RealTime IT News

Windows CE Add-On Lures Linux Developers

Microsoft today released a free upgrade to Windows CE 5.0 aimed at luring media device developers away from Linux and to Redmond's vision of the digital home. The company made the announcement during the same week of LinuxWorld.

The Networked Media Device Feature Pack, free optional software aimed at OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) of IPTV set-top boxes, digital video recorders and home media gateways, helps developers focus on devices rather than licensing and integration, according to a statement.

"The current business model for the Networked Media Device market is for OEMs to go through a long and costly shopping spree to obtain all the components needed to build the device, including the OS (Linux), media playback, networking and device drivers, UI, codecs, DRM, etc.," according to Jane Gilson, director of the Mobile and Embedded Devices Division at Microsoft.

Gilson calls the company's software pack a "one-stop-shop of fully tested and pre-integrated components. OEMs just need to point and click to add the functionality."

The announcement takes a swipe at Linux, the open source operating system used by TiVo, which dominates the DVR market.

"Unlike open source operating systems," the new add-on pack provides networking, device drivers and codecs to develop networked media devices, according to Microsoft.

At least 30 device manufacturers are shipping Windows CE set-top boxes, according to a statement from Jane Gilson, director of Microsoft's Mobile and Embedded Devices Division. Among those planning products using the feature pack: Cisco, Motorola, HUMAX, and Arnoi Electronics.

Along with DVR software, the network device pack includes Microsoft's PlaysForSure certification, a program to help consumers know which media devices will work with Windows PCs.

The optional software, the start of Microsoft's go-to-market strategy of modular feature packs, is included in the software giant's Shared Source Initiative providing developer's access to the source code and the right to distribute custom applications.

Microsoft introduced the initiative three years ago and expanded it last year to include more European Union countries. The EU has charged Microsoft with not opening its dominant Windows brand to competitors.

"Just as we've released this feature pack to facilitate the creation of next-generation Networked Media Devices and IP set-top boxes, we are already looking at other industry segments based on the needs and demands of our customers," Gilson said.

China's Amoi Electronics will be one of the first company's to use the feature pack in networked devices. Amoi can use the shared source code to reduce development costs and differentiate its products from competitors, according to a statement from Chen Qiang, general manager of Arnoi's Digital Home Division.

Windows CE 5.0 was introduced during the 2004 Embedded Systems Conference.

"It's the Betty Crocker approach," said Joe Wilcox, a JupiterResearch senior analyst.

Microsoft provides developers with the software mix for them to bake into products. And the outcome is positive, as long as the developers agree with Microsoft's digital entertainment vision, according to Wilcox.

A major problem is that Microsoft's PC-centric approach to consumer electronics doesn't always mesh with CE developers.