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Meet Microsoft's New Embedded OS Windows XP

Microsoft on Wednesday debuted a new version of its customizable operating system for embedded applications -- but perhaps a little surprisingly, it's not based on Windows Vista.

Instead, Windows Embedded Standard 2009, as it's called, is based on Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3), which was released earlier this spring.

The announcement came at the company's annual North American Tech-Ed developers conference in Orlando, Fla., during a keynote speech by Kevin Dallas, general manager of the Windows Embedded Business Unit.

"New features in Windows Embedded Standard 2009 [enable] OEMs to build embedded devices that combine seamlessly into existing enterprise infrastructure, including the latest Microsoft desktop and server technologies," Dallas said in a statement.

Beyond its benefits to the embedded systems market, though, the move is yet another example of how XP has show it still has plenty of life left despite the emergence of Windows Vista. Recent developments would seem to suggest even that the more Microsoft tries to put XP out to pasture, the more demand for the seven-year-old operating system grows.

Embedded systems are typically built into hardware devices -- in products as diverse as digital cameras, medical devices, gas pumps, point of sale (POS) systems and automotive robots. Given the scope of the product segment, it's quietly become a major area of focus for Microsoft.

In April, the company said it was changing its embedded system naming conventions, beginning with the release of Embedded Standard 2009, which had been set for this week.

Along with Wednesday's demonstration, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) delivered a community technology preview (CTP) of the new system for immediate download. Final release of Embedded Standard 2009 to customers is due in the fourth quarter.

When it's ready, Windows Embedded Standard 2009 will replace the company's existing offering, Windows XP Embedded, according to a Microsoft spokesperson.

One outstanding question remains, however. Where does the news leave Windows Vista?

"We're working on Vista Embedded but haven't announced anything," Olivier Bloch, Microsoft's Windows Embedded evangelist, Bloch declined to comment further on the company's plans.

Among the new features that will be provided in Embedded Standard 2009 is support for Microsoft's Silverlight cross-browser, cross-platform, and cross-device media streaming player, which competes with Adobe's Flash player.

In scenarios such as building a smart digital video recorder (DVR) or constructing a kiosk with an embedded operating system, the new Silverlight capabilities could help set those devices using Embedded Standard 2009 apart from competitors.

With Silverlight support, "Windows Embedded Standard 2009 will be able to provide a richer user interface," Bloch said.

The update will also include XP SP3's Network Access Protection (NAP) -- a network quarantine and remediation technology included in Vista and Windows Server 2008. Additionally, it will feature support for the .NET Framework 3.5 as well as Remote Desktop Protocol 6.1, the company said in a statement.

Several of the changes and additions coming in Embedded Standard 2009 clearly establish its focus on connectivity with the rest of the Windows networking world, according to one analyst.

But the core functionality of Embedded Standard 2009 owe a great deal to its use of XP SP3 as its heart. Chiefly, adopting XP helps by offering the OS the benefits of a small footprint -- in terms of the systems resources it requires to run -- and, ironically, its age, which speaks to the system's long-term stability and reliability.

"It will go on lower-performance systems than Vista would run on," Rob Enderle, principal analyst for The Enderle Group, "Plus, XP is a product that people have been comfortable with for the last seven years."

Vista, in contrast, requires a much higher-end computer and has been around only a year and a half. Vista Service Pack 1 only shipped this spring.

"Given that Vista hasn't been all that successful [in non-embedded markets], it makes sense for Microsoft to go with XP," Enderle said.

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