Windows CE 5.0 Foresees Big Tech Advances

By Rob Enderle  |  Posted 2004-03-30

Windows CE 5.0 Foresees Big Tech Advances

In the interest of full disclosure, Microsoft is currently a client of mine.

Microsoft this week announced Windows CE 5.0, giving us a stronger sense of where Microsoft is driving that platform. Windows CE is the core platform that lies underneath the Windows Mobile products, which include PDAs and cell phones.

It was called CE.NET in its last iteration, a mistake that fell out of the lemminglike behavior at Microsoft during the dot-com years, when everything had to have a .NET after it. The trend, fortunately, stopped just short of renaming the mens and womens restrooms Men.Net and Women.Net, and this release indicates that Microsoft has returned to a more reasonable naming convention.

Windows CE is one of two current-generation embedded platforms that Microsoft sells; the other is Embedded Windows XP. Embedded XP is Windows XP taken down to the very core of the operating system. With Embedded XP, you get all of the potential capabilities of Microsofts desktop OS, but it will run only on x86 and it has a relatively large footprint.

Embedded XP is most often found in products such as Microsofts own XBox, some rich thin-client products such as point-of-sale terminals, and other solutions that require PC capability but dont want or need a full Windows. The biggest difference between the two platforms is that Embedded XP starts out as a full-featured, general-purpose OS and is stripped down to make an embedded offering, while Windows CE starts as an embedded offering and is then built up for specific, and generally customized, purposes.

Windows CE is designed to run on a number of platforms, including x86, ARM and MIPS. It is among the fastest-growing embedded platforms, and because it uses a generic set of Windows tools, its often favored by developers who already support the Windows platform. Products include PDAs, cell phones, exercise equipment, thin-client devices, robots, portable media players, A/V equipment, set top boxes and automotive products.

Microsoft is currently warring with an amorphous group of competitors that are using Linux largely to strip away the companys powerful developer base. As a result, much of what youll see Microsoft do going forward will have a great deal to do with keeping the developers they already have extremely happy with their platforms and tools. Windows CE will be no exception.

Windows CE 5.0 builds on the improvements dropped into CE.NET 4.2 earlier this year. Those improvements included improved Sync with ActiveSync 3.7, security enhancements, better test tools, better and more design templates, stronger portability for applications across the supported platforms, improved multilanguage support, multimedia improvements to the browser component, and wireless improvements.

Next Page: Platform includes adaptive device intelligence that awaits developers touch.

Adaptive Device Intelligence Touted

For Windows CE 5.0, the improvements go quite a bit further, which is often the case in a full release. Key changes include:

Adaptive Device Intelligence: The device will alter its behavior based on how or where it is being used. For instance, depending on the device and the implementation, if it doesnt detect a wireless source, it will turn the radio off; if it is in bright light or darkness, it will adjust the display to match; if it is in an area of high noise, it will raise the volume, or vice versa; if it is separated from its user, it will secure itself; and it will reduce or turn off the power to accessories not in use.

Displays will dynamically rotate, and both higher resolutions and multihead configurations are supported. The entire user interface also can change dynamically based on the task. Of course, all of this would depend on the developer creating hardware that would sense the necessary changes, but the devices that this feature anticipates could be very impressive.

VOIP: Voice over IP is now a core feature of the platform, as it anticipates a time when many of us will stop making calls using traditional phones. This forms a more solid connection with Microsofts Exchange platform, so that calls can be more easily scheduled through the calendar function and more easily made using the directory.

Multimedia: They are pushing the graphics capabilities of the current generation of low-power processors very hard, and ATI is actually building specialized graphics components for the related set of very high-performance small form factor products that should result. Capabilities include audio redirection and enhancements, DirectX8, MP3 and DVD.

Wireless: Native support for personal area networks (PANs) and both Bluetooth and 802.11 networks.

Security: As you would expect, Microsoft will be focusing a great deal of effort in this area going forward. In this version, Kerberos, PPTP and PEAP/EAP have been utilized to enhance both local security and security for the transmission of data.

Next Page: Devices that react automatically would attract "instructions impaired" users.

Devices for Instructions


There is a remote possibility that some devices using Windows CE 5.0 may make it by the fourth quarter of this year. The products generally will show up in late 2005 due to the development time needed to create both the hardware and the software that will best make use of the platform.

More of the devices will be voice-enabled, something weve certainly seen in a number of cell phones but that will show up more broadly and consistently in automotive products, hand-held computers, A/V products and vertical offerings (kiosks, point of sale, etc.) Beyond just voice command, many of these devices will use VOIP so they can make better use of their connected nature and users can get in touch more easily.

Think of asking for help from an ATM, making a low-cost voice call from your PDA in a hot spot, or using single-button technical support built into a complex consumer electronics offering. You could even use a piece of exercise equipment that is connected to a virtual exercise class.

PDAs and smart phones will probably see the biggest change. A PDA could sense that its on the dash of a car and lower the display resolution, switch to GPS mode for navigation and queue up a set of songs that it transmits wirelessly to the radio. Since it is pulling power from the car, it also would pump up the display, and should a cell phone call come in, it would lower the radio volume and switch to cell-phone mode automatically. A smart phone could do many of the same things.

Because this kind of thing would be automatic, those of us who are "instructions impaired" could find the results very compelling. That would make for an interesting, and probably lucrative, event for the developers when their products come to market. For us "consumers," well clearly have something to look forward to next year other than simply becoming another year older.

Rob Enderle is the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a company specializing in emerging personal technology.

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