Electronic Design

The Competition

Windows CE has a lot to offer, but it's not the only game in town. Embedded operating systems such as Palm OS, Linux, VxWorks from Wind River, QNX, LynxOS from LynuxWorks, and even Microsoft's Embedded Windows NT are competitors to Windows CE.

On the Pocket PC side, Windows CE has a number of competitors. Palm OS is the major one, with a market share that Windows CE is trying to break. Most of the other operating systems for handheld devices have less of a presence than Windows CE. For example, embedded Linux for handheld devices is in the developmental stages. The same is true of Java-based solutions. Although these two will have a greater presence over the next year, Windows CE has a distinct lead here.

The embedded space isn't as rosy as the Pocket PC side. Operating systems like LynxOS, VxWorks, and QNX have a large audience that Windows CE probably won't displace for existing mission-critical applications. Windows CE 3.0 may be considered for some mission-critical, network-client applications, such as robotics or process control, because of its new features. Yet again, the competition will be tough.

Bundled communication and application support for Windows CE is very appealing. Many competing solutions charge extra for these features. Use of the popular Win32 APIs and other Microsoft programming technologies are benefits to Windows CE that few competing solutions can match. Phar Lap Software's TNT Embedded ToolSuite addresses only the Win32 aspect, but its real-time support exceeds the native real-time support of Windows CE. Phar Lap's bundled Microweb Server also is more compact than Microsoft's solution.

Another operating system that Windows CE will have to contend with in this space is Linux. Its typical pricing model, with the lack of run-time royalties versus Microsoft's more conventional per-device royalty, is going to sway many developers. Linux isn't the only product that has no run-time royalties. Products like Precise Software Technologies' MQX RTOS and Accelerated Technology's Nucleus are royalty-free. Still, Windows CE is aggressively priced versus products with a similar royalty-based price structure.

Applications with lots of memory and horsepower available may wind up going to operating systems other than Windows CE, including Embedded Windows NT. Windows CE runs very well with 16 Mbytes or more. But the competition often has features that Windows CE lacks, like centralized security management.

The sweet spot for Windows CE is around 2 to 8 Mbytes of memory. It's ideal for products such as web terminals, set-top boxes, and auto PCs. Furthermore, falling processor and memory prices help to make a Windows CE solution relatively inexpensive.

TAGS: Robotics
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