As Microsoft turns 40 this month, we’ve put Windows Embedded Compact 6.0, and its enduring popularity, under the microscope at a Win CE 6 open forum.
The first post examined some of the differences between Win CE 5 and Win CE 6; CE 6’s rather reluctant start in 2008, and MSDN licensing – amongst other Windows Embedded topics.
Now, here’s the concluding part of our Embedded Compact 6.0 open forum – with Nigel Goodyear, Embedded Platform Architect at Direct Insight, and ByteSnap Design’s Principal Engineer, Martin Thompson.
Updates Availability and Obsolescence
BYTESNAP: So in terms of Windows CE 6 and obsolescence what are we looking at now?
NG: Well, I believe it’s 2018; there will still be updates available in terms of security availability for the tools until 2018 and then licensing until 2022. Really, it comes down to function and fit – if it’s the correct thing for your device at the time, it’s still supported, it’s still managed and it is proven. So there shouldn’t be any panic – unless you want extra functionality and performance for new devices, but that’s not always the case for an embedded device.
MT: Well, the cause for concern is not specifically against CE 6, CE 7 or Compact 13. It’s the fact that Microsoft has gone very quiet on the whole embedded side.
And you can certainly understand that when you look at what’s happening at Microsoft as a business, on the whole. But it does concern potential customers of CE that Microsoft, as far as I am aware, are no longer using it for some of their core devices.
So, until Microsoft Phone 7 came out, the Microsoft smart phones and tablets used a Windows CE-based OS. Although that was a separate team within Microsoft, a lot of the developments within the core of the operating system, came from developments from the mobile team.
Therefore, if they needed fixes for X Y and Z, or they needed support for Voice over IP, for example, then that was developed by the Windows Mobile Team, and it would get pulled into the core embedded OS as a feature. And similarly, the telephony support came that way.
Whereas now, I know that the Microsoft Phone is no longer based on the Windows CE core; that’s based on a cut-down Windows 8 or Windows 8 RT, depending on the processor.
Microsoft also targeted the automotive marketing with Windows CE – so your car sat nav system etc., would be running CE…
NG: …that’s what Compact 2013’s main market is; automotive. So, at the end of the day, new designs can use CE 6 as long as the longevity of supply matches the product requirement.
Linux- and Android-based Systems v CE 6
MT: I think the concern is because Microsoft have seemed relatively quiet about it, and obviously everybody has an Android or an Apple device in their pocket.
Previously, the old iPACs, the pocket PCs, the PDAs – that kind of thing – were all Windows CE based, so that gave Windows CE a lot of traction.
Nowadays, because Android is out there, there are embedded versions of Android – and obviously you can use full embedded Linux as well – which has the advantage of it being seen as “free”; no need to pay a license to Microsoft. There’s a lot of interest in moving away from Windows CE to Linux-based or Android-based systems for UI based systems; and also for more secure systems there’s also competition which has been around for a long time in QNX and operating systems like that.
NG: Well, a high percentage of the customers that use our product in volume are using Windows CE 6. That’s because they’ve been shipping the product for a long period of time; it’s still maintained, so we still upgrade. For instance, we’re doing an upgrade for one product so it’ll support the high capacity SD cards – and CE 6 can still do that; it’s not really an issue. The main issue circles back again to marketing. Microsoft is a marketing company, they focus on their latest products and promoting their latest products – but it doesn’t mean that they don’t support and continue to sell embedded devices because it’s a different team, it’s a different set of rules and they very much focus on longevity of supply and licensing, for anything they’ve done. So, any old product is a minimum of ten years, and any new product is again will be ten years from the time they’ve stopped developing. MT: That’s very reassuring and it’s a good reason for going for Microsoft over Linux in particular, because you don’t have to worry about putting together the tool chain and maintaining the tool chain yourself, and making sure all the tools are available, because that’s been done for you. If you’re doing parts of Linux development you’re responsible for pulling all of that together. It’s a very different mind set, and it’s a personal choice really: whether you want to invest in maintaining your build environment and maintaining everything you need into the build, or whether you want to pay the license for Microsoft to do that for you.
NG: Yes – well that’s a whole new, different discussion really!
MT: (laughs) Well, yes!! What I was going to say was one reason for not moving away from CE in general, is that you have to remember that for all of these embedded systems, the device itself is a small part of the system. It’s usually part of a network system: they’ve got a back end system, they’ve got a whole user interface etc., some people have a lot of processing code for example; we’ve got customers who’ve got a sound analysis device and it’s the same software on the desktop, it runs the same software on the PC.
There are hundreds of thousands of development hours put in to the application code, and changing away from a Microsoft code base to anything else is a massive gamble and a massive step for them. So, it makes sense to try to stay with CE and with CE 6 as opposed to the others.
BYTESNAP: In summary, then, what would you say to a technical director or similar decision-maker who is perhaps rather jittery about CE 6 and worried about the life cycle of their product? How would you allay their concerns?
NG: Well, we’d direct them specifically to the longevity statements from Microsoft. It’s as simple as that really; and also the fact that we’re still selling new products that run Windows CE 6 for new designs.
MT: As Nigel says, it’s that and also the current longevity of CE 6 is similar to the commitments you’ll get out of hardware manufacturers as well. So, processor designs are there for the next 7 years, and CE 6 support is there as well.
BYTESNAP: Martin, Nigel – many thanks.