Alchemy: Turning Microsoft's embedded platforms into consumer gold

What differentiates a Windows Mobile phone from a GPS system if both of them are built on top of the same core engine (the Windows Embedded Compact platform)? One of the main differentiators is the custom shell -- a new version of which is codenamed "Alchemy" -- that provides the interface for a given device.

What differentiates a Windows Mobile phone from a GPS system if both of them are built on top of the same core engine (the Windows Embedded Compact platform)? One of the main differentiators is the custom shell that provides the interface for a given device.

That shell/framework in the newer Windows Embedded Compact releases (like "Cashmere" and "Chelan") is a component that is codenamed "Alchemy."

Alchemy is what will bringer richer UI scenarios to Embedded-Compact-based devices. The kinds of rich-media capabilities (smooth transitions, 3D animations, etc.) that Silverlight enables on the desktop will now be available on Windows Mobile phones and other consumer-electronics devices built on top of Embedded Compact. And -- at least in theory -- if you couple Alchemy with the touch engine coming in Chelan, that's when you'll be able to do all the flicking, zooming, panning and other touch gesturing which iPhone users already can.

One of the main features provided by Alchemy, my sources said, is that it provides native access to Silverlight's presentation system on Embedded-Compact-based devices. This means XAML (eXtensible Application Markup Language) gets introduced to the platform. That means designers and not just developers will be able to create applications for Alchemy-enabled platforms. Designers will be able to use Microsoft's Expression Blend (with a new embedded device template) to create snazzy looking apps for these Embedded Compact/Windows Mobile devices.

Alchemy also will allow developers to use Silverlight technologies on Embedded Compact devices without requiring them to run in a browser. (On Windows Mobile phones, where the IE browser technology has lagged seriously behind, the removal of the in-browser requirement for Silverlight seems like especially welcome news.)

While Alchemy is important to the future of Windows Mobile devices -- at least as long as Microsoft continues to build them on top of the CE/Embedded Compact platform -- it also is the key to new portable devices that may be coming from the Redmondians.

There's a new category I've seen on some recent Microsoft slide decks called CMDs, or connected media devices. These CMDs are different from portable navigation devices, set-top-boxes, portable media players, phones, thin clients and other typical CE/Embedded Compact platform devices.

So what are these CMDs? Microsoft's second run at a more useful Tablet PC? A portable Surface device (hello, Oahu!)? My blogging colleague Jason Perlow's "ZuneBook" made real? Or some kind of all-in-one device that would allow users to do everything from read ebooks, to watch movies, to read e-mail? I'm not sure, but I bet the low-profile Microsoft Chief Experience Officer J Allard might know....

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