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Windows Embedded Compact 7: CE Made Pretty?

Microsoft (s msft) is at the Computex show in Taipei this week touting the new embedded OS it’s producing for handheld computers. Windows Embedded Compact 7 is being shown running on prototype tablets with a flashy user interface and full multitouch support. Not a lot is known about this new OS, yet the name implies it’s an embedded version of Windows 7. Redmond is being mum about this, but looking through Microsoft’s own information that’s available it appears to be a “future version” of Windows CE.

The Microsoft booth at the Computex show is full of tablets running Windows Embedded Compact 7. The impression is that these tablets are products waiting to happen, but the truth is they’re only prototypes to demonstrate the embedded OS. Microsoft makes clear that the interface being run on the one tablet appearing on video is developed in Silverlight, and is not part of the Windows Embedded Compact 7 distribution. It will be up to OEM partners to develop their own interface for devices using this OS as it won’t come from Microsoft.

This leaves us with more questions than answers, as it doesn’t make sense to have an embedded OS without an interface that’s part of the design. If each OEM that undertakes building a gadget running Windows Embedded Compact 7 makes its own interface, there won’t be a look and feel inherent to the platform. While openness and competition are good things, the look and feel of a handheld gadget’s interface is critical to public reception of the device. Microsoft seems to be laying the foundation for a class of device that has nothing much in common other than the platform kernel.

Windows CE has been Microsoft’s embedded platform for years, and is used in a wide range of industrial gadgets. It’s an offshoot of the original Windows Mobile PDA/smartphone platform. That’s what makes Windows Embedded Compact 7 so confusing, because if it is indeed just Windows CE prettied up, then what’s really new? And since the interface is not actually part of the distribution as Microsoft claims, then it’s not really pretty. Hopefully more information will be coming out of Redmond to clear up these questions.

Image credit Engadget.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d): To Win In the Mobile Market, Focus On Consumers

7 Responses to “Windows Embedded Compact 7: CE Made Pretty?”

  1. Shadowlayer

    ……….and thats pretty much what MS is doing wrong…

    Apple demands a certain levels of quality from app makers, a level that usually not meet, and it shows when the user sees the drastic difference with the 1st party apps of the iPhone.

    What MS seems to be doing is the old “you figure it out” that was so common in the 90s, when every single OEM PC has some poorly coded and horribly designed bloatware apps added to windows.

    That didn’t work back then, how in the world would it work now?

  2. Nameless

    “Windows CE has been Microsoft’s embedded platform for years, and is used in a wide range of industrial gadgets. It’s an offshoot of the original Windows Mobile PDA/smartphone platform.”

    Wait, what? My understanding is that Windows Mobile (back when they were still calling it Pocket PC or Palm-size PC) was the Windows CE offshoot, not the other way around.

    As I’ve said already, though, WEC7 (can they drop the “Embedded” or “Compact” bit?) should have the Ink libraries and handwriting recognition in there somewhere.

  3. This has all the hallmarks of a let’s throw something together for Computex. I agree with all the comments so far in that Windows CE without a unified UX, is of little competitive value compared to Android or MeeGo.

  4. Yes, it’s Windows CE 7. It does not have full Windows compatibility and therefore no real appstore or development support. The Silverlight running on this is not real Silverlight, but instead Silverlight For Embedded. This is a C++ version that doesn’t include .NET and basic support of XAML.

    This is another story of platform fragmentation. The work done by the Windows Phone 7 team of using Silverlight and XNA as their main app platform story has not been integrated into this. I’m not sure what OEMs will do with this, other than make closed unit devices (like GPS and alarm clocks).
    We’re going to have to wait a while longer until we see a Tablet OS built on top of this. Or (based on what Balmer has been saying) we should expect a new shell on the full Windows 7 instead. But for some reason Windows NT has become x86 dependent, despite Dave Cutlers best efforts back in the early 90s.

  5. Windows Embedded Compact 7 is the latest version of Windows CE (not a “cut-down version of Windows 7,” as some other blogs have implied), and you’ll find plenty of ongoing coverage of this on Indeed, the interface above is not part of the distribution, and this is a serious deficiency. We published a list yesterday ( of how Microsoft could make its tablets a success, taking them to task for this. Leaving OEMs to “roll their own” modern interfaces is what doomed Windows Mobile too in the end …

  6. The point of an embedded OS is that it runs appliances. The idea of a UI is more defined by the function of the appliance than it is the OS/platform. CE has always been utilized for this, and outside of the updated structures for connected and cloud services, CE7 is pretty much following in the footsteps of previous CE platforms.

    It would make sense for those companies who deal with tablets or vertical markets to use CE and then create the UX that’s tailored to their functional needs rather than having something like WinPhone7 that’s not customizable and has too many potiental consumer market conflicts.

  7. Jeez, this thing is only slightly less vapor-ey than the Courier concepts…

    It’s almost as if they are afraid of the work required to even try to follow the leaders in mobile devices, much less attempting to lead somewhere.