Microsoft Enters the PC-PLUS Era

Technologies such as embedded Windows NT and Windows CE are driving what Microsoft calls the PC-plus era, and they account for Microsoft's most interesting gains of late. Despite the name, the PC-plus era isn't just marketingspeak. Microsoft, a company that has been extremely successful at placing software onto home computers, plans to expand into the much broader computerized device market. And if the thought of a Windows-powered refrigerator makes you laugh, you might have to think again. If Microsoft has its way, the notion of Windows everywhere will become a reality.

Although PC manufacturers currently market their wares as having the functionality of Swiss Army knives, the market for such products is finite and shows signs of growth reduction this year. But we use devices such as alarm clocks, cell phones, pagers, televisions, refrigerators, and toasters every day. These products are single-purpose devices, and most of them contain embedded microprocessors, which provide computerlike functionality on a limited scale. To serve the market for computerized devices, Microsoft offers two OSs: Windows CE and embedded NT. Microsoft aims Windows CE at memory-constrained devices such as cell phones and handheld computers. Embedded NT serves the high-end market of routers, medical devices, and other devices that require NT's stability and security. Both OSs provide developers with the familiar Win32 API and Microsoft development tools to enable fast application development. And because these slim OSs are compatible with other Microsoft products, users can learn to use them quickly and easily.

Although Microsoft conceptualized embedded NT and Windows CE separately, the company recently brought these OSs together under the Embedded and Appliance Platform Group. Now, Microsoft provides the customer with one contact point, then determines which OS best meets the customer's needs.

The first devices to use these OSs are quite technical, but Microsoft plans to move into the mainstream consumer market to capture that market's large customer base. The company wants to bring embedded Windows to consumer electronic devices such as cameras, microphones, telephones, and fax machines. The technology we use every day but don't notice is the most successful technology. Microsoft hopes to grab this success by making Windows as pervasive in our everyday lives as it is in the desktop PC market.

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