Microsoft shows off Windows CE 6 beta

Newly-minted embedded operating system includes higher number of concurrent processes and a plug-in for Visual Studio developers.

Microsoft has unveiled a test version of its Windows CE 6 operating system for embedded devices.

The operating system (OS) is commonly used in set-top boxes, GPS (global positioning system) based devices, as well as industrial automation and medical devices. Products with the new OS are expected next year.

According to a Microsoft statement, the software giant has redesigned the kernel, or heart of the OS, and expanded the capacity for simultaneous processes from 32 previously, to 32,000.

This means developers can incorporate large numbers of complex applications into intelligent devices that offer advanced multimedia and Web services. Windows CE 6 also includes features from older iterations of Windows CE, allowing device makers to keep previous investments in user interfaces, applications, middleware and drivers.

Microsoft also introduced an embedded development environment available via a plug-in for Visual Studio 2005. The move will encourage some 7 million Visual Studio developers worldwide to program for embedded devices, the company said.

To counter open source rivals like Linux in the embedded space, developers are also able to access millions of lines of Windows CE source code, under Microsoft’s Shared Source Initiative.

Developers and device makers have the right to modify and distribute custom components with their Windows CE-based products. The shared source code license also includes a flexible template that lets device makers create unique, customized user interfaces to further differentiate their devices.

During the third-quarter of fiscal 2006, Microsoft's revenues from the mobile and embedded business rose 46 percent to US$89 million, compared to US$61 million a year earlier. However, this market segment is still a tiny fraction of Redmond's total revenues which was US$10.9 billion in the same quarter.

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