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A Sneak Peek at the Next Windows CE

Microsoft took the wraps off a preview of the next level of its Windows operating environment for non-PC devices Monday.

The company announced its Technology Preview Kit for Windows CE 5.0. The OS is designed to give small-footprint devices such as PDAs, digital cameras, printers, scanners and retail point-of-sale terminals the same graphics and multimedia experience as their desktop counterparts.

Previously code-named "Macallan," version 5.0 adds in features such as Fast Start to support a growing number of IP gateways, gaming devices, and set-top-boxes.

Microsoft released its Windows CE 4.2 with its support of several technologies including voice over IP (VoIP) nearly a year ago. This year, the company said the new 32-bit OS will also support Direct3D Mobile, a Component Object Model (COM)-based programming model and graphics program built on Microsoft's desktop DirectX technology. Microsoft said it has also increased its support for embedded hardware with more than 50 drivers and chipsets, such as ARM, MIPS, SuperH and x86.

The developer's preview also comes less than a week after Microsoft chairman Bill Gates wooed developers at its VSLive conference to make what the company calls "seamless connections" between Windows software and people's lives.

Microsoft is expected to hand out copies of the Technology Preview Kit to attendees at this week's Embedded Systems Conference in San Francisco. The company said the preview would also be available for download at the Windows Embedded Web site on April 1. The final product is scheduled to be available during summer 2004.

Microsoft corporate vice president of the Mobile and Embedded Devices Division, Ya-Qin Zhang, said the release is an important milestone for Windows CE "because it reflects ongoing feedback we've received from customers to enable them to build embedded devices even more quickly."

One request Microsoft heard from its customers was they wanted the ability to switch between the graphics-driven development toolbox and the command-prompt-line.

"Unifying the tools capabilities is a brilliant move for Windows CE. Being able to work in one unified development environment where you only need to use that one toolset for building, debugging and deploying an operating system image will save OEMs a lot of time by reducing complex development issues," said Doug Boling of Boling Consulting, an embedded consultant and training firm for corporations. "All the benefits of the command line are now exposed through the graphical IDE, making the Windows CE tools extremely easy to use.

The company said its new Windows Error Reporting also helps developers run performance monitoring for in-field devices so OEMs can continually improve and update devices they have already shipped.

Already, more than 60 companies are participating in Microsoft's Joint Development Partner program (JDP), including OEMs , silicon vendors and integrators such as Intel , LG Electronics, Samsung, ViewSonic, Biostar Group, Costron, Humax, InFocus, and Intermec Technologies.

"The new security features will shorten our custom development time, and the error reporting technologies will provide us with customer usage data to further improve our products over time." Intermec vice president Richard Mahany