Windows Embedded road map may bypass Vista

Microsoft official says vendor might use Windows 7 in successor to XP Embedded

The planned successor to the embedded version of Windows XP, due from Microsoft two years from now, may bypass Windows Vista and instead be based on the oft-maligned operating system's own successor, which is codenamed Windows 7.

Microsoft had indicated last fall that the replacement for Windows XP Embedded would use Vista as its core operating system. But in an interview last week, Ilya Bukshteyn, director of marketing for the Windows Embedded product line, said there is a good chance that the next embedded OS -- codenamed Quebec -- will instead be engineered around Windows 7.

"To date, we are certainly working with Vista," Bukshteyn said. But, he added, "if there is an opportunity to get newer technologies in faster, and the customers want it, we may skip Vista."

That may be possible, given that Microsoft earlier this month appeared to drop several hints that Windows 7 might arrive next year. If so, that could give the company's Windows Embedded developers enough time to re-engineer Windows 7 for use in the next embedded operating system, which will be called Windows Embedded Standard under a new naming scheme that Microsoft announced Tuesday while detailing its embedded product plans.

Windows 7 reportedly will be based on a new MinWin microkernel, which, as the name implies, is a fraction of the size of Vista's kernel. In fact, MinWin is so tiny that it lacks a graphics subsystem, according to a presentation done by a Microsoft engineer last fall. The smallness of the microkernel would fit the minimalist nature of Windows Embedded, which is designed for use in handhelds and specialized devices, such as point-of-sale terminals.

In contrast, much of the criticism around Vista involves the size of its massive 4GB core footprint, with analysts from Gartner being the latest to weigh in with a call for Microsoft to downsize the Windows code base.

Indeed, Windows 7 developers are leveraging some of the work that the Windows Embedded group has done "on what a smaller code-base version of Windows would look like," Bukshteyn said. "We have a lot of input into what they're doing. We are working very closely -- closer than in the past."

The collaboration is certainly closer than it was with the Vista development team, according to Greg DeMichillie, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft.

"The Vista guys made a lot of changes without telling the Embedded team," DeMichillie said. Instead of just being able to strip down Vista like they previously did with Windows XP, the Windows Embedded developers "effectively faced a rewrite," he added.

Microsoft quietly began licensing Vista to embedded developers last year. But it has neither customized the operating system for embedded systems nor done much to market it for embedded applications. Bukshteyn said he didn't know many Vista licenses have been bought by embedded developers thus far.

Microsoft laid out its road map for the embedded OS family at the Embedded Systems Conference Silicon Valley yesterday. Although it is the leading commercial vendor of embedded operating systems, Microsoft faces a challenge from Linux in that market that is arguably as strong as the one it faces from the open-source operating system in the server arena.

Bukshteyn confirmed that a minor update to Windows XP Embedded will be announced in June at Microsoft's Tech-Ed 2008 conference for developers. That release will include several features that are included in Windows Vista, such as Windows Media Player 11, Internet Explorer 7 and the Remote Desktop Protocol 6.0 for secure two-way communications.

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