Microsoft Updates Windows OS for the Internet of Things

At Build 2013, Microsoft announced a new preview release of its Windows Embedded 8.1 OS, which powers intelligent systems and industrial devices.

SAN FRANCISCO—Microsoft included a little something for every type of developer at its Build 2013 conference, including those building systems for the Internet of Things.

At Build, Microsoft announced the availability of the Windows 8.1 Preview, which the company said underscores the opportunities for developers and partners throughout the ecosystem to execute on the company's devices and services strategy. The company also tweaked its embedded OS platforms that power intelligent systems and industrial devices in the Internet of Things.

The Internet of Things refers to a vision of the future where everyday things, devices, homes, cities, cars and other items are infused with intelligence and ubiquitously connected to the Internet.

In his opening keynote speech, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer noted that Microsoft's move to a new rapid release cycle has enabled the company to hasten its move to becoming a true devices and services company. "I've talked externally about the transformation that we're going through as a company who's a software company to a company that is building software-powered devices and software-powered services," Ballmer said. "And the only way in which that transformation can possibly be driven is on a principle of rapid release."

Having delivered Windows 8.1 Preview on a rapid release cycle, Microsoft simultaneously extended its Windows 8.1 technologies to intelligent system solutions with the Windows Embedded 8.1 Industry Release Preview. Now developers, OEMs and enterprises have a solution to begin testing industry devices and solutions to ensure the tightest possible integration between devices. This move indicates the continuing maturation of the Windows Embedded 8 platform.

In a blog post, Jeff Wettlaufer, technical program manager for Windows embedded, said over the last year, the Windows Embedded team has had an amazing year, shipping Windows Embedded 8 Standard, Windows Embedded 8 Industry and Windows Embedded 8 Pro, as well as Windows Embedded Compact 2013.

"With the Windows Embedded 8 wave of releases, our portfolio extended alignment with the Microsoft tools you're using today to develop apps for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8—platforms like Visual Studio, tools like XAML and Expression Blend, and frameworks like .NET that support rich, immersive, cloud-connected app experiences. When combined with a range of beautiful hardware, Windows solutions are better than they have ever been," Wettlaufer said.

Kevin Dallas, general manager of Windows Embedded at Microsoft, said delivering Windows 8.1 technologies to the Windows Embedded 8 family further strengthens the codebase alignment and release schedule of the operating systems. Moreover, Microsoft's commitment to extend Windows across industry devices provides enhanced functionality for a range of intelligent systems scenarios and drives greater insight and operational intelligence for industries such as retail, manufacturing and health care, he said.

"With Windows 8.1, we have focused strategy around ensuring our enterprise customers, partners, developers and entire ecosystem can fully harness the opportunities with Windows across a range of devices and service scenarios," Dallas said, in a statement. "This should really benefit developers targeting the Internet of Things and intelligent system solutions, allowing them to include everything from PCs and tablets to industry devices tailored for unique industry needs, bringing them all together to help enterprises drive intelligence with the latest Microsoft technologies."

The Windows Embedded 8.1 release offers key Windows 8.1 enhancements, including UI updates, security, connectivity and others. In addition, Windows Embedded 8.1 Industry will extend flexibility and lockdown capabilities enabled by the Unified Write Filter, Keyboard Filter, USB Filter and Gesture Filter to ensure a consistent device configuration. Manageability will also be improved through the Embedded Lockdown Manager and support for the new System Center 2012 R2, Dallas said.

In addition, the Windows 8.1 update provides expanded capability for Windows 8-style applications, as well as added functionality to support magnetic stripe readers and barcode scanners. This expanded functionality will allow devices such as point-of-sale (POS) terminals and retail scanners to feature engaging, modern applications that can easily integrate with back-end server systems and business software, Dallas said. Windows Embedded 8.1 Industry will also support POS for .NET, enabling plug-and-play peripheral scenarios for desktop-style applications.

By rolling the Windows 8.1 update into its Windows Embedded family, Microsoft said Windows Embedded 8 Industry will become Windows Embedded 8.1 Industry, and Windows Embedded 8 Pro will become Windows Embedded 8.1 Pro. However, partners building industry devices and intelligent system solutions with Windows Embedded 8 Standard will use the Windows 8 operating system. The platform will not be receiving updated Windows 8.1 technologies.

In addition, Microsoft said Windows Embedded will continue to align its release schedule with Windows Server 2012 R2—becoming Windows Server 2012 R2 for Embedded Systems, offering a full version of Microsoft's server product with license restrictions for use with intelligent system solutions.

The Windows Embedded 8.1 Industry Release Preview is available for download here.