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Microsoft begins embedded NT beta

Microsoft rolls out the first beta release of its Windows NT Embedded 4.0 operating system to more than 350 testing sites and expands the testing program.

Microsoft today rolled out the first beta release of its Windows NT Embedded 4.0 operating system to more than 350 testing sites and expanded the beta testing program.

As reported earlier, Windows NT Embedded 4.0 is for "embedded" settings such as point-of-sale devices, office and industrial automation, and even as the underlying software for networking equipment. Today's release follows November's alpha release.

The entry of the Redmond, Washington-based giant into the embedded platform area could potentially shake up the market largely made up of small and unknown players, according to observers.

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. Last 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.

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 said the combination of Windows CE operating system and Windows NT Embedded 4.0 targets systems in the mid- and high-end of the industry such as high-speed copiers, patient monitors, private branch exchanges, and other embedded systems.

Other new features in the new platform include support for headless operation--in which no mouse, keyboard, or display devices are required; diskless operations, in which users can operate from read-only media such as CD-ROMS or FLASH; and remote management infrastructure.