Windows Embedded, on Your Desktop

The future of Windows is clearly Windows 7. But what if you could get a smaller footprint, way better battery life than Vista or XP (think days, not hours), and everything else your little heart desires already? You can, and even better, you have been able to for a while.

Let’s look at a few products that don’t exactly get much attention in the consumer lime light. Let’s start with Windows Embedded Standard 2009, formerly XP Embedded.

Windows Embedded Standard 2009 is a componentized and updated version of Windows XP Pro. It has all the latest and greatest features of XP and its software available on a componentized level. Depending on how you want it set up it can include .NET 3.5, Sliverlight, RDP 6.1, IE7, Windows Media player 11, DirectX 9, and many other features (it can also be run as a real time OS via 3rd party products, but I don’t recommend it). It also comes with a snazzy new theme that I think is just great.

So here’s the best question, “Why would I go through the extra work of building my OS via componentizing it?” That’s simple; you only install what is needed (who needs 8 million print drivers in their default install anyway?), and you can have a fully functional desktop OS with an install footprint of 200MB or less (that’s with most of the bells and whistles you would need to game, or use the machine as a desktop).

So, how do you get this componentized super version of XP? The starter kit will give you a 120 day trial of the software build tools and the OS it can create. But before you get carried away, here’s the how-to for getting this thing started.

Once you have downloaded and installed the package, you’re going to want to look here. There are a few tools you are going to need to use to pull this off.

The Target Analyzer: The Target Analyzer verifies your runtime image will support your chosen hardware by probing the target device hardware and analyzing its content. Automates hardware-specific data to produce runtime images tailored to your target hardware.

This is good as you want to make sure it’s going to work on your machine; after all, even if you don’t throw everything into the build, it’s going to be a large first download.

The Target Designer: The Target Designer Helps you build, develop, and customize embedded runtime images, with the ability to save the configuration as XML data. Time-saving features include:

The Footprint Estimator Tool – Calculate the impact that adding certain components and component dependencies will have on the footprint of a runtime image.

The Component dependency checking – Create a bootable runtime image for a specific target device.

Advanced component browsing – Easily find desirable features using multiple tree views and customizable filters. Also includes intuitive drag-and-drop user interface of selected features and automated dependency-checking and issues list.

The Component Designer: Here you define custom components to use in embedded runtime images. Convert unique drivers and applications into components for use in a custom operating system image.

Once you install the software packages on your Windows machine and build your image you can deploy it to whatever machine you want. Due to its smaller footprint and less junk that comes with it (or no junk, it’s up to you), it requires minimal specs and power to run. It can run comfortably on a Pentium Pro with 64MB of RAM, and still function as a desktop OS (just slowly, but not as slow as you think). I have my custom image on a 5 year old laptop with an Athlon 2600+ and 512MB RAM – and it has (here is the best part) 6.5 hours of battery life! Now, that’s amazing given that at the time it was quoted at 4 hours at best.

Are there any disadvantages to this, the magical componentized version of XP? Well, yes, actually. If you want to run it for longer than 120 days you have to shell out just shy of $1000 for the dev tools, and $90 for each install you do with your custom image. You do get 10 years of service and support from Microsoft. Other than that it just takes time. My first go at it took almost 7 hours, but now I can build a deployable image in under 3 hours.

If you found this even remotely interesting stay tuned for my next article: “Windows CE, the Desktop OS”. If your idea of a fun afternoon is compiling your favorite OS from source, and you like living on the alternative edge, then this one is going to blow your mind!


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