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By itself, without additional supporting information, Embedded is a word with vague meaning, and has been used loosely by marketing professional from key technology companies to promote their product and service offering, targeting multiple markets.
· What is embedded computing?
· What are the criteria for computing hardware to be considered as embedded hardware?
· What are the criteria for software (OS and application) to be considered as embedded software?
Depending on the market segment, technology focus and chosen career path, each of us may have different view-point for the above.
Going back a few years, the general consensus for embedded computing software and hardware were:
· Device built with microcontroller/microprocessor in small package with minimal system memory (64K to 256K), designed to perform simple task.
· Small footprint Software solution (Combination of firmware & application) that fit into the limited memory footprint (64K to 256K).
Today, the technology platforms for embedded devices span across much broader range, from simple 8-bit controller with just 64K of memory to 64-bit multi-core processor with well over 10 GB of memory, to support complex computation and control tasks.
Many of the smart-phone and gaming console in the today’s market are built computing platforms that can rival enterprise workstation/server from just a few years back, and is built with much more system memory, storage and processing capabilities than the workstation used by the scientists on the Apollo project that put the first human on the Moon surface back in the 1960s.
Embedded devices in today’s market are built with amazing technologies. Think about the some of these devices:
· Smart-phone, tablet and GPS navigation device.
· Home entertainment systems, portable media player and gaming console.
· Devices associate with self-service gas-pump, cash-register and ticketing-machine.
· Medical devices and instruments such as ECG, ultrasound, X-Ray, CT, MRI and etc.
· Home/building automation and security.
· Robotics for academic, toys, industrial, military and medical application.
Within the academic domain, embedded-computing has been a recognized engineering discipline for many years. Majority of the well-respected universities around the World require their students, majoring in Computer-Engineering and Electrical-Engineering, to take one or more courses relate to embedded-computing, embedded-system design or similar subject. For student majoring in the Computer-science field, embedded computing course is one of the selective offers by most universities. Searching the curriculum among top engineering institution around the world, we can find courses with subject similar to the following:
· Introduction to Embedded System
· Embedded System Design
· Embedded System Concept
· Developing Embedded System
In the job market, embedded software and hardware engineers are recognized specialty with above average salary. Using your favorite search engine, search for the following terms yield interesting results:
· “Embedded Hardware Engineer”
· “Embedded System Engineer”
· “Embedded Software Engineer”
Even with large scale efforts allocated to educate and promote embedded computing technology, from both the business and academic communities for the past 15-20 years, comparing to where this market will be in the next 10 to 20 years, the current embedded market is in its infancy.
In the current market, there are still many inappropriate use of general purpose PC computing technology, by incompetent system-integrator, to build specialized purpose embedded device and system.
Inappropriately Integrated Embedded Device and System
As Valter Minute mentioned in his recent blog entry, “Why should I use an Embedded Operating System on an Embedded Device?”, the example he bring up is showing inappropriate use of PC computing technology that is one of the visible and obvious one. There are many others that are not so obvious and visible.
If you travel often, it’s likely that you’ve seen similar problem with information-kiosk, digital-signage and other point-of-information systems at major airport and shopping center around the world, displaying “unhandled-event dialog box” or the famous “blue screen of death”, which cripple the system. In this type of situation, in addition to the problems associate with a non-working system, there are other much greater impacts à losing customer/public confident and negative company branding.
Aside the obvious and visible one, there are other inappropriately integrated devices that are not visible and obvious to detect. For these not so obvious one, the negative consequences are far worse than the visible ones, where the users/companies may not know about the problem until some catastrophic failure happen.
In many cases, these inappropriately integrated devices can be fixed by simple adopting the embedded version of the underline operating system they are using, without changing the application code.
Although the embedded device market is still at its infancy, we can find embedded devices being deployed to different market segments, around our daily living.
Question to consider: As a technical professional living in a modern day society, can you think of an industry or market-segment that is not impacted by one or more embedded specialized purpose device?
Almost all of the key computing technology providers around the world have embedded computing related hardware and/or software solution as part of their product offering. Many of these companies allocated significant portion of their organization’s resources to promote and develop business that specifically targeting the embedded computing market.
During the past two decades, the PC market went through phenomenal growth. While companies captured the PC market wave during the last 2 decades were able to tap in to a market that represent 100 of millions of PC sold annually, the market potential for embedded devices in the coming years are expected to be much greater, and is already exceeding 10 Billion devices annually.
Note: Some market watcher predicted as much as 40 to 50 Billion embedded devices by 2020.
(Using your favorite search provider, search with the phrase “embedded device by 2020”)
There are different technology options available to capture opportunities in the evolving embedded market. To be successful, we must be pragmatic in adopting appropriate technology platform and associated tools to develop quality embedded devices and able to adequately support the device, in order to successfully capture the targeted market.
While there are many other technology options available, Windows Embedded provides a developer friendly environment with minimal-startup-cost, minimal-risk with wizards and 3rd party resources to provide a rapid application development environment, a highly desired option. In addition, the Windows Embedded development tool chain can help establish predictable and manageable environment for your development team which help keep the accounting/management team happy.
As a plugin to the Visual Studio IDE, the Windows Embedded development environment is suitable for developing broad range of embedded devices, such as industrial, manufacturing, medical, retail and more.
If you are new to the Visual Studio environment, the learning curve to adopt the technology is relatively short, comparing to some of the other technology options.
If you are already using the Visual Studio environment, developing application for Windows Client, Server, Phone and other Microsoft technology, using C++, C# or Visual Basic, you can leverage the existing skill set, which you already have, to develop Windows Embedded application, and get your team up to speed very quickly.
Using the managed code and .NET Framework environment as an example, whether you are comfortable with C# or Visual Basic, you can develop managed code application targeting .NET Compact Framework, a subset of the desktop version of .NET Framework, using similar namespace, language syntax and programming principle.
As a Visual Studio developer, you already know and understand the many advantages provided by the Visual Studio IDE, an efficient and effective environment that help you rapidly develop broad range of Networking, Multimedia, Database and Web applications… Think about what you can accomplish in the embedded domain, using the very same development tools, which you and your team are already using.
There are multiple Windows Embedded technology platforms:
· Windows Embedded Compact, formerly known as “Windows CE” and “Windows Embedded CE”
· Windows Embedded Standard, formerly known as “Windows NT Embedded” and “Windows XP Embedded”
· Windows Embedded Automotive
· Windows Embedded Enterprise
· Windows Embedded Server
· Windows Embedded POSReady
· Windows Embedded NavReady
As the market evolve, the Windows Embedded product team introduce new platform to support the evolving market. For 2013, the Windows Embedded team is expected to release the following:
· Windows Embedded Compact 2013: A new version of the Windows Embedded Compact platform.
· Windows Embedded 8: This is the embedded version of the newly released Windows 8 operating system.
To get start on the right track, it’s best to invest some time to review the different Windows Embedded operating system platforms to understand how/where to apply the right platform. Locate and talk to a recognized Windows Embedded technology provider/reseller in your region:
Visit and spend some time to review the Windows Embedded product website:
Visit/participate in Windows Embedded community and forum:
Windows Embedded Compact forum:
Windows Embedded Standard forum:
Question?… Need Help?
Have a burning question about Windows Embedded and not able to get answer?
Got stuck on a project, need a second opinion or help?
Leave a question at the comment section and feel free to ping me directly.
My alias is “samuelp” at “Embedded101.com”
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