adobe Systems Inc.’s Acrobat Reader, which allows users to read but not alter Adobe PDF files, Kidd said.

The company has also loosened some of the terms of its shared source license governing Windows CE .Net. The license allows developers who purchase the operating system to view portions of the source code to help in developing and debugging their software. Microsoft has agreed to grant its academic licensees greater freedom over how they use the code so that they can reprint it in text books or other academic course material.

Wednesday’s announcements point to the growing emphasis Microsoft is putting on the embedded market, according to one Microsoft customer. Competition from Palm Inc. in the handheld market, and from Wind River Systems Inc. and various Linux companies in the embedded space, has forced Microsoft to offer greater support to developers of embedded systems than to those working with its desktop operating system, according to Anthony Meadow, president of Bear River Associates, an independent software vendor in Oakland, Calif.

“It sounds to me like they are trying really hard to have a big place in the embedded market,” he said. “The fact they are releasing source code is a sign that this is not as easy a market for them to enter as they thought.”

However, the emphasis and openness is to Microsoft’s credit, Meadow added. “It’s great they are (sharing the Windows CE .Net code) so we can figure out what the heck is going on inside.”

(Ephraim Schwartz, an editor-at-large with InfoWorld in San Francisco, contributed to this report.)

Microsoft Canada Co. in Mississauga, Ont., is at

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