Microsoft offers test version of Windows XP Embedded

Microsoft Corp. handed developers on Tuesday a working copy of its Windows XP operating system for embedded systems, debuting its second operating system for devices such as handheld computers and set-top boxes this month.

The beta 2 release of Windows XP Embedded gives hardware makers the tools needed to build operating systems for such devices as server appliances and automated industrial machines based on Microsoft's Windows XP Professional desktop operating system.

"If it's in Windows XP, then it will be in Windows XP Embedded," said Kelly Meagher, product manager for Microsoft's embedded and appliance platforms group. "Developers can access the same technology, but in a componentized version."

An embedded operating system is built as a set of components, allowing developers to pick and choose which pieces of the operating system they need for certain devices. Windows XP Embedded includes more than 10,000 components, the company said. Some of those include such features as Microsoft's instant messaging technology, Windows file protection and Microsoft's encrypted file system.

Windows XP Embedded will feature support for a range of networking technologies such as 802.11 and variations of that wireless protocol. The operating system also supports the Kerberos security standard as well as USB and Universal Plug and Play.

Microsoft said Tuesday it would release the final version of the embedded software soon after the anticipated Windows XP operating system officially debuts on Oct. 25. Products running Windows XP Embedded are expected to hit the market as early as January 2002, the company said.

Microsoft this month also released a Beta 2 Version of the next generation of the Windows CE operating system, code-named "Talisker." That embedded operating system will run on Microsoft's "Stinger" smart phone and the AutoPC -- a computer terminal installed in a car dashboard -- Microsoft has said. The Redmond, Washington software maker also has an embedded operating system based on the Windows NT 4.0 kernel.

The software maker's range of embedded offerings pits it against a number of competitors. Windows CE targets the market currently dominated by such software makers as Palm Inc. The company also faces competition from companies that build their own embedded systems in house and other market leaders such as Wind River Systems Inc., which provides embedded systems for such markets as mobile phones and medical equipment makers.

Market researchers said Windows XP Embedded is specifically aimed at the market for server appliances, such as Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Cobalt Cube, a low-cost, Linux-based server dedicated to individual serving functions. That puts Windows XP Embedded in competition with similar products running open source operating systems, according to Chris Le Tocq, an analyst with Guernsey Research.

"The competition here is mainly Linux and FreeBSD," Le Tocq said.

Microsoft has not detailed any new products that its development partners plan to ship running the embedded system. The company did sign on two new partners that will develop products based on the embedded system -- Wincor Nixdorf GmbH and Co. KG and Retalix Ltd.

The software maker has not discussed any of its own expected products running Windows XP Embedded, though it has eyed such devices as residential gateways, advanced set-top boxes and retail point of sale devices.

"It's too early to say which devices will be built with the operating system," Meagher said.

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