Consumer Experience Comes to Embedded Devices

Market-specific versions of Windows Embedded OS offer advantages to embedded developers

With a product lineup that includes (at recent count) nine separate versions of the Windows Embedded operating system, each optimized for specific markets and development needs, Microsoft seems to be well on its way with its “Windows everywhere” strategy. And according to the experts we talked to, the company is doing a lot of things right. Yannick Chammings, CEO of Adeneo Embedded; Stefan Hoppe, product manager TwinCAT and Microsoft embedded MVP at Beckhoff Automation GmbH; and Scott Caldwell, VP of sales, 3rd-party licensing at BSQUARE gave us their insight into the world of Windows Embedded, including exciting new technical opportunities and advantages to the vertical market approach.

EE Catalog: Where are you seeing the most exciting growth in Windows Embedded applications?

ychammings_faceYannick Chammings, Adeneo Embedded: With recent enhancements provided by Windows Embedded Compact and Windows Embedded Standard, such as support of Silverlight technologies to build rich UIs, we’re seeing an overall growth of opportunities in various markets. Consumer devices like tablets and more generally mobile computing devices can now benefit from advanced graphical capabilities of Windows Embedded along with strong power management capabilities. Enterprise markets such as industrial and medical markets also benefit from the new graphical capabilities of Windows Embedded. Manufacturers are bringing to market medical devices or industrial supervision systems with outstanding user interfaces, bringing to enterprise users the experience that was so far available only on consumer devices.

We’re also seeing some emerging markets like building automation and home energy management generating lots of interest for Windows Embedded technologies, which combine the advanced user experience of its graphical interface with seamless integration and connectivity to its environment.

Stefan_Hoppe_2 (557x640)Stefan Hoppe, Beckhoff Automation GmbH: Inside Windows Embedded, the industrial automation market is one of the biggest challenges – this market will grow over the next years dramatically as more and more of the world’s population require products like clean water, cars, phones, etc. The need for smart connected devices running a scalable, robust OS will also result in new applications based on Windows Embedded.

Scott Caldwell, BSQUARE: New and evolving silicon technologies (x86 and ARM) are presenting very compelling future roadmaps for devices and those devices will need compelling applications. The proliferation of and cost reductions in wireless technologies also promise to enable completely new device types over the next decade. This evolution is enabling richer and more personal experiences for consumers with applications now becoming available across a growing number of device types. This is also creating a greater breadth of opportunities for application development services for consumer markets including retail, healthcare and digital publishing.

EE Catalog: What are the advantages for developers in using vertical market versions of Windows Embedded, such as those for POS and automotive designs?

Chammings, Adeneo Embedded: By using Windows Embedded for Automotive or Windows Embedded for Points of Services, device makers can benefit both from the latest features and capabilities of Windows Embedded technologies (like Silverlight for Windows Embedded, multiprocessor support, etc.) combined with features related to specific requirements of the targeted market (such as, for example, boot time optimization, audio multiplexing capabilities or Bluetooth advanced features of Windows Embedded for Automotive). Vertical market versions of Windows Embedded also provide an optimized developer experience to allow them to bring devices to market quicker.

Hoppe, Beckhoff Automation GmbH: I would love to have a specific vertical “industrial automation” version. From a technical point of view the OS is scalable anyway, so the benefit results more from the commercial point of view – bundling a set of specific required features for a good price. Inside the industrial automation market we need multi-touch for the user experience – but customers do not want to pay a higher price for Media Center.

Caldwell, BSQUARE: Industry-specific designs offer device makers opportunities to specialize solutions to meet specific vertical market customer requirements while still keeping the benefits of commercial off-the-shelf hardware and software. When designs are optimized for specific applications, users benefit from features and components that can deliver with lower costs and faster time to market.

EE Catalog: How are developers addressing the challenges of implementing Windows Embedded OSes in today’s complex multicore designs?

Chammings, Adeneo Embedded: Multicore capabilities of the most recent and powerful processors allow OEMs to obtain unusual levels of performance, combining real-time capabilities with advanced graphical and multimedia rendering. By providing complete SMP support, Windows Embedded Compact 7 eases further the development of most demanding embedded devices. However, multicore oriented development for embedded devices requires specific software design and development skills, for which OEMs can rely on the Windows Embedded community of partners to ensure competence transfers through training and development support from expert teams in Windows Embedded technologies. Combining the high performance of Windows Embedded technologies with the expertise of the Windows Embedded community of partners is the key to success for OEMs developing multicore-based applications.

Hoppe, Beckhoff Automation GmbH: Developers have to provide easy abstraction layers for their customers to hide the complexity. As a sample, the Beckhoff TwinCAT 3 automation platform allows customers to instantiate up to 65000 PLC tasks – each task can be configured to run with a different cycle time on a different core – supporting 250 cores today. So customers can focus on their machine automation knowledge and do not have to take care of complex multicore mechanisms.

Caldwell, BSQUARE: The density of software on devices continues to increase at the same time devices are become more complex. The benefit of multicore designs is scaling of performance, enabling support of parallel processes and multifaceted consumer experiences. Developers are responding, enabling software to run both faster and more efficiently. But this type of optimization often requires a high level of expertise, meaning companies must often look outside for support and development resources to implement this type of a solution.

EE Catalog: As software gets more complex and becomes a larger part of companies’ development costs, what advantages are companies achieving with Windows Embedded and the surrounding ecosystem?

Chammings, Adeneo Embedded: Beyond product features and capabilities, Windows Embedded technologies bring two unique advantages to OEMs. By choosing Windows Embedded technologies, OEMs get access to a set of tools and development environments fully integrated with the Windows development environment. Not only is this development environment one of the most advanced solutions on the market in terms of ease-of-use and productivity, especially when considering the embedded software development market, but it also allows leveraging the huge community of Windows developers that can be involved to support the development effort of OEMs.

Beyond the tools and development environment, the Windows Embedded model in terms of partner ecosystem ensures the most optimized time to market and development cost to OEMs. By maintaining a fully managed ecosystem of partners, classified in different categories covering hardware solutions, software solutions, training, development services and expertise, UI and design expertise, etc., the Windows Embedded ecosystem provides a community of partners covering all possible needs for support of the OEMs. With the tiered-level ecosystem of partners, along with clear identification of Windows Embedded MVP- and MCTS-certified engineers of each partner, device makers can identify quickly and with full confidence the right partner matching the level of expertise they need.

Hoppe, Beckhoff Automation GmbH: In the industrial automation segment the machines are expensive and are designed to run 24/7 over five to 25 years. Microsoft provides with their Embedded OS series a long-term commitment with 10-year support – even after that time the OEM can still ship the OS. For Embedded Compact, even the source code is available for OEMs, allowing them to build images with a small footprint for low royalties. From the point of software becoming more complex, the tool set like Visual Studio allows them to minimize engineering costs. Compared to other OS solutions in very limited extensible consumer devices on the market, Microsoft provides an open platform which can be extended easily – here the ecosystem and the partner marketplace are helpful to provide customers quick solutions.

Caldwell, BSQUARE: Microsoft has created embedded operating systems that deliver higher levels of performance and advanced graphic and networking capabilities while at the same time providing developers with a familiar technology suite. These familiar tools mean developers can come up to speed more quickly, lowering development costs on the OS platform so that skilled developers can create compelling applications. Additionally, beyond reduced development costs, the products offered in the Microsoft Embedded channel have favorable royalty rates compared with traditional “full Windows” operating systems, lowering BOM costs. Licensing a Microsoft Embedded OS solution also means that developers are also protected from the risks of open source operating systems that require developers to make intellectual property public.

cheryl_coupe_optCheryl Berglund Coupé is editor of EECatalog. com. Her articles have appeared in EE Times, Electronic Business, Microsoft Embedded Review and Windows Developer’s Journal and she has developed presentations for the Embedded Systems Conference and ICSPAT. She has held a variety of production, technical marketing and writing positions within technology companies and agencies in the Northwest.

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