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The History of Microsoft Windows CE - Windows CE 6.0

Windows CE 6.0 continues to evolve and innovate the Windows CE base into a more robust and scalable embedded operating system. Designed to be the complimentary release to Windows Vista, CE 6.0 delivers significant low level changes to the Windows CE formula, substantially booting the capabilities of the embedded format and opening up significant avenues of future market growth for Windows Embedded and Microsoft partners .

Windows CE 6.0 was originally slated for release in the second quarter of 2005, under the convention of the whisky inspired codename of Cardhu. The release cycle of Windows CE 5.0 itself slipped considerably as resources were diverted into the Windows Mobile 5.0 release and other Windows Embedded projects and in late 2005 the Cardhu programme was cancelled in favour of a new initiative for the release under the project group name of Yamazaki.

Yamazaki was scheduled for release during the second half of 2006 and delivered on time with an Release To Manufacturing date of the 15th September 2006. The primary focus of the release is without a doubt the extension of the capabilities of Windows CE's kernel. With CE 6.0 Microsoft are removing some of the most restrictive limitations of the platform, limitations that have been a constant throughout all of the previous incarnations of CE.

The most significant low level change is in the kernel addressing and resource allocation. In previous releases the kernel has been limited to the Windows CE 32/32 limit, that is, 32 processes with each process being limited to addressing 32MB of Virtual Memory (VM). Under Windows CE 6.0, this limit has been removed and as part of a next generation kernel initiative which has seen changes in the process, addressing, driver and application interaction enabling the macro kernel increased support for up to 32,000 unique or virtual processes with a potential upper limit of 2GB of Virtual Memory per process. This in addition to the already established 2GB upper limit of Kernel addressable memory from Windows CE 5.0.

Microsoft Embedded's philosophy for the release has been to concentrate on boasting the predominantly low level changes with which they will attempt to see the next generation of Windows CE to the consumer, as below

  • Feature parity with Windows CE 5.0 (and more)
  • Updated development tools
  • Next-generation kernel
  • Backward compatibility
  • Enhanced robustness and security
  • User-mode driver model
  • Enhanced wireless networking support
  • Networked media device features
  • No regressions on performance and size

In addition to these low level changes, the beta release of Yamazaki, unveiled for the first time on 9th May at the 2006 Mobile Developers Conference MEDC contains significant functional improvements, far beyond the sparse user layer applications added by its predecessor.

Firstly, Windows CE 6 continues to focus its attentions on the ARM architecture, with new BSP and compiler support for the next generation of ARM series or ARM6 processors. Windows CE 6.0 will be the first Microsoft operating system to support Microsoft's 21st Century extensions to the dates File Allocation Table (FAT) file system in the form of the little discussed ExFAT While full details of ExFAT have yet to be revealed, it is known that the file system is aimed - at least from Windows CE's point of view - at catering for external storage medium's which compliment the Windows CE Object Store as external storage, such as Solid State CF and SD cards. The ExFAT addressing system will be optimised for embedded device use and crucially remove the 32GB volume limitation imposed artificially upon the FAT specification by Microsoft themselves. Additionally, in the age of digital multimedia, ExFAT will see away with the 2GB file size limit for which in the Windows world NTFS is currently required to remedie, a fact which Microsoft are pinning hopes of increased adoption of Windows Automotive for the Windows CE 6.0 run.

In a similar fashion to Windows XP's NTFS counterpart, file system enhancements to CE6 will allow OEM's to implement file system encryption at the file level or at the volume level, improving future mobile device security, particularly for enterprises on the device as well as in the digital communications realm. Microsoft have also set the groundwork for user permission support in Windows CE's object store. A permissions feature will not be included in Windows CE's Platform Builder at the time of release, however the foundations for support have already been added and will be include as a feature pack for Windows CE 6.0, or in the next release. It is not currently known whether ExFAT will be capable of supporting a permissions based file access schema.

Windows CE 6.0 continues to push for the virtues of Voice over IP (VoIP), offering continued integration and functionality in the application layer directly from the base OS. New Control Panel settings, along with Exchange/Outlook synchronisation support are designed to enable OEM's to implement VoIP over both cellular, wireless and wired network mediums as appropriate to the circumstances of the user. The adoption of VoIP as a centric part of the new release's aspirations comes from the expanded networking stack. 802.11i, WPA2, 802.11e (QoS over Wireless), AES security for Bluetooth and A2DP / AVRCP bluetooth configurations are now supported, enshrining the promise of roaming, secure, stable and reliable voice and data communications from the embedded system.

Finally from the users perspective, Windows CE 6.0 expands upon the previous promises of Windows CE's newly acquired multimedia capabilities, adding Windows Media 10 player support (which will be enhanced to the 11 specification come RTM), native integration of the Networked Multimedia Device specification for the first time in a Platform Builder release adds Mobile Media Centre support, and rich content multimedia driven application support along with Windows Media Connect 2.0 compatibility for seamless remote integration into Windows Vista, XBox 360 and other distributed multimedia devices.

Other significant advances in the multimedia capabilities of Windows CE 6.0 include:

  • TIFF codec support
  • HD-DVD codec compatibility
  • DVD (MPEG-2) codec's
  • Additional audio/video format support
  • UDF 2.5 read drivers
  • Virtual surround sound engine
  • Multi-channel audio capabilities
  • DirectDraw enhancements allowing for Interlacing support on television systems
  • USB On-the-Go (OTG) functionality (allowing a single USB port to negotiate both host and client roles ad-hoc)

With Windows CE 6.0 promising to deliver such a broad range of new low-level and user layer functionality, the release also promises to do so with less than a 5% increase in the size of the underlying operating system footprint, keeping CE itself a robust, modular and compact version of the Windows environment.

To convince OEM's, developers and opening markets of the capabilities of the Windows CE 6.0 base, Microsoft have worked hard to demonstrate continued compatibility with existing code, without any additional overhead in performance in doing so. As part of their efforts, and as a conclusive proof of concept for the 23rd-25th May 2006 Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, Microsoft had internally ported and were able to demonstrate the Windows CE 5.0 base and user layer of Windows Mobile 5.0 over running stably against the beta of Windows CE 6.0.

Windows CE 6.0 Release History

  • CE 6.0 Core (Yamazaki (formerly Cardhu), 15th September 2006)
  • Windows Mobile Vista 6.0 (Photon, 2007 est)
  • CE 6.0 R2 Core, 14th November 2007)
  • CE 6.0 R3 Code, 22nd September 2009)

AcitveSync 4.x is the formal Sync Client for Windows CE 5.0 generation devices. For more on the lineage of ActiveSync 4.x click here.

Into the Future

The future certainty of Windows CE is currently unwritten. As the consumer market is changing rapidly, and the technology which under pin the embedded market draws inexorably closer in many scenarios to the fully featured device sector, the role that Windows CE will have to play is going to need to be redressed. Microsoft have demonstrated that making kernel level cuts to their flagship Windows XP operating system is a viable method to create a scaled down, streamlined operating system. Case studies focusing on Windows XP embedded and the numerous versions of Windows XP manufactured to comply with the European Union have eroded Microsoft's position when they claim that Windows cannot be altered.

Released in the Summer of 2004, Windows CE 5.0 is now significantly behind its contemporaries and the embedded developer community has ultimately failed to innovate based upon its promises despite Microsoft's efforts at refreshing some of the Core technologies, and adding new user layer functionality through feature packs and the Platform Builder QFE cycle.
What we anticipate to be Windows CE 6.0 - mainly to match the Windows Vista numbering as NT 6.0 - and is currently codename Yamazaki will continue to build upon the success of Windows CE in its own niche areas. Yamazaki will ultimately fall into part of the Windows Vista product group, providing individual embedded OEM System builders with the tools required to create companion devices based around the blurring of the line between embedded and non-embedded OS.
The main region of development for Windows CE will inevitably come from the Windows Mobile line as Microsoft push for the idea of a hassle free, streamlined 'Digital Life'. As the Windows Mobile consumer division is clearly in the sights of Microsoft's Vista aspirations, any reassessment of Windows CE's future for the time being has been shelved however, Windows Embedded are still failing to break-even, and the long term patience of Microsoft corporate may mean significant changes to what we in the Windows CE community perceive the platform to be. The haemorrhaging division, which at the end of the Microsoft 2004 financial year lost $46 million (US) and lost a staggering $219 million (US) in the previous fiscal term has never made a profit for Microsoft. Unless the distinction between Windows CE and Windows Mobile on the one hand, and the increasingly cautious embedded system developer community on the other can be clarified, Windows CE itself may be in danger if forthcoming releases fail to stimulate the market.

It cannot be ruled out at this point, given the perceivable lack of enthusiasm in the Windows Mobile world, that the pedestal afforded to the historic Windows CE based Platform will steadily begin to dissolve, being absorbed instead into the steadily widening set of licensing options available to all Microsoft Embedded developers who already have access to the traditional Handheld PC shell and the new Embedded Media Centre sample shell.
If such restrictions continue, then they will do so to the detriment of Windows CE itself, hindering adoption and continuing to add confusion in the form of over-bearing economic factors. In a world when innovation from Embedded linux community continues to drive adoption, and where the prestigious Apple Computers is debating entering the embedded device world Microsoft can ill-afford to continue to restrict access to its interface and shell technologies.

As a consequence, the future of Windows CE itself rests not with developers or large OEM's, but internally to Microsoft and with the bureaucracy of Windows Mobile.

Windows CE 6.0 Screenshots | Handheld PC Device List


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