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Windows XP for devices coming Nov. 28

Microsoft sets the release date for Windows XP Embedded, the next version of the company's software designed for devices such as slot machines, cash registers and set-top boxes.

Microsoft has set Nov. 28 as the release date for Windows XP Embedded, the next version of the company's software designed for devices such as slot machines, cash registers and set-top boxes.

The company will release the product at its Windows Embedded Developers Conference in Las Vegas, said Kelly Meagher, a product manager for Microsoft's Embedded Platform Group.

The software is one of a host of "embedded" operating systems for use in special-purpose devices, with three for sale now and another three in development. But Microsoft says there's a plan to this profusion.

"We do have some areas of overlap, but we'd rather have overlap than gaping holes," Meagher said.

Microsoft's rival Linux is used in all these areas, though backers such as Red Hat haven't won over many mainstream companies. In the embedded market, companies such as Wind River are the better-established competitors.

The XP Embedded release date meets a deadline set by Microsoft for the product to arrive within 90 days of Windows XP, the new PC version of the company's operating system that shares the same code base as XP Embedded.

Though Windows XP officially is scheduled to debut on Oct. 25, it's available now on computers from Compaq, Dell and Gateway.

Several products using XP Embedded will be shown at launch, and several of them will actually be available, Meagher said. XP Embedded is expected to be used in Bally Gaming's casino video games, Fujitsu-Siemens' set-top boxes and Siemens' factory robots, Microsoft has said.

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Other products under development include basic computers from Wyse and a cash register from an Israeli company called Retalix, Meagher said. And National Semiconductor is working on a Web appliance and a residential gateway--essentially a home server that connects PCs and other devices to an Internet connection, she said.

Although a special-purpose operating system such as XP Embedded could be used for gaming consoles, Microsoft's upcoming Xbox doesn't use it, Meagher said. Instead, the video game machine uses a customized version of Windows 2000, she said.

Microsoft released a second beta trial version of XP Embedded in Sept. 4. With XP Embedded, Microsoft is moving to an approach in which all its operating systems are variations of the same code base.

The oldest among Microsoft's various embedded operating systems is a version of Windows NT 4. Also in the collection is Windows CE, currently in version 3.0 but soon to be replaced by the "Talisker" edition, for use in handheld computers.

Microsoft's Server Appliance Kit lets computer makers create customized versions of Windows 2000 for special-purpose servers. In the future, the company plans an embedded server version of XP as well.

The embedded version of XP for servers, still called by its code name of Whistler Server Embedded, will be released within 90 days of the server version of Windows XP, called Windows .Net Server, Meagher said.

XP Embedded will include several programming tools to aid in the creation of embedded devices:

• Target Designer will help programmers select which of 10,000 available components will be used in the device's operating system or select from preassembled collections for particular devices such as set-top boxes.

• Component Designer lets developers create new components particular to their devices.

• Target Analyzer checks what hardware a device has and assembles necessary software, such as video card drivers.

• Component Database Manager lets a company keep track of what software components are used in its various XP Embedded products.