Interview With Mike Hall

Mike Hall, Technical Product Manager for the Mobile and Embedded Devices Group at Microsoft, was gracious enough to answer some questions over email about Windows CE, XP Embedded, and the direction of the product lines.

Rick: Right now, the line between XP Embedded and Windows CE as an embedded platform seems to be mostly hardware related.  What’s your “short answer” to the question: Should I use CE or XPe for new projects in the embedded space? 

Mike: Windows CE is a hard real-time, componentized operating system with great power management, designed for small footprint, real-time embedded systems. Windows CE should be used when you’re building a large number of consumer electronics or mobile devices, typically, these devices need to use custom hardware to reduce ther overall bill of materials on the system, OEM’s in the consumer electronics space are looking to save dollars and cents on their device design, building a device based on Windows CE provides the OEM the ability to tweak the hardware and software to meet their needs. Also, a system that needs “hard real time” out of the box.

Rick: If these systems are competing in the same space, do you see XPe overtaking CE as mobile and embedded hardware becomes more powerful?  ( I know this issue was skirted in some of the MEDC podcasts, just looking for another angle) 

Mike: Interesitng question, more powerful isn’t the issue here, more devices are becoming portable and are combining flexibility, think of a Windows Mobile 5.0 device, it’s a phone, a media player, your inbox, calendar, web browser, and game player, and, can also run your own custom applicaitons – The more powerful the processor you put into a device the more power needed to run the device, and the more issues you have around cooling. So, I see there’s a place for Windows CE *and* Windows XP Embedded. 

Rick: You seem to be very effectively leveraging blogs, podcasting, and RSS to connect with developers.  Can you give any hints as to when and how RSS technologies might actually make it into CE, XPe, and the Windows Mobile OS, or is this being left to 3rd party developers? 

Mike: Good question, blogging, podcasting, MSDN Channel 9 are great ways to have a real conversation with people that are interested in the technologies we’re working on, Windows CE, Windows Mobile, and Windows XP Embedded all contain the “core” functionality needed for applicaiton developers to write their own RSS readers to a device, in fact, there are already a number of examples of blog/podcast clients for Windows Mobile – FeederReader is a good example of this. There’s a large and thriving applicaiton development community living around the Windows Desktop and Windows Mobile/Embedded platforms – it’s great to see that developers are already building blogging tools and RSS/Podcast readers for mobile and embedded devices.

Rick: What other Mobile & Embedded bloggers should developers subscribe to? 

Mike: check out the web site, there are a number of mobile and embedded bloggers out there at Microsoft, and a number of 3rd party blogs that are really interesting to read about Mobile and Embedded technologies. 

Rick: Any chance of getting Ya-Quin Zhang or any of the other senior leadership in the group to start blogging?
Mike: I would LOVE to get some of the senior leadership blogging, perhaps a way to get started is to schedule a regular podcast interview with these guys – this would give you the ability to ask “live” questions and also have the interview broadcast to the wider audience. 

Rick: How would you convince a college student working on an embedded device for a class project that CE is a better choice then Embedded Linux?  Could you point to an inexpensive reference board that would be a good fit for beginners, hobbyists & students? 

Mike: ok, let’s take a look at the Windows Embedded Student Challenge ( ), there are over 250 teams worldwide that are taking part in this years competition, which is great to see, all the teams are using Windows CE, and an x86 based reference board from a company called ICOP that’s pretty low cost but also has a fairly good spec.

Rick: Other than the “Developer Experience” that we’ve heard so much about, what are some other advantages that CE and XPe have over Embedded Linux, Symbian, and the other competitors? 

Mike: There are perhaps a number of reasons, it’s not just about the developer tools (although they are excellent!) – evaluation kits for Windows CE and Windows XP Embedded are available free to download from – it’s also about the breadth of technologies, speed of development, cost of development, support, training, 3rd parties that can provide technologies to assist your project, and the fact that both Windows CE and Windows XP Embedded have a really well known API, if you can code for the desktop you can also develop for Windows CE, Windows Mobile, and Windows XP Embedded. Plus, there are a TON of developers out there that build Windows applications and solutions every day – all of these developers could write code for embedded systems without any learning curve – so it’s more than tools, it cost of development, time to market, support, the eco-system that lives around Windows Embedded techologies and the fact that the entire development process is ‘familiar’.

Rick: What is the most common reason you hear for people choosing competing platforms, and how is Microsoft working to address that? 

Mike: There’s an assumption that other operating systems are free, but what exactly does that mean, sure I can download some source from somewhere, but I also need to build the tool chain to build/debug the operating system, and am then in the operating system business, you are responsible for the up-keep of the code you’ve downloaded – I’m pretty sure most OEM’s are interested in adding their value to an operating system rather than being in the operating system business themselves. If you look at answer #4, and also read the *interesting* thread from my blog –