Microsofts CE Plans to Come at a Price

Program expands shared source initiative.

Microsoft Corp. is opening up the source code for Windows CE as well as the rights to modify and ship the code in CE-based products. But that privilege will come at a cost for OEMs, vendors and systems integrators.

The Redmond, Wash., software developer announced last week that it will retain the right to include any commercially used modifications made by Windows CE source code licensees in future versions of the operating system.

The initiative, known as Windows CE Shared Source Premium Licensing Program—or CEP—builds on the Windows CE Shared Source Licensing Program and expands Microsofts Shared Source Initiative.

CEP licensees will continue to pay Microsoft a royalty for every device they ship powered by Windows CE. In addition, Craig Mundie, chief technology officer for advanced strategies and policy at Microsoft, said any modifications made to the source code included in a shipping product will have to be sublicensed to Microsoft.

In cases where developers have done value-added engineering around their products and have some intellectual property that is a "unique capability or differentiator," Microsoft will guarantee not to include that technology in CE for a minimum of six months, Mundie said.

Robert Proffitt, an embedded programming consultant in Boston, said some of his clients feel features should be added to the devices and not the operating system kernel.

"We could simply just make our stuff an application and not an extension of the operating system," Proffitt said.

But one limitation in using the CE operating system is the cost. "Our products cost in the $100 range; a license fee of $15 in a device is heavy. If we wanted to use XP Embedded, the cost rises to $85 a device. They need to make it more affordable," Proffitt said.

Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in San Jose, Calif., said many OEMs want differentiation or will move to Linux. "This permits them to do unique things. But I dont think this will go all that far in the Pocket PC area because that is heavily enterprise- oriented where they want consistency in the hardware," Dulaney said. "But it may do better in the Smartphone area where Microsoft needs to make more progress."

Additional reporting by Carmen Nobel