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Windows NT on new horizons

An effort to tailor the Windows NT corporate operating system for specific industry uses in "embedded" devices continues to gain momentum.

DENVER--An effort to tailor Microsoft's Windows NT corporate operating system for specific industry uses continues to gain momentum, with executives expounding on the benefits of a Windows-based approach to real-time settings.

The company is hoping to extend the reach of its NT operating system to all corners of the corporate world for "embedded" devices, including the largest server systems, the workstation market, and more specifically designed machines such as a hospital's patient-monitoring apparatus.

The so-called Impala Project hopes to add and subtract the appropriate functions within NT's sprawling code so that it is sufficient to handle the needs of the embedded world. The work, which executives say is based on version 4.0 of NT, will result in additions to NT's technology without requiring another release of the operating system for the embedded market.

Embedded operating systems run in a slew of devices for a variety of specific uses, such as sales, health care, and networking. A plethora of companies offer software in this area, including the likes of QNX Software Systems and WindRiver Systems.

Microsoft is likely sizing up the opportunity for a packaged version of NT for embedded settings, waiting to see what kind of reaction comes with initial deployments. The company has already made big bets on the "small-footprint" Windows CE operating system, though the company has targeted that for consumer devices and set-top boxes, not the corporate world.

Bruce Beachman, a program manager for Windows NT, said the current project hopes to solve several problems facing NT in the embedded world: how to strip its functions to fit specific embedded needs, how to improve the stability and reliability of the software, and how to increase performance, among others.

That work has been buttressed by a licensing arrangement with VenturCom, announced in June. The combination will not necessarily result in a final product, but a set of options that Microsoft will sell to users who want a Windows-based operating system for embedded settings.

"We don't have a product effort underway, we're working on a project," Beachman told a hall filled with developers here.

Subsequent licensing and pricing details based on forthcoming features for embedded NT use will be based on the set of functions desired by customers within the software, Beachman said, noting that the structure will be different from the model used for the full-featured version of NT.

Current versions of NT have gained wide acceptance within departments of corporations, but a pesky "blue screen of death"-essentially a signal that the software has crashed-has been one among several issues that have hampered Microsoft's ability to sell the operating system as an industrial-strength alternative to Unix or mainframe systems.

"We do need to increase the reliability of Windows NT," Beachman noted.

During a question and answer session following Beachman's presentation, one developer who uses QNX noted the current state of NT as compared to more established embedded alternatives. "I think real-time NT has a lot of work to do," the programmer said.