Microsoft rolls out beta 1 of Talisker

The company will also spearhead a Rapid Development Program for Windows XP Embedded products, according to Keith White, the senior director for the embedded and appliance platform group at Microsoft.

Windows CE is a "small foot print" operating system for battery-conscious mobile devices like cell phones, PDAs (personal digital assistants), or task-specific appliances like set-top boxes. Windows XP Embedded is Microsoft's full-featured, component-styled OS for other embedded devices, like networking products, White said.

Beta 1 of Talisker will ship immediately to hundreds of beta testers world-wide, with a finalised, upgraded version of CE ready by Christmas. Device manufacturers that use CE will perform a flash memory upgrade to add the new OS to their products, as CE is too small an OS to upgrade the way a user would upgrade a PC from Windows 98 to 2000, White said.

Improvements to CE will include better multimedia functionality, DVD support, and improved security features like support for SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), White said. Improved functionality for a wider range of user interfaces and the latest CE version of Internet Explorer 5.5 are also part of the upgrade.

Surprisingly enough, White said CE will ship with Bluetooth support. Bluetooth, a wireless PAN (personal area network) solution, is still mired in development, struggling with issues like interoperability with other wireless devices.

Only last week, Microsoft cited the lack of "sufficient quantities of production-quality Bluetooth hardware" as the reason it would not incorporate Bluetooth into Windows XP as a default utility.

"Microsoft cannot estimate when or how (Bluetooth) will be supported in Windows," a Microsoft spokesperson said regarding XP.

Microsoft's White said the Bluetooth issue is different with CE and the devices it operates, as they require longer design cycles. Even if Microsoft has reservations about Bluetooth, waiting to put it in the hands of the CE camp is not a luxury the software giant can afford, he said.

"The design cycles for (CE devices) average around 18 months," said White. "We really have to do things with (Bluetooth) and the OS that will allow developers to work in this time line."

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