At the Embedded Systems Conference in San Francisco this week, Microsoft will demonstrate continued strong momentum for its Windows CE .NET and Windows XP Embedded (XPe) platforms as the company works to shore up a long-term commitment to its embedded Windows products, both internally and with its partners.

When I talked with the company late yesterday, I learned that Microsoft doubled shipments of its embedded products in 2001, and that the company now controls almost 20 percent of the embedded market. Since Microsoft released Windows CE .NET in early January, more than 50,000 people have downloaded the product's software emulator, which lets developers create OS images on a PC without needing to physically access the underlying hardware.

"We're also introducing a CE .NET device emulator, based on the larger Emulation Edition that was previously made available," said Megan Kidd, product manager for the Embedded and Appliance Platforms Group (EAPG). "It's much smaller--only 3MB--and it lets users view and test an OS image in a read-only view. This makes it easier for users to test images and application compatibility. It will be up on the Windows Embedded Web site \[Wednesday\]."

In addition, Microsoft is expanding its CE Shared Source program to academia with a new initiative called the Windows CE Shared Source Academic Curriculum Program that will provide certain portions of the CE source code to schools. "Universities can now print certain aspects of the source code in their curriculum and materials," Kidd noted. "It's for educational purposes only, however." The company has also launched a new community for CE device-driver writers that harkens, somewhat, to the open-source community that is currently building products such as Linux and Mozilla. "The Windows CE driver-development program is a Web location where ISVs \[Independent Software Vendors\] can get a free copy of the CE .NET Platform Builder and provide drivers back to other developers. We'll also have more documentation, compatibility lists, white papers, and other information."

Looking forward, the XPe Service Pack 1 (SP1) release will coincide with the wider Windows XP SP1 release in the second half of 2002. CE .NET will see a minor upgrade (code-named Jameson) in late 2002 that will add features such as IPv6 support, a Systems Management Server (SMS) client, and Microsoft Office document viewers. The company will replace its current Windows 2000 Server Appliance Kit with a new version based on Windows .NET Server. This product's name is a mouthful, too--Windows .NET Server with Server Appliance Kit 3.0--and it's due in late 2002, alongside the other members of the .NET Server family. Also, Microsoft will update Visual Studio .NET to better accommodate embedded development: A set of Smart Device Extensions will ship later this year, and the .NET Compact Framework's final version will see the light of day by year's end.