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Microsoft Rolls Out Windows Embedded Handheld and POSReady 7

Microsoft this week released Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5 and a beta version of Windows Embedded POSReady 7.

The announcements came amidst the background of the National Retail Federation's 100th Annual Convention & Expo, which ended on Wednesday. Windows Embedded POSReady 7 is currently available for download as a community test preview (CTP), or "beta" test version. The CTP can be downloaded here.

Windows Embedded POSReady 7 is Microsoft's next-generation componentized operating system for point-of-sale devices and transactional processing. It's based on Microsoft's flagship Windows 7 operating system. The previous version, Windows Embedded POSReady 2009, was based on Windows XP, according to a Microsoft blog.

Microsoft is rolling out this CTP to independent software vendors and original equipment manufacturers planning to deploy the componentized OS on devices such as cash registers, kiosks and self-check-in machines. The OS enables Windows Touch gesture interactions. It has Internet Explorer 8's protected mode and phishing filter, plus AppLocker and BitLocker for security. It includes Windows Media Player 12.

Windows Embedded POSReady 7 will be rolled out to manufacturers sometime "later this year," according to Microsoft's announcement.

Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5
Next, Microsoft released Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5 to retailers and OEM device makers. Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5 is a componentized OS platform that's based on Windows Mobile 6.5. It can be used to build devices for mobile workers, helping with tasks such as pricing, inventory cataloging and industrial applications.

Microsoft extended the lifecycle support for Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5 to reflect the five- to seven-year lifespan of applications in the enterprise. The current mainstream support for Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5 will end after the month of December 2014; extended support ends after December 2019.

The Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5 announcement represents a milestone for Microsoft following its mobile reorganization first announced in April. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer outlined the new mobile roadmap back in June.

Microsoft now has two mobile segments. The Windows Embedded Business unit oversees Windows Embedded Compact and Windows Embedded Handheld OSes, which are aimed at the enterprise, industrial and ruggedized device markets. The Mobile Communications Business unit oversees the Windows Phone OS and has the consumer market in its purview. There's a little bit of market crossover. For instance, consumer and enterprise smartphones both have user interfaces based on Windows Phone.

Windows Embedded Handheld emerged as its own platform after initially being based on Windows Mobile, according to David Wurster, Microsoft's senior product manager for Windows Embedded.

"If you look at it from the historical perspective, we used one operating system that was more or less designed for smartphones, Windows Mobile, that worked really well with enterprise handhelds. And that was a great platform for many years," Wurster said in a phone interview. "But as we started to see the evolving requirements for both phones and handhelds and the investments we would have to make, particularly with Windows Phone 7 for smartphones,…we saw that some of those things wouldn't work very well for the enterprise handheld market."

At that point, Microsoft made the decision to target its investments around a Windows Embedded Handheld platform and extend its lifecycle support, Wurster explained. The shift was a gradual one, with the intention of accommodating the needs of handheld device makers who are "just starting to implement devices on Windows Mobile 6," he added.

"[Handheld OEM customers] don't want to move operating systems as quickly as they do on the consumer [mobile] side, where the lifecycle is more like 18 months to two years," Wurster said. "They wanted to be sure that the investments they had made in hardware and applications were going to be maintained over time, and that's why we didn't make whole-scale engineering changes with this first release [of Windows Embedded Handheld]."

Common Functionality
Despite the mobile split of sorts, Microsoft offers common functionality for OEMs across its mobile platforms. For instance, OEMs can use Microsoft's componentized toolkits to build customized images for purpose-built devices, Wurster explained.

Microsoft also offers its overall product-stack support for IT shops that use devices based on Microsoft's mobile operating systems. For instance, IT pros can leverage Microsoft's System Center for device management, as well as Exchange and ActiveSync.

IT pros "can do a lot of password enforcement and policy enforcement through Microsoft Exchange," Wurster said. Microsoft's mobile platforms also are extensible for third parties to provide solutions, he added. "So a lot of enterprise customers today use a third-party solution to manage their mobile devices and enterprise handhelds," Wurster said.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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