Microsoft Releases Windows NT Embedded 4.0

On Monday August 9, 1999, Microsoft announced the availability of the Windows NT Embedded 4.0 OS, which the company hopes will open up a huge new market to Windows programmers. Embedded systems are found in household appliances, medical devices, cash registers, telephone systems, toys, and many other products. Modern automobiles, for example, are loaded with specialized processors that manage fuel mixture, monitor exhaust and driving performance, and perform myriad other functions. Embedded systems are, in fact, a much larger market than software created just for computers. With the growth in wireless and home networking, the embedded systems area should see considerable growth. The market for the software running embedded devices, composed largely of custom-built proprietary software, is fragmented among many small system houses. Gartner Group’s projection for this market was that NT Embedded could capture 15 percent of the market for devices costing more than $5000 by 2002, rising to 30 percent by 2005. “As 32-bit processors become commonplace in the embedded systems market, customers are demanding more functionality from these devices”, said Vince Mendillo, Microsoft’s lead product manager. “They want better connectivity, richer features and scalability—and developers want to meet those needs quickly.” “If you want to build this rich functionality and you are using a proprietary system, you have to start from scratch. But since Windows NT Embedded already has a rich NT feature set, developers can provide more functionally rich solutions for their customers, using Microsoft development platforms like Visual Studio or any number of third-party tools. And because it is Windows NT, they can easily integrate those devices with the rest of their IT infrastructure.” This announcement ended the beta program for Embedded NT. According to Microsoft, more than 600 developers participated in the program building over 900 devices based on the OS. Products ranged from set-top boxes to cryogenic equipment. One company, CryoSeal, developed a medical device that harvests proteins, enzymes, and growth factors from a patient’s own blood. NT Embedded 4.0 comprises three components:

  • Windows NT Source files, which contain all the features of Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack 5 (SP5), including multi-adapter support, networking, and the Win32 API.
  • Target Designer, an authoring tool for selecting NT components to include in your embedded OS.
  • Component Designer, which lets you integrate applications and third-party components into the embedded operating system. OEMs will use NT Embedded 4.0 to create runtime versions of the OS for specific applications, and developers can use the OS to build applications for headless devices (i.e., those lacking consoles). Microsoft will sell the OS on a per-seat basis and offer four different licensing modelstwo based on workstation functionality and two based on server functionality. NT Embedded 4.0 systems are limited in ways that prevent it from competiting with other OSs. Applications won't support file and print services as NT Server does or multifunction handheld devices as Windows CE does. Mendillo said, “NT Embedded is licensed as a fixed-function device.” Microsoft now has two different OSs aimed at the embedded marketplace: Windows NT 4.0 Embedded and Windows CE. The company decided on this approach after recognizing that the embedded system market has a variety of needs. Mendillo said, “We have Windows CE for devices such as digital cameras, PC companions, and cellular phones, which need to run on all kinds of processors without using much power. Windows NT Embedded 4.0 is for devices that need a much more PC-like architecture: manufacturing systems, telecommunication systems, office automation, and medical devices. When you need a rich feature set, BackOffice integration, robust networking, and management on a PC architecture, NT Embedded 4.0 is a perfect fit.” Microsoft plans to release a version of NT 4.0 Embedded that will work with Active Directory (AD) in the third quarter 2000.
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