Embedded Apps: Linux vs. Windows 7

I spent yesterday at the Embedded Systems Conference in Boston, which is both nerd heaven and a great place for design engineers to get up to speed on the latest developments in components. The highlight for me was meeting with a couple of Product Managers from Microsoft, who spent a bit of time discussing the latest incarnations of embedded Windows 7 (Enterprise and Server) and Windows CE 6.0 R3. They key question I had for them is why anyone would use a Microsoft OS for embedded applications when Linux is free - and depending upon the specific distribution, quite robust, open source, and familiar to essentially every computer-science graduate on the planet these days.

The boys from Redmond didn't do too bad here. Their key message is that Windows is a known quantity with broad adoption across the planet (true), and that Microsoft's development, training, and support ecosystem is robust enough to handle essentially any application (also true). They cited new features like multitouch and gesture and Silverlight on CE, and they countered that Linux is a fragmented community (also true) that might be OK for some applications, but the robust, supported nature of both W7 and CE make these OSes the obvious choice even though they cost money (and, no, they wouldn't reveal anything about pricing, not even a ballpark, citing the OEM, custom-quotation nature of Windows embedded products).

I still think Linux is going to gain and keep huge share here - the price is right, many developers know it, the tools are, depending upon edition, there, and it's open-source, a big plus in embedded apps. But Windows will hold its own here, for at least a while longer. Even Microsoft, I think, will have a Linux offering at some point.

One other cool product I ran across was a startlingly-thin lithium battery from Infinite Power Solutions. This battery is so thin they actually had a demo of it installed as a layer in a printed circuit board! They also showed some interesting energy-harvesting approaches. This technology isn't for handhelds or anything like that at present - it's for sensors and industrial and military applications, including some wireless apps. But, still, pretty cool.

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