The benefits of Windows Embedded OS

Microsoft releases new version of software for Windows 8 Operating System.

By Aaron Hand

Microsoft unveiled its product roadmap for the Windows Embedded 8 and Windows Embedded Compact 2013 in November, and also released a preview of the Windows Embedded 8 Standard software at that time.

The Windows Embedded 8 Standard (WES8) has actually been available as a Community Technology Preview (CTP) since March 2012. In fact, the third CTP was made available in September, and the full release is scheduled for this month, according to Microsoft's Windows Embedded roadmap.

Windows 8 has been making its appearance in all its different forms — on PCs, in retail point-of-sale demonstrations, and in industrial applications in PCs and embedded in controllers. There are significant changes in all its forms. On Embedded, here are a few improvements: With SecureBoot and Trusted Module Platform (TMP), Windows 8's security mechanisms are significantly improved; the Metro UI shell is available as a component, so boot times can go from about 50 seconds to within 15 seconds; and a Unified Write Filter (UWF) consolidates previously existing Enhanced Write Filter (EWF), File-Based Write Filter (FBWF) and Registry Filter.

(Customize Embedded Control)

Overall, what these improvements mean are "a very robust and sophisticated impression at this early stage," writes Stefan Hoppe, product manager for TwinCAT at Beckhoff Automation and a Microsoft MVP Embedded. He is among an elite group of users with considerable expertise in Windows Embedded programs. There are just nine partners in the embedded technical adoption program, he notes.

This means that Hoppe gets his hands on Microsoft's latest operating system typically one and a half years earlier than the general market. In exchange, he shares any problems he sees with Microsoft so they can sort out the bugs, and also shares early stories of integrated embedded technology.

One success story Hoppe delivered was of Areva Multibrid and its wind turbines, which have to run 24/7 in Russia's North Sea. The embedded controller ran Windows Embedded Compact, which Beckhoff identified as a high-confidence software platform.

For a lot of people, the idea of running Windows in a critical industrial application makes them shudder, thinking about how many times their own PCs lock up at inconvenient times. "Can we really trust that platform to run reliably 24/7?" they wonder. "The answer is yes, because the way of handling devices is completely different," Hoppe says.

A benefit of the Microsoft operating systems, Hoppe says, is the ability to run Visual Studio along with it. "We're winning back customers that are using other platforms," he says. "Now we can keep C++ code, put it on Visual Studio, and run it in Microsoft platforms."

Hoppe is also involved in beta programs for Windows Embedded CE6.0R3, Standard 2009, Compact 7 and Standard 7.

With embedded applications, you typically don't have the space of a 300+ GB hard disk, and the application needs to run very robust, so you want to avoid rotating media, Hoppe notes. "You'd normally run with a compact flash card, and you'd have 4 GB of space," he says. "A full Windows operating system doesn't fit to that media."

Windows Embedded is a scalable OS. "Developers can select components that should be in image running at the machine," Hoppe says. "Do we need Windows Explorer? Sometimes. Do we need media player? No. So you can scale down to 500 MB, or up to 4 GB."

Also unlike consumer operating systems, for the embedded world, Microsoft has a regular support cycle of 10 years. "If we report an issue, then it's fixed," Hoppe says. In fact, Beckhoff reports three to four issues a year, he adds, providing Microsoft with real-world scenarios and showstoppers. "We also analyze the code and explain the issue."

In the industrial PC (IPC) world, Windows 8 is unlikely to make much of an impact in the next three years, according to a study from IMS Research.

Many IPCs continue to be sold with Windows XP, says Toby Colquhoun, senior analyst for IPCs, and most customers adopting new IPC technology will choose Windows 7. He expects widespread adoption of Windows 8 to take at least four years, but embedded variants will grow fastest.

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