Microsoft has officially unveiled Windows CE 3.0, the latest version of its embedded operating system, with the hope of stimulating its fortunes in the device market the same way Windows 3.0 did in the PC arena.
To help its efforts, the Redmond giant plans price cuts which could be as high as 50 per cent, but it is coy about exact figures. Microsoft's Platform Builder 3.0 developer software will also be free to customers of previous version.
Windows CE 3.0 also allows developers to customise components of the operating system that they intend to use, compared with previous incarnations which put off developers because they were too big for devices, according to analysts.
Ken Smiley, an analyst at Giga Information Group, said: "In the past with CE you had to use everything and the kitchen sink, and that wasn't acceptable."
Microsoft believes the latest version will be popular with real-time application developers. Bill Veghte, vice president of the embedded and appliance platforms group, said: "We've taken a very significant step forward in providing real-time support, which becomes necessary in medical equipment and other time-critical systems."
The company hopes Windows CE 3.0 will be as well received as Windows 3.0 when it was launched in 1990. But the difference today is that the company is playing catch-up to operating systems from Palm and Psion, plus versions of Linux for handhelds.
Also, Windows CE is viewed as an also-ran, in contrast Windows 3.0 which was considered a superior upgrade from lesser versions in a market without big competitors.
However, analysts are not writing off Microsoft because the market for small, stable embedded operating systems is just taking off and winners have yet to emerge. Potential platforms for CE include television set-top boxes, mobile phones and even petrol pumps.
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