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Microsoft releases Windows CE 6 beta

Company has redesigned the kernel to exponentially expand the capacity for simultaneous processes from 32 to 32,000.

Microsoft has unveiled a test version of its Windows CE 6 operating system for embedded devices.

The operating system is commonly used in set-top boxes, GPS (Global Positioning System) devices, PDAs, industrial automation and medical devices. Products with the new OS are expected next year.

Microsoft said it has redesigned the kernel, or heart of the OS, and exponentially expanded the capacity for simultaneous processes from 32 to 32,000.

This means developers can incorporate large numbers of complex applications into devices and offer advanced multimedia and Web services. Windows CE 6 does include features from older iterations of Windows CE, allowing device makers to keep previous investments in user interfaces, applications, middleware and drivers.

Microsoft also introduced an embedded development environment available via a plug-in for Visual Studio 2005. The move will encourage some 7 million Visual Studio developers worldwide to program for embedded devices, the company said.

As part of Microsoft's moves to counter open-source rivals like Linux in the embedded space, developers can also access millions of lines of Windows CE source code, under Microsoft's Shared Source Initiative.

Developers and device makers have the right to modify and distribute custom components with their Windows CE-based products. The shared source-code license also includes a flexible template that lets device makers create customized user interfaces to further differentiate their devices.

During its fiscal third quarter that ended March 31, Microsoft's revenue from the mobile and embedded business rose 46 percent to $89 million, compared to $61 million a year earlier. However, this market segment is still a tiny fraction of Redmond's total revenue, which was $10.9 billion in the same quarter.

Aaron Tan of ZDNet Asia reported from Singapore.