A CNET headline spastically (and wrongly) claims that Microsoft is "bringing Windows 7 to devices." But that's not what's happening, and all you have to do is read the Microsoft press release in question to understand what's really happening. As its own headline asserts, Microsoft is bringing Windows 7 technologies to devices. And that is a completely different ballgame.
Microsoft announced the release to manufacturing of Windows Embedded Standard 7, delivering the power, familiarity and reliability of the Windows 7 operating system in a highly customizable and componentized form. OEMs can leverage Windows Embedded Standard 7 to create differentiated experiences and enhanced connectivity with Windows-based PCs, servers and online services on specialized devices, such as thin clients, digital signage and industrial controls for the enterprise, as well as set-top boxes (STBs), connected media devices (CMDs), and TVs for consumers.
The most interesting bit here, and this is something the short CNET blurb did get right, is that this release of Windows Embedded (which, again, is not the same as the desktop versions of Windows) contains for the first time Windows Media Center capabilities (!):
The addition of the Windows Media Center feature in Windows Embedded Standard 7 is driving the set-top box, connected media device and TV markets by providing OEMs with opportunities to develop uniquely branded experiences and service providers with capabilities to explore additional revenue streams with unique content through a centralized media hub in the home.
Set-top boxes (STBs), connected media devices (CMDs) and TVs built on Windows Embedded Standard 7 and leveraging the Windows Media Center feature will enable consumers to merge multimedia content from disparate sources, including Internet and broadcast TV, social media portals, and personal libraries of photos, music and videos, into a centralized home entertainment hub. Information can easily be shared across Windows-based PCs and individual devices.
This is a huge change, and it could both spell the end of traditional Media Center PCs--and let's face it, PCs have never belonged in the living room--and signal a revamping of Microsoft's living room strategy.
The perspective: Back in January 2002, Microsoft showed off its Freestyle interface for Windows XP at CES 2002. This became Media Center, of course, but at the time, I had some questions about how Microsoft was going to ship this technology to customers (undecided then, supposedly, but the result was a brand new XP version called Windows XP Media Center Edition) and why they had gone the PC route instead of the device (a la Xbox) route.
I was told then that Microsoft wanted to bring the power of the PC to the living room and that the set-top box systems of the day just weren't powerful enough. The result was a decade of people rebooting their TVs and other reliability issues because, again, PCs just have no place in the living room. That these PCs tanked in the market place is somewhat revealing as well, I think. (Though to be fair, elegant set-top boxes like the Apple TV haven't exactly taken off either; Apple calls its efforts in this market "a hobby" as a result.)
This change in Windows Embedded reverses a decade of bad decisions and means that we will finally see the elegant and beautiful Media Center software on devices that actually make sense in the living room: Set-top boxes, yes, but also TVs and stereo systems. And of course, today's embedded devices are as powerful as PCs. Just witness what's possible on a modern smart phone if you're still unclear on this. The time has come.