Microsoft Thinks Small

CE .Net OSes eye a bigger enterprise role for devices.

Microsoft Corp. is developing two new versions of its Windows CE operating system that will give smart devices greater storage capabilities and, as such, a more vital role in the enterprise as a portable data repository.

The Redmond, Wash., developer is targeting a new set of smart devices, including VOIP (voice-over-IP) phones, with the next version of CE, code-named McKendric and due next year. The company plans to follow that release in 2005 with a version of CE code-named Macallan that includes greater storage capabilities and better file system technology.

Users have long wanted the moves toward greater storage, saying they will enhance accessibility. Tommer Catlin, IS director at Webcor Technologies Inc., a construction contracting company in San Mateo, Calif., said that while laptops are getting smaller, it is always easier to carry a PDA (personal digital assistant). "If you could put all your files into a device and keep track of them, it would be far easier," Catlin said.

Todd Warren, general manager of Microsofts Embedded and Appliance Platforms group, told eWeek in an interview here last week at the Microsoft Windows Embedded Conference that McKendric will target devices such as VOIP phones, as well as their components. "Weve also been doing some work around other targeted devices, like residential gateways," Warren said.

McKendric will also achieve API compatibility with the Pocket PC at the shell level. As Microsoft moves forward with Pocket PC, the goal is to align it on the latest version of Windows CE so it can benefit from enhancements already made in power management and wireless networking.

McKendric will also support Windows Media 9 formats, Warren said, adding that the beta was released to about 1,200 testers last week, mostly attendees at the conference. The final product should be ready by the middle of next year.

Macallan should be available in 2005, the same time as the next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn, Warren said. Key to Macallan will be a lot of work around greater storage capacity and a better file system that complements Longhorn devices, he said.

"For example, in Mira [CE-based technologies for next-generation smart display devices] we can do a better job around the remote display protocol," Warren said.

Storage for mobile devices has not had much of a role until now, but just as "weve moved to tens of gigabytes of storage on the PC, well move to megabytes of storage on local devices, which will up the requirements for better file system technology," Warren said.

Increased storage capability will allow users to synchronize their devices with graphics-intensive and video-based desktop software and take the files with them.

Kevin Baradet, network systems director at the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., and an eWeek Corporate Partner, agreed. Improving video capability, file management and storage capabilities for small devices with small operating systems would be a great help for people who have to travel, Baradet said. Mobile workers delivering PowerPoint presentations could, for example, store the presentations on a PDA, as opposed to a laptop, he said.

"You would probably see an uptick of these smaller devices as data repositories. If they supported features beyond static slides, there would be a lot more of an uptick," Baradet said.

While Microsoft currently allows some customers to build their own software development kits for the platform with Windows CE .Net, it will also extend this capability to Windows XP Embedded in the Longhorn time frame. "We can make it easier to let device makers have a standard subset of components that software vendors can write to and which are optimized for their system," Warren said.

Microsoft will also deliver an updated server appliance kit when the Windows .Net Server 2003 family is released early next year.