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Microsoft hits embedded market

Microsoft will outline plans for adapting Windows NT to embedded use, in point-of-sale devices and similar settings.

Microsoft has long hinted it might jump into embedded systems software, but that flirtation has now become more of a reality, potentially shaking up a market largely comprising small and unknown players.

At an embedded systems trade show today in San Jose, Microsoft will announce Windows NT Embedded 4.0, and will detail its strategy to adapt its corporate-use Windows NT operating system for "embedded" settings such as point-of-sale devices, office and industrial automation, and even as the underlying software for networking equipment. The embedded version of NT is slated to enter beta testing in the first quarter of next year, according to Microsoft.

Though companies such as Wind River Systems have cultivated a devoted following due to the reliability and so-called real-time nature of their software, Microsoft's entry is likely to change the competitive landscape while catching Wall Street's eye. Earlier this year, after Microsoft floated the idea that it might add a more full-featured firewall to its software offerings, shares of Check Point Software Technologies, a leader in the firewall market, plummeted.

Leaders in providing embedded software for use in third-party equipment include Wind River, Radisys, and QNX Software Systems. Sun Microsystems has also dipped into this market, recently unveiling Java-based software for embedded settings.

The Redmond, Washington-based software giant will formally announce its plans at the Embedded Systems Conference. The launch will include the support of several third-parties in the embedded world, according to sources.

Microsoft has made no secret that it has been eyeing embedded systems software as an arena for extending the use of its Windows operating system. The company has already detailed plans to make its Windows CE OS a component in various consumer-oriented devices. The embedded NT launch will focus on the high-end side of the equation.

Microsoft is touting integration as one of Embedded NT's selling points. The company says that since the embedded version of NT shares the same Win32 application programming interface (API) as its other operating systems, developers can more easily link embedded systems into applications based on Microsoft BackOffice and other software from the company.

Microsoft currently has a development deal with embedded tools provider VenturCom, announced in June.