Windows Embedded Compact 7: CE Made Pretty?

Microsoft (s msft) is at the Computex show in Taipei this week touting the new embedded OS it’s producing for handheld computers. Windows Embedded Compact 7 is being shown running on prototype tablets with a flashy user interface and full multitouch support. Not a lot is known about this new OS, yet the name implies it’s an embedded version of Windows 7. Redmond is being mum about this, but looking through Microsoft’s own information that’s available it appears to be a “future version” of Windows CE.

The Microsoft booth at the Computex show is full of tablets running Windows Embedded Compact 7. The impression is that these tablets are products waiting to happen, but the truth is they’re only prototypes to demonstrate the embedded OS. Microsoft makes clear that the interface being run on the one tablet appearing on video is developed in Silverlight, and is not part of the Windows Embedded Compact 7 distribution. It will be up to OEM partners to develop their own interface for devices using this OS as it won’t come from Microsoft.

This leaves us with more questions than answers, as it doesn’t make sense to have an embedded OS without an interface that’s part of the design. If each OEM that undertakes building a gadget running Windows Embedded Compact 7 makes its own interface, there won’t be a look and feel inherent to the platform. While openness and competition are good things, the look and feel of a handheld gadget’s interface is critical to public reception of the device. Microsoft seems to be laying the foundation for a class of device that has nothing much in common other than the platform kernel.

Windows CE has been Microsoft’s embedded platform for years, and is used in a wide range of industrial gadgets. It’s an offshoot of the original Windows Mobile PDA/smartphone platform. That’s what makes Windows Embedded Compact 7 so confusing, because if it is indeed just Windows CE prettied up, then what’s really new? And since the interface is not actually part of the distribution as Microsoft claims, then it’s not really pretty. Hopefully more information will be coming out of Redmond to clear up these questions.

Image credit Engadget.

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