Microsoft: Jury still out on Linux - Embedded.com

Microsoft: Jury still out on Linux

Scott Horn, director of the Embedded Devices Group for Microsoft Corp. (Redmond, Wash.), is responsible for worldwide marketing of the software giant's Windows CE and Windows XP Embedded products. Horn, who holds a B.S. in information and computer science from Georgia Tech and an MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, is also responsible for the group's focused device efforts, including those aimed at VoIP phones, set-top boxes, point-of-sale machines, and thin client devices.

SHOW DAILY: Wind River recently announced it is embracing Linux. What role do you see Linux playing in the embedded world during the next few years?

HORN: It's too early to say. There are market spaces, such as in 8-bit and 16-bit, where there clearly is not much commercial operating system energy. In spaces like those, Linux is a reasonable solution, because the alternative is essentially develop it yourself.

My take on the Wind River announcement is that they are more of a services provider than a platform provider. So Linux makes sense for them.

But as far as our take on Linux: We run into it here and there, but with the exception of one or two devices, Linux has not had many successful high-volume designs at this point. So as far as we are concerned, the jury is still out on Linux.

SHOW DAILY: How is the embedded world changing and what's your vision for it the next few years?

HORN: We see it changing in a few ways. Right now, we're seeing the shift from in-house operating systems and in-house software to commercial off-the-shelf operating systems. That change has been accelerating lately.

We're also seeing a dramatic increase in the hardware processing capabilities for fixed dollar amounts. Today's PDAs, for example, have processing power that outstrips what PCs had five years ago.

Also, from an industry perspective, we're seeing dramatic growth in broadband wired and wireless adoption.

As a result of those changes, we're going to see a lot more cross-device scenarios the next few years. The ubiquity of digital media, the high speed you get with features like USB 2.0, and the processing power you get with today's 32-bit processors enable us to create those cross-product scenarios.

SHOW DAILY: How do your announcements for this week reflect that vision?

HORN: We're providing more reasons for people to shift to commercial off-the-shelf operating systems. With the introduction of Windows CE 5.0, we're giving developers a reason to make the shift by helping their productivity with out-of-the-box support for production-quality drivers. We're also focused on helping device manufacturers to innovate. We provide a platform and they provide the value and they add to the differentiation of their device.

SHOW DAILY: Your vision for the embedded world has always focused on 32-bit devices. Do you ever plan on moving up or down from there?

HORN: We're definitely moving up. Today, we already support 64-bit implementation. As our chip customers continue to move to 64 bits, we will go there with them. We have a number of silicon vendors on our campus in Redmond working side-by-side with us on that.

We don't see ourselves going down to the eight- and 16-bit space. We foresee 32-bit growing as a market segment in the next few years.

Our vision has been pretty consistent over the last four or five years. It's always been about connected devices, which was a pretty radical notion five years ago. We talked about a lot of rich applications being the key to device differentiation. We're still very focused on that. We're pretty happy where we are right now.

SHOW DAILY: Microsoft has always been behind the idea of the Internet in the automobile, but that concept seems to be losing its popularity right now. Do you see yourselves still playing a big role in automotive telematics?

HORN: Yes, absolutely. Over the last few years, we've seen that there's a significant portion of people's daily lives spent in cars. Clearly, there are new and interesting things they want to do from the cars. It might just be playing digital music from their homes or PCs. Or they might want location-based services, such as directions. Or they might want text-to-speech (software) to read them their daily calendar on the way to work.

We've never characterized this as an issue of the Internet in the car. We characterized this as an issue of connectivity in the car. That can mean a variety of things, and we think people will want to remain connected.

Do we think people in the front seat of a car will be browsing the Internet? That's open to question. Do we think people in the back seat will want to browse the Internet? We're hearing feedback saying that they might. But we don't like to characterize it as narrowly as the Internet in the car. We like to think of it as compelling experiences in the car.

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