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Microsoft Rolls Out Windows Embedded 8 Solutions at NRF Retail Show

Microsoft is at the National Retail Federation (NRF) Convention and Expo in New York City this week, trying to convince nervous retailers that they need touch-based Windows Embedded 8 solutions.

Retailers got a 0.7 percent bump in consumer spending, relative to 2011, two months before the 2012 Christmas shopping season, according to an Associated Press report. Given that meager showing, which is sometimes described as the "weakest sales period since 2008," retailers might not be in a buying mood themselves. However, Microsoft's message is that they need Windows Embedded devices, as well as various backend Microsoft server technologies.

For instance, a new product being introduced at the NRF event is Microsoft Dynamics AX for Retail. This enterprise resource planning solution supports e-commerce from the front end and back end. It also enables content to flow to point-of-sale devices, as supported on tablet devices and Windows Phone 8 smartphones. Microsoft is even touting the use of its cloud-based Office 365 software solutions for retail communications and collaboration.

For about a year, Microsoft has been steadily building up its Windows Embedded marketing message that a world of connected mobile devices is just around the corner. This "intelligent devices" concept, as associated with the retail industry, is about enabling customer and sales-floor support through various technologies, such as Web sites, kiosks, interactive digital signs, point-of-sale devices and other mobile devices. As an example, Microsoft is showcasing a demo of a customer support solution for Home Depot at NRF that helps customers order remotely from a Web site and then pick up products at a local store. One of Microsoft's partners on that project is Motorola Solutions, which is collaborating on a mobile device pilot with Home Depot.

Microsoft's intelligent devices concept encompasses Windows Embedded, Windows 8, System Center and Dynamics. Additionally, Windows Azure and big data support is part of that vision, with the idea of tapping unstructured data to gain market insights. One partner with Microsoft at the NRF show is UK-based Retail Insight, which uses a big data implementation to provide alerts to retailers about product availability. Another Microsoft partner using big data to help retailers is Redlands, Calif.-based Esri, which offers a solution to help retailers select the best store locations using global demographic analyses.

The Windows Embedded Family
Microsoft currently isn't a leader on the consumer mobile operating system market front, but it's considered to be a front runner with respect to Windows Embedded and the world of specialized mobile devices for industry use. Microsoft's Windows Embedded operating systems are found in "88 percent of all POS [point-of-sale] devices," according to Microsoft, citing research by the IHL Group, in a press release.

The Windows Embedded family of OS products is based on Windows 8, Windows CE or Windows Phone 8. In November, Microsoft unveiled its Windows Embedded roadmap, which included some renamed and repositioned products. Most Windows Embedded OSes based on Windows 8 are still under development by Microsoft or available for early testing. Some of the products are expected to hit general availability in March.

The Windows Embedded product lineup includes Windows Embedded 8 Standard, which is currently available as a release preview, as well as Windows Embedded 8 Pro, Windows Embedded 8 Industry and Windows Embedded 8 Automotive. All of those products are based on Windows 8. There also is a Windows Embedded Compact 2013 product, which continues to be based on the Windows CE kernel. Windows Embedded 8 Handheld is another OS in the Windows Embedded family, but it's based on Windows Phone 8. Microsoft also produces two embedded server products, SQL Server for Embedded Systems and Windows Server 2012 for Embedded Systems.

Windows Embedded 8 Industry was formerly known as "Windows Embedded POSReady." Microsoft changed the name not because of the ambiguity of the three-letter acronym in the product's name, but because the operating system is not just for point-of-sale devices anymore, according to an explanation by Barb Edson, general manager of marketing and business development for Windows Embedded. The news this week is that Windows Embedded 8 Industry is now available as a release preview for testing.

Windows Embedded 8 Handheld Perks
Edson noted a new synergy between Windows Embedded 8 Handheld and Windows Phone 8. Both are based on Windows 8 and both share the same Windows Phone 8 user interface. She claimed that Windows Embedded 8 Handheld is enterprise tested for both security and reliability, according to a blog post.

She outlined a few perks in Windows Embedded 8 Handheld for Microsoft's hardware partners. Microsoft has developed APIs to support EMV (Europay, MasterCard, Visa) electronic card readers, as well as scanners. One of Microsoft's partners on the EMV technology is Paris-based Ingenico, which is working on bringing EMV chip-based card payment systems into the U.S. market. EMVs are gradually replacing magnetic-stripe card readers for cashless electronic payments, according to Edson's blog post.

In addition to Ingenico, Microsoft is working with other hardware partners on Windows Embedded 8 Handheld. Partners engaged in mobile device projects using Windows Embedded 8 Handheld include Korean mobile handheld device provider Bluebird, Honeywell with its Dolphin handheld product, Intermec with its 70 Series of handheld devices and Motorola Solutions.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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