Despite itself, Microsoft Corp could wind up with a near-monopoly in the huge industrial embedded controls market by dint of NT and its little brother, Windows CE. The mini-operating system, so far found only in a handful of hand-held computers, is currently being positioned as the operating system of choice for low-end controls while NT […]
Despite itself, Microsoft Corp could wind up with a near-monopoly in the huge industrial embedded controls market by dint of NT and its little brother, Windows CE. The mini-operating system, so far found only in a handful of hand-held computers, is currently being positioned as the operating system of choice for low-end controls while NT handles more elaborate machines and factory computer networks. Last week Microsoft released CE to the embedded market, a market opportunity larger than that of all the personal computers, workstations, minicomputers and mainframes combined. Not an expert on the subject, Microsoft has franchised three embedded control veterans – VenturCom Inc, Eclipse International Inc and AnnaSoft Inc – to resell CE. The world of embedded operating systems is a fragmented one, unpenetrated by standards. In the real-time Unix segment, the leader, SCO Unix, has failed to capture more than 5% of the market. Armed with a set of communication protocols common to both NT and CE, Microsoft could unify the market. Even if seamless communications weren’t important, there’s also the fact that every embedded driver and application programming interfaces has traditionally been a relatively low-volume, and thus costly, custom job – CE uses Win32 interfaces, just like NT. Using similar arguments, JavaOS has also been touted for embedded control, but Microsoft’s Consumer Appliance Group marketing director Jon Magill contends: Our stuff is here now. JavaOS may not be production-ready until some time in late summer, according to our sister publication OnLine Reporter.
What attracted the embedded control vendors to CE is its tiny footprint. It can be tailored to run in as little as 1Mb of RAM with the kernel and supporting software on a cheap 2Mb ROM, compared to the fatter, more expensive NT, which at best squeezes into 8Mb of RAM and can easily take up 10 times the storage space. NT also doesn’t run on the myriad parts CE is starting to support. Microsoft’s three new industrial distributors get an OEM customer Adaptation Kit that can be used to tailor CE to different chips, and the right to resell CE licenses for devices such as point-of-sale terminals, telephones and cars, as well as to industrial controllers. Microsoft has also named a handful of embedded CE systems integrators and has another eight potential industrial distributors and a string of integrators off-stage. An obvious reason one of the first three distributorships went to Venturcom is its experience with NT. Its Component Integrator is used to pick and choose the parts of NT needed for an embedded device, dramatically reducing the memory footprint NT needs. VenturCom chief executive Michael Dexter-Smith says he now plans to have a new version of Component Integrator ready in August that will do the same thing for CE. It will be a single version that lets the same embedded application be targeted for either NT or CE, depending on which one the control manufacturer wants. AnnaSoft, which has been selling MS-DOS and Windows 3.x for embedded purposes, will resell what will be Component Integrator 3.7 as well as distribute the CE kernel and the OEM Adaptor Kit. VenturCom is trying to strike a similar deal with Eclipse, which won its CE distributorship as the result of a three-year relationship with Microsoft that included the job of porting CE to Hitachi Ltd hardware. Eclipse, besides selling CE licenses, last week outlined plans to build evaluation systems, development systems and off-the-shelf board-level systems that run CE. Dexter-Smith estimates that CE applications for embedded controls designed using Component Integrator will cost about $100 per device, $60 to $70 of which covers the CE run-time license per device, with the run-time license costing about $170. The rest going for the applications development software. NT applications, by comparison, will cost in the region of $225 to $250.