Microsoft plans to release Windows Embedded Standard 8 next March, as the company aims to bring Windows 8 features to a whole host of devices outside the PC, including ATMs, information kiosks, advertising displays and even industrial machines.
On Thursday, Microsoft introduced a new roadmap for the next versions of its Windows Embedded family of products. As part of that roadmap, the company will release Windows Embedded Compact 2013 in next year's second quarter. The upcoming version of Windows Embedded Enterprise has also been renamed to Windows Embedded 8 Pro, and will launch in March.
Microsoft is best known for its PC-based Windows operating system, but the company is also a major player in the market for software for "intelligent systems". These can include everyday devices that contain processors connected to a network, such as store checkout systems, digital signs, smart TVs, and manufacturing robots, among others.
In the past, such devices were limited by their processing power, and some had no need for a complex operating system. But as chips have become faster and the technology more advanced, common household electronics, work tools and industrial machines are becoming more powerful computing devices. Already, the intelligent systems market generates more than US$1 trillion in revenue, according to research firm IDC. By 2015, that figure that will double to over $2 trillion.
"This is phenomenal opportunity us," said John Doyle, director of product management for Windows Embedded during a news conference. "Our goal in the Windows Embedded team is to extend Windows 8 to industry specific devices."
Devices built with the next versions of Windows Embedded can leverage its improved user interfaces, opening the way for more touch or gesture-based controls. But the new versions also aim to pave the way for better data connectivity, linking each device remotely to a company's network, so that its information can be securely sent back for use and analysis.
In addition, Microsoft is also expanding the scope of its Windows Embedded software products. Windows Embedded POSReady, which had originally been meant for the retail market, will be renamed Windows Embedded 8 Industry, and is meant to also serve healthcare, manufacturing, financial sectors. A beta release of it will be available in January.
Microsoft will also release another OS called Windows Embedded 8 Automotive. More details will be released early next year.
Microsoft already has 700 partners worldwide that use Windows Embedded, said Doyle in an interview. Some of these partners include electronics vendors Fujitsu, Huawei, NEC, along with industrial, financial and transportation firms.
The company decided to hold its Windows Embedded in Beijing, given that many Windows Embedded vendors, or likely about a third of its partners, are based in the Asia-Pacific region, Doyle said.
"Over the next number of years, by 2016, almost one third of intelligent systems will be used in APAC (Asia-Pacific) region," he said. "We think the APAC region is critical to the success."
China is also helping to lead in the market, as vendors in the country work to develop more intelligent systems for use in banks and in manufacturing, Doyle said.
"Our strategy is to evolve the ecosystem. The end customers, the end banks, the end retailers, they want a complete system," he said. "The day of selling a stand-alone embedded appliance are numbered because fundamentally, in order to drive the insight and intelligence, the systems need to be connected."
Microsoft is the largest vendor for commercially sold operating system software meant for embedded system devices, said Shane Rau, an analyst with research firm IDC. The market generates about US$1 billion in revenue, and Microsoft has a 40 to 45 percent share.
The company has mainly sold its Windows Embedded software for use in retail devices, like cashier systems or information kiosks. But the company has an opportunity as more market segments move to intelligent systems, which will require more powerful operating system software, Rau said. The energy sector, healthcare, and communications industries are expected to grow the fastest in adoption.
"(Rivals) have spent years specialising in these markets, and they have an understanding of what's suitable for a doctor, or for someone who manages a power plant," he said. "I think an entrance into these traditional embedded systems markets will face a significant challenge."
Doyle, however, said Microsoft stands out from its competitors because of the data connectivity its software can bring.
"In healthcare, manufacturing, retail, the ability to connect those devices back to be able to drive intelligence, that's the untapped potential," he said.