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Microsoft Builds on Mobile 'House'

Microsoft today gave developers attending its Mobile & Embedded DevCon conference in Las Vegas a sneak peek at the beta version of Windows CE 6.0.

The tools provided in the latest mobile platform are intended to help developers bring more highly differentiated products to market faster and at a lower cost than before. It will be made available publicly during the second half of 2006.

Jason Stolarczyk, marketing manager for Microsoft's mobile and embedded devices division, explained that CE 6.0 is a response to three specific areas of developer concern: the ability to differentiate their products; development costs; and speed to market.

"This product is a direct result of addressing those direct comments," he told internetnews.com.

The operating system kernel architecture of CE has been redesigned to allow many more processes to run simultaneously -- 32,000, as opposed to just 32 -- each running in a 2GB virtual memory address space.

That is a dramatic improvement over 64MB of memory available with CE 5.0.

This last feature allows developers to incorporate larger numbers of more complex applications into more intelligent devices, with a capacity for more multimedia, Web services and wireless networking than before.

Stolarczyk noted that the faster speeds afforded by the increased memory "give developers a lot more space to differentiate their devices in the market."

The solution also features greater integration between the Virtual Studio 2005 and Platform Builder development tools, which is expected to reduce the time and cost of developing new products.

The new features "represent our commitment to the community of developers of embedded devices, it offers the ability for developers to create differentiated devices, and it takes a close look at time to market and development costs," said Stolarczyk.

Stolarczyk also noted that the increased capacity in virtual memory does not detract from the kernel's real-time memory, which is a notable achievement.

"From a kernel architecture standpoint, when you start adding things, you risk the ability to provide a hard real time. But we've been able to expand the simultaneous process allocation and still maintain our industry-leading hard real time," he said.

To further help developers differentiate themselves, Microsoft has made a "good portion of source code" available through its Shared Source Initiative, said Stolarczyk.

While he wouldn't quantify this further, Stolarczyk argued that developers should look at the quality of the code that is open, rather than the number of lines.

For example, he said that Microsoft has shared Bluetooth wrapper code that allows developers to create applications on top of this communications technology.

"It's not exactly open source," commented Laura DiDio, an analyst with Boston-based research firm Yankee Group, "but it's good enough."

"You'll never get a proprietary software vendor to open up the whole kimono, but Microsoft has done a very creditable job here with this."

According to DiDio, helping original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) bring new products to market faster is a critical component of Microsoft's strategy.

She said that the company has come to see that mobile devices are the key to future growth in the U.S., particularly since it has already saturated the desktop market.

DiDio also noted that mobile devices are critical to winning market share in emerging markets, where smartphones and other wireless devices are often the first computers most people acquire.

And Microsoft can't go it alone.

"In trying to expand its business model and correctly position itself for the 21st century, Microsoft needs to get the support of peripheral developers," she told internetnews.com. "The developers are their lifeblood.

"CE is one component of Microsoft's overarching strategy," she added. "It's a brick in the wall."

Stolarczyk agreed that mobile computing is a vital component of Microsoft's future growth.

"It's the other part of the Microsoft house," he said. "There's a large and ballooning market out there for this type of a platform. We provide the fuel. What brings this to life is the device makers."

Windows CE 6.0 also provides continuity of features and functionality from previous generations of Windows CE, so device makers can continue to leverage their previous investments in user interfaces, applications, middleware and drivers.