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Microsoft Windows Embedded 8 Preview Arrives

Microsoft needs Embedded OS as it battles Apple’s iPad in the market for retail devices and other specialty hardware.

Windows 8 Beta: Visual Tour
Windows 8 Beta: Visual Tour
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)

Microsoft this week posted the community technology preview for its forthcoming Windows Embedded Standard 8 operating system.

Pushing the notion that Windows isn't just for desktops, tablets, and servers, Microsoft is counting on the operating system to broaden its footprint in commercial devices such as kiosks, retail point-of-sales systems, ATMs, and other commercial applications.

Windows Embedded Standard 8, as the embedded version of Windows 8 is formally known, is designed to allow businesses to seamlessly add commercial devices to their security and management networks rather than operate them as standalone devices.

[ For more background, read Windows Embedded Girds Microsoft's Big Data Plans. ]

With that in mind, Windows Embedded Standard 8 supports Active Directory and Group Policies, and can be managed through Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager using the Windows Embedded Device Manager plug-in. Applications for Windows Embedded Standard 8 can be developed through Visual Studio, and custom OS images can be configured with the Image Builder Wizard and Windows Embedded Modular Designer.

The OS offers support for existing lines of business apps, as well as touch-based apps developed for Microsoft's new Metro interface. Windows Embedded Standard 8 also features most of the security tools built into the desktop version of the OS, including AppLocker, BitLocker, and Secure Boot. Windows Embedded Standard 8 also boasts tools that allow users to access data stored in Microsoft's Windows Azure and SQL Azure cloud services through their handheld devices.

Like most other arenas of computing these days, Microsoft is encountering competition in the embedded systems market from rival Apple, and specifically the iPad. Microsoft currently holds more than 80% of the retail point-of-sale market, but an increasing number of businesses are equipping sales personnel with specially configured iPads that can ring up orders and sales.

In a report, IHL Group estimates that 50% of specialty retailers are looking to deploy handheld POS devices to replace many of their standard POS systems, many of which run Windows Embedded or Linux.

The Windows Embedded Standard 8 CTP can be downloaded from Microsoft's Web site. Users will need a Windows 7 SP 1 system with at least a 16-bit or 32-bit 1-GHz processor, 1GB of system memory for 32-bit platforms and 2GB of memory for 64-bit platforms, 7GB of free hard disk space, a DVD-ROM drive, and USB 2.0 port.

Microsoft has yet to announce a formal ship date for Windows Embedded Standard 8, though if it's consistent with the desktop and tablet versions of Windows 8, it could be available later this year.

Windows is currently a nobody in the tablet market. That could change with the release of Windows 8, the first version designed for touch screens and the tablet form factor. With the new Metro user interface, Microsoft will try to serve both tablet and desktop markets. Can it succeed? Find out at our Byte webcast, What Impact Will Windows 8 Have On The Tablet Market?. It happens March 14. (Free registration required.)

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