Microsoft woos hobbyist developers

Company is trying to boost interest in noncommercial software development around Windows Embedded CE 6.0 R2 and Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition.

Microsoft is trying to foster more interest in embedded software, encouraging amateur developers to experiment with programmable components in devices from toasters to televisions.

The "Spark Your Imagination" developer program for hobbyists and academics was announced at the Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose, Calif., on Tuesday. In a joint agreement between Microsoft and hardware makers, the company said it is trying to boost interest in noncommercial software development around Windows Embedded CE 6.0 R2 and Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition.

News of Microsoft's focus on individual hobbyists and academic teams in this area of technology comes after reports over the last couple of years suggesting that embedded software development typically occurs in small, close-knit teams. The company said it is now focused on fueling the future talent pool for this segment of software development.

"We are aiming to remove the barriers that hobbyists and academics have faced in the past, by allowing them access to the best software and hardware that can be developed together into smart, connected, service-oriented devices, such as home-control systems that collect and share data between sensors, home appliances, and media or communication devices," Frank Prengel, a Microsoft Windows Embedded developer evangelist, told CNET News.com sister site ZDNet UK on Wednesday.

Under the banner of its , Microsoft already provides some software for students in the embedded technology and design fields. Through the new program, additional offerings will include a full version of Windows Embedded CE 6.0 R2 and Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition, along with selected boards from participating hardware vendors, at a discounted price.

As part of this announcement, Microsoft said it now offers Board Support Package (BSP) certification free of charge. This qualification guarantees compatibility with the Microsoft's designated Windows Embedded CE operating system requirements.

The initial list of hardware vendors participating in the program includes Advantech, ICOP Digital, Keith & Koep, Via Technologies, and Special Computing. The program offerings have an estimated retail value of $1,300 and are available immediately worldwide at prices ranging from $250 to $350.

Adrian Bridgwater of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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