In "Running Your .NET Apps on Embedded Versions of Windows," I wrote about when developers should use Windows Embedded OS. To summarize that column:
You mostly use Windows Embedded in the following two scenarios:
- Your application is the only one that’s going to run on the computer.
- You need to produce a large quantity of identically configured systems and creating an embedded image would save you a ton of time in Windows configuration.
Also in my commentary, we covered the following:
- Dismissing Misconceptions. You can configure Windows 7 Embedded to a point where it looks and functions pretty much exactly like the standard version of Windows 7.
- Windows Licensing Cost Savings. The cost of Windows Embedded OSs are significantly less than the regular versions.
- Cafeteria-Style Windows. Windows embedded provides the facility to install only the components of Windows you need to run your application through OS templates. You can also configure your own templates.
- Lightning-Fast Windows. Stripped down, embedded versions of Windows are lightning fast when run on legitimate hardware compared to regular Windows OS versions. As you’d imagine, Windows Embedded screams when all the unnecessary services are removed from Windows.
- I got several great comments on that column from reader Greg Nash, where he detailed more benefits of the Windows Embedded OS. They are worth paraphrasing:
- Limited Attack Surface for Viruses. By stripping out unnecessary services on a Windows Embedded machine, you remove the bulk of attack vectors. It’s impossible for a virus grab if there's no file shares, no web browsing, no email, no RPC server etc. So, the burden of antivirus software can be avoided.
- No Domain Membership. Windows Embedded systems often don't require domain logins or access to domain services, so they don't require domain membership.
- No Need for Indexing Services. On a Windows Embedded machine, there's no need for indexing services; nor a need for tracking "last access" on files. So, it's long been feasible to host Windows Embedded on small flash drives without concerns over number of writes or wear levelling.
Versions of Windows Embedded
Okay, now this is where it gets a bit overwhelming. Just in terms of what Microsoft would call a modern operating system, which is basically Windows 7 or 8, there are several different Windows Embedded versions. There are even server versions of Windows Embedded. There's also a SQL Server version that runs on Windows Embedded. It really seems to be a waste of bytes for me to describe each version in any detail because you can find all that information buried in the Microsoft Windows Embedded website. But the names of the embedded OS products are quite descriptive, so I believe listing them here is valuable.
Windows Embedded 7 Versions
- Windows Embedded Enterprise 7
- Windows Embedded Standard 7
- Windows Embedded POS Ready 7
Other Windows Embedded products
- Windows Embedded Compact 7
- Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5
- Windows Server 2008 for Embedded Systems
Windows Embedded 8 Versions
- Windows Embedded 8.1 Industry
- Windows Embedded 8.1 Pro
- Windows Embedded 8 Standard
Windows Embedded Compact Versions
There are also several different Windows Embedded Compact versions. Formally known as Windows Embedded CE or Windows CE, Compact versions of Windows Embedded are designed for very small computers and embedded systems, including consumer electronics devices such as set-top boxes and gaming consoles.
Windows Embedded Compact is available for ARM, MIPS, SuperH, and x86 processor architectures and derivatives of those architectures. Just like its non-compact big brothers, compact versions of the Windows Embedded OS are full, real-time OSs with versions of the .NET Framework, a UI framework, and several different open source drivers and services. Compact versions of Windows Embedded are modular with a specialized kernel that can run in under 1 MB of memory. Windows Phone 7 and 8 are also based on Windows Embedded Compact.
Add-Ons, Updates, and Tools
There are also hundreds of add-ons, developer tools, management tools, updates, OS tools, service packs, Silverlight versions, Internet Explorer (IE) versions, and templates for the embedded versions of Windows. You can also download these versions if you have a MSDN subscription.
How to Purchase Windows Embedded
Unlike other versions of Windows that ship on the computer you purchase or purchased as a box with a disk in a retail store, you can only purchase an embedded version of Windows from an authorized distributor.