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Microsoft targets high-end embedded devices with new NT-based OS (1998)

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San Francisco (November 3, 1998) -- Today at the Embedded Systems West Conference in San Jose, CA, Microsoft unveiled its new Windows NT Embedded 4.0 operating system designed to bring new capabilities to embedded devices, a market Microsoft has been dabbling in for some time now with Windows CE. Like CE, Windows NT Embedded 4.0 will employ the Win32 APIs used by other Microsoft OSs. This, says Microsoft, will make it easier for application developers to integrate their products for remote devices, with existing Microsoft software in the backend, such as BackOffice.

A series of recent announcements, including today's announcement of Windows NT for embedded devices and new tools for third-party software development for embedded devices running Windows CE, marks an increase in Microsoft's interest in the emerging embedded market. Sun has also been working hard to get its foot in the door, announcing the release of the Java Embedded Server in early October, and recent deals with set-top box makers to include Sun's JavaOS and ChorusOS operating systems (see Resources).

"Embedded solutions vendors have been looking for an open system solution and have asked Microsoft to make Windows NT that platform," said Mike Nash, director of marketing for Windows NT Server and infrastructure products at Microsoft. "The development of Windows NT Embedded 4.0 is a major milestone in providing an open platform that includes the rich and extensible services required by the embedded systems market."

Sun and Microsoft are pitching the same campaign: open platforms. Sun's ChorusOS can be run underneath a Java virtual machine, allowing for cross-platform software development, while Microsoft is touting the wide variety of APIs that can be used in conjunction with NT Embedded 4.0, and which extend far beyond what has been available for Windows CE.

Microsoft will continue to push CE for the lower end embedded market, while NT Embedded targets much more complex devices. Yesterday, Microsoft released Windows CE Platform Builder, the successor to the CE Embedded Toolkit for the Visual C++ development system version 5.0.

The new version of Windows NT is designed for "headless support," meaning that no mouse, keyboard, or display device is required. Other features include diskless operation and FLASH Media support.

Among the key advantages both Microsoft and Sun hope to offer in this market, which has been traditionally fragmented and serviced largely by unknowns, is the possibility of remote management, including configuration and updates.

In September, an early alpha version of Windows NT Embedded was released for technical evaluation to a small group of companies in the communications, industrial automation, office automation, medical devices and retail point-of-sale industries. Among the companies were Manufacturing Data Systems Inc., Natural MicroSystems Corp., NEC Corp., Network Engines Inc., and Toshiba America Information Systems Inc.

Sun is also continuing to push its agenda in the embedded market, with the completion of its JavaEmbedded 1.0 virtual machine, a tool designed to provide a configurable Java environment which runs on top of a real-time operating system, like ChorusOS or Windows CE. The product is expected to ship by year-end, with the next release to feature support for Jini and real-time extensions, said Sun.

A key feature of the EmbeddedJava application environment, said Sun, is its small memory footprint. The virtual machine uses 256 KB of ROM, and requires only those Java classes that support a given developer's applications, along with the core JVM, all built as one executable image in ROM.