Microsoft unveils next version of Win CE .NET

Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday unveiled details of the next version of its embedded operating system, Windows CE .NET Version 4.1.

Version 4.1, previously known by the code name Jameson, is shipping to developers this week and will include increased support for access to the .NET source code, full support for IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6), as well as support for the Microsoft Speech API Version 5 and for 12 languages.

Todd Warren, general manager of the embedded and appliance platforms group, also said that Microsoft benchmarks indicate a 15 to 20 percent performance gain in Web browsing, video playback, and in response times using RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) for thin client access to a server.

Improved access to the OS source code will allow developers to select an operating system component and then retrieve the source code for that component whereas in previous versions a developer might have to search through 1.5 million lines of code to find the relevant component, Warren said.

The new version of Windows CE .NET also includes Beta Version 1 of the Compact .NET Framework.

"This will bring the world of XML services to small devices using C# and Visual Studio .NET," Warren added.

One industry analyst said that support for the .NET Framework in the embedded market is a key component of Microsoft's long-term strategy for .NET.

".NET is the focal point of all [Microsoft's] efforts and it is not surprising that Win CE is the first ancillary effort because it is potentially a strong developer environment. They would like to expand that [embedded developer community] to make it easier for them," said Tim Scannell, principal at Shoreline Research in Quincey, Mass.

But that same effort to create a single, monolithic OS is not finding favor with all developers.

"One size doesn't fit everybody. Some people need more screen real estate for example. There are other uses for an embedded OS other than a handheld. Wind River is giving them serious competition as an embedded OS in other devices and look at Nokia and Palm on cell phones," said Tony Meadow, president of Bear River Associates in Oakland, Calif., a software developer of Win CE and Pocket PC applications.

Meadow said that he was "dissatisfied" with the concept of trying to create a single toolkit for all environments and that there are more devices in the world than a handheld or a tablet PC.

"Maybe they can pull it off because they are so big, but I am skeptical," Meadow said.

The newest version will also increase the number of file viewers supported and will now include support for Word, Excel, Acrobat, PowerPoint and such image files as Jpeg, Gif, and BMP.

The file viewer support will enable better interoperability even between a digital projector and a Pocket PC device, Warren said.

Support for SAPI 5.0 will allow developers to use any SAPI 5 supported speech engine and reuse desktop speech applications on handhelds.

Support for IPv6 was actually developed outside of Microsoft by academic researchers at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom.

Researchers from Lancaster University used Microsoft's Windows source code to implement IPv6 into Windows CE .NET and Windows .NET Server. The technology developed at Lancaster is now part of Version 4.1, according to Andrew Scott, lead researcher at Lancaster.

The project is notable in that researchers have based their work on Microsoft's proprietary operating system, according to Microsoft. Typically, universities do such research using freely available operating systems that don't have restrictive licenses, such as FreeBSD and Linux.

"[Lancaster University's] goal is really to develop a research platform around Windows that has traditionally been done around Linux and Unix," said David Leland, the director of university relations at Microsoft's research division.

Matt Berger contributed to this story.

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