Microsoft rolls out embedded Windows XP

Hoping to whet the appetite of developers specializing in mobile and embedded devices, Microsoft on Monday made available a free technology preview of Windows XP Embedded containing Service Pack 2 (SP2) that it expects to deliver by year's end.

Using the client version of Windows XP SP2 as a guide, Microsoft is beefing up the embeddable version with improved default security and networking capabilities. At least as important however, according to company executives, are the improved management features of the product something high on the wish lists of its corporate users.

"We think the real slam dunk for Embedded SP2 is manageability. We are coming out of a stage where many devices were static and moving into an era where devices are much more networked and becoming like the rest of the IT world, where things are more updated and fresher," said John Starkweather, product manager in Microsoft's Mobile and Embedded Devices division.

To bolster the product in this area, the company has included its Software Update Services (SUS) support, which helps administrators to better integrate devices across networks and results in lower maintenance costs. Also included is support for Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS), which helps administrators to remotely update applications from a single location in hopes of taking some of the complexity out of that task.

Heading the list of security enhancements is the inclusion of the Windows Firewall, which is activated by default. The newly redesigned firewall is designed to better protect devices by giving both users and administrators finer control over in-bound connections. SP2 also enables devices to communicate through a range of different communications technologies including the Remote Desktop Protocol Version 5.2.

Some industry observers believe it is almost mandatory they bring over as much security and communications capabilities to Windows Embedded because its desktop cousin, Windows XP client version, has been under constant attack from viruses and hackers.

"Windows XP Embedded carries along some of the baggage from Win XP as it tries to push its way into the embedded space, so they have to put in added features like security to make it a little more rigorous," said Chris Lanfear, Director, Embedded Software group with Venture Development.

Microsoft is also emphasizing added manageability and communications capabilities of the embeddable version to better compete against embeddable versions of Linux, which has a formidable presence in this market.

"We can see manifestations of Linux in all the major embedded companies. Where you see Microsoft responding is both in terms of the (development) community stuff they are building around the operating system but (also) in attacking the benefits of Linux with things like better scalability and connectivity," Lanfear said. "Where they run up against (Linux), prima facie, is cost," he added.

Starkweather said Microsoft is currently working closely with third-party developers to create antivirus and intrusion prevention security solutions. He said Computer Associates International Inc. and Sygate Technologies Inc. have both released products for Windows XP Embedded-based devices.

Through SP2, developers can now create applications and services for devices that take advantage of the multimedia functions of Direct X 9 as well as Bluetooth networking capabilities. Yet another new technical addition is a quick boot feature that significantly reduces device startup and shutdown times, according to Starkweather.

In concert with the test version of Windows XP Embedded, Microsoft also announced it will ship a new platform aimed specifically at the retail and hospitality markets called Windows Embedded for Point of Service. The new product is designed to make it easier for developers to simplify the setup and management of Point of Service (POS) systems.

Windows Embedded for POS is scheduled to be available sometime during the first half of 2005 through the company's network of Windows Embedded business partners.

Developers and users wanting more information about Windows XP Embedded with SP2 or Windows Embedded POS can go to http://msdn.microsoft.com/embedded/getstart/devplat/pos.

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