Microsoft has released the latest embedded version of Windows, opening the "entire kernel" to partner developers for the first time.
Windows Embedded CE 6.0, announced by Bill Gates' heir-apparent Craig Mundie on Wednesday, is a significant evolution on previous iterations of the operating system, which is used in devices ranging from smartphones to set-top boxes. Not only has the number of simultaneous processes been increased from 32 to 32,000, but the virtual memory available to each process has been beefed up from 64MB to 2GB.
However, Hardy Poppinga, product manager for Microsoft's mobile and embedded division in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told ZDNet UK that the new "shared source" initiative was in itself the division's "most significant announcement for years".
"We are going to open the entire Windows Embedded CE kernel for our partner developers for the first time in our 10-year history, through our Microsoft shared source initiative," Poppinga said on Monday, adding: "Our partners will now be even more able to develop very exciting new device scenarios — they can be more innovative with accessing the source code".
According to Poppinga, Microsoft is opening up the code in response to the wishes of its partners, but he conceded that a "more competitive market" had also necessitated the move.
Poppinga also claimed that the move showed Microsoft wanted to "raise the bar for the open source competitors out there in the market", while pointing to Microsoft's 10-year support package for its partners as an added incentive to choose CE6 over Linux-based alternatives — such as Trolltech's Qtopia platform.
"We are also offering an IP [intellectual property] indemnification or IP protection, so if they started to develop derivatives on top of our code they own that code, and are not obliged to give that back to Microsoft or any other third party. Our partners keep the IP on what they develop and therefore retain their competitive advantage in the market," Poppinga added.
However, he was unable to say how many paying customers Microsoft had lined up for Windows CE 6. Similarly, it remains unclear as to whether the new system has any new power-saving features.
New features that are described include integration of the platform tool into the Virtual Studio 2005 environment (now shipping as part of CE 6), as well as enhanced capabilities for machine-to-machine communications.
Windows CE 6 is now available everywhere except France, where what Poppinga described as "regulatory activities" could delay release until February "at the latest".