Working with developers inherited Windows Embedded Compact projects, I notice there are confusion about the development environment and tools needed to support different version of Windows Embedded Compact.

While the Windows Embedded Compact family of embedded OS has been around since 1996 and has been utilizing Visual Studio IDE as the development environment since Visual Studio 2005, it has been somewhat of hidden gems not noticed by many developer.

Comparing to the fast-pace consumer, mobile, game and desktop application development arena, the embedded market moves in snail pace, where many projects remain unchanged for 5 to 10 years and longer.

Confusion in product name and version

Formerly known as “Windows CE”, “Windows CE .NET” and “Windows Embedded CE”, the Windows Embedded Compact adopted different product names over the years.

“Windows Embedded Compact” is the latest product name for this OS family.  Currently, the latest version is “Windows Embedded Compact 2013”, which we refer to as “Compact 2013” in short.

While Compact 2013 was released in June of 2013, more than 2 years ago, there are still good number of projects running on Windows CE 5.0 (released in August 2004) and Windows Embedded CE 6.0 (released in September 2006).

Windows Embedded Compact Development Tool

Platform Builder is the primary development tool to develop custom OS runtime image, device driver, board support packages and native application for Windows Embedded Compact.  Prior to Windows Embedded CE 6.0 (CE 6.0), Platform Builder was a stand alone development tool with its own Integrated Development Environment (IDE).

Starting with CE 6.0, Platform Builder for CE 6.0 became a plug-in to Visual Studio 2005.  For Windows Embedded Compact 7 (Compact 7), Platform Builder is a plug-in to Visual Studio 2008.

For Compact 2013, Platform Builder was initially released as a plug-in to Visual Studio 2012.  Shortly after Visual Studio 2013 was released, Microsoft released an update to Platform Builder to support Visual Studio 2013.

Different version of Windows Embedded Compact OS support managed code application development using C# and Visual Basic.  To support managed code application the OS runtime image must built with .NET Compact Framework as part of the image.

Windows Embedded Compact 2013

Platform Builder for Compact 2013 was initially released in June 2013, as a plug-in to Visual Studio 2012.  In March of 2014, Platform Builder for Compact 2013 was updated to support Visual Studio 2013.

If you are setting a development machine to support Compact 2013 now, unless there are strict requirement for you to use Visual Studio 2012, it’s highly recommended for you to use the later version with Visual Studio 2013.

Note:  While Visual Studio 2013 Express version does not support Compact 2013 development, the Visual Studio 2013 Community version is able to support fully spectrum of Compact 2013 development, including OS design, device driver, board support packages, managed and native code application.

If you are developing application for a Compact 2013 device, with preconfigured OS image to support application development and associated SDK, Platform Builder is not needed.  All you need is the Application Builder for Compact 2013 and the SDK for the device.  Application Builder for Compact 2013 is available for download via the following URL:

If your development task involve OS image, device driver, BSP and etc., you must install Platform Builder.  For development machine with Visual Studio 2013, you can perform a fresh install of Platform Builder for Compact 2013 using the “Windows Embedded Compact 2013 Update 5 ISO” via the following URL: 

Refer to the following blog entry for more info: 

Windows Embedded Compact 7

If you inherited a Compact 7 project and need to setup development environment for this version, refer to the following blog entry:

Windows Embedded CE 6.0

If you inherited a CE 6.0 project and need to setup development environment for this version, it’s important for you to know the Platform Builder for CE 6.0 was designed to run on 32-bit OS and will be problematic on 64-bit OS.  While CE 6.0 installation documentation only cover Windows XP and Vista as the OS for the development machine, you can install Platform Builder for CE 6.0 to a 32-Bit Windows 7 machine with Visual Studio 2005.

Note:  Visual Studio 2005 Express does not support CE 6.0 development.

You can refer to the development environment and tool section of the CE 6.0 jumpstart guide via the following URL for more details:

While the information in the above jumpstart guide was written based on Windows XP as the development machine, the same information does apply to 32-bit Windows 7 as the development machine.

Hope these information help clear some of the confusion.