Microsoft pushes Windows Embedded for the Internet of things

Microsoft is pitching its 15-year-old OS as a central hub for connected devices, services, and data

Not to be outdone by Java, Linux, or other high-profile technologies, Microsoft is staking its own claim in the connected-device space that is widely becoming known as the Internet of things.

Microsoft's horse in the burgeoning Internet of things race is its 15-year-old Windows Embedded OS, says Bob Breynaert, Microsoft's director of Windows Embedded. Microsoft is pitching the OS, which has had several names over its lifetime, for applications ranging from vending machines to robotic controls to sales terminals, its traditional type of use. It's also pitching Windows Embedded for ruggedized tablets for a variety of proprietary deployments. Such custom hardware systems are what embedded OSes like Windows Embedded, BlackBerry's QNX, Oracle's Java ME Embedded, and Java SE Embedded, Embedded Linux, and even Google's Embedded Android are designed for.

What's different about old-school embedded devices and today's Internet of things is that current devices are meant to be part of a fabric of services, not isolated items. Thus, Microsoft is touting its applications like SQL Server to manage data, Windows Azure cloud solutions to provide common computing and integration, its various business intelligence tools to analyze data from connected devices, and its various systems management tools to manage the whole fabric.

"The Internet of things to me is about the flow of data all through the enterprise," linking devices themselves to back-end systems, Breynaert says. As an example, he details a system in which intelligence is gathered from Coke vending machines to tally information on what is selling and when, what is not selling, and the machines' internal temperatures. BI tools allow people to query those details, who can then make decisions on whether to power down machines or reduce refrigerants. "All this is cost savings that goes through the bottom line of the company" and improves customer satisfaction, Breynaert says.

Breynaert does note that connected devices can be targets for intruders -- as evidenced in the recent security breach at thousands of Target and Neiman Marcus stores. (In fact, sales terminals often run Windows Embedded, as was the case in these breached systems, though it's unclear whether Windows Embedded was hacked in these instances.) "We need to build in security," Breynaert says, and he claims the easiest way to do this is by managing devices as Microsoft Active Directory objects.

If you equate the Internet of things with embedded systems, Microsoft is by one measure the leading operating system vendor, with 35 percent of the market's OS revenues, says Christopher Rommel, an executive vice president at VDC Research. But Rommel suggests not reading too much into that figure because two main embedded OS competitors are free: Linux and Android. Regardless of its actual share of deployed devices, Rommel says, Microsoft is absolutely going to be a player in the Internet of things.

This story, "Microsoft pushes Windows Embedded for the Internet of things," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.