Microsoft has released the latest version of Windows CE called Windows Embedded Compact 7, an OS for small-print enterprise and consumer devices.
Windows Embedded Compact 7 (WEC 7) is the newest version of Windows Embedded CE, a componentized real-time operating system from Microsoft targeting small footprint enterprise and consumer devices, such as barcode and RFID scanners, GPS devices, set-top boxes, e-readers, digital picture frames, mobile POS, etc. WEC 7 supports 256 levels of thread priority, nested interrupts, and per-thread quantums in order to satisfy its real-time needs, all in a small image of 500KB. Currently running on x86, MIPS and ARM, including ARM v7, with up to 256 cores support, the OS can be ported to other platforms of choice. Unlike other operating systems from Microsoft which have a highly protected source code, Windows Embedded’s 3.9 million lines of code are available to device manufacturers which can extend or adapt it to a new platform or to tweak the UI without having to share the code added.
Development for WEC 7 is done with a Visual Studio 2008 plug-in and Expression Blend, the developers having the possibility to choose between GDI, Win32 and Silverlight for Windows Embedded as development UI framework, the recommended one being Silverlight, which is based on the standard Silverlight 3.0 and uses XAML to create the UI.
WEC 7 has a new version of Internet Explorer, based on the same core as IE Phone 7, and supporting Adobe Flash 10.1 in full screen mode. The UI comes with multi-touch, planning and zooming support. The OS includes new or updated drivers for SD cards, USB, accelerometer, Bluetooth 2.1, and I2C bus driver.
A fully functional version of Windows Embedded Compact 7 is available for download and free trial for 6 months. After that, WEC 7 costs $995/license plus an additional $3-16 per device sold with an OS based on it.
Besides Windows Embedded Compact 7, Microsoft offers Windows Embedded Standard 7, Windows 7, Vista and XP Pro for Embedded Systems, Windows Embedded PosReady, Windows Embedded Automotive 7, Windows Embedded Server, Windows Embedded for Thin Clients. Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7 are also based on Windows CE. While manufacturers can find the OS fit for their device, it is unclear for developers and the general public what is Microsoft’s strategy for handheld, phone and the tablet market. WEC 7 can be used for phones and palm-size devices, but Microsoft suggests Phone 7 for those, especially for smartphones. And while many would expect Microsoft to use Phone 7 for tablets, it is possible they will use the future Windows 8 for that. The multitude of choices seems to create confusion and the perception that Microsoft does not have a clear vision on what OS is meant for what category of devices.