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Which is best for your application — Windows CE or Windows XP Embedded? Microsoft has published a whitepaper to assist developers in answering that question. The paper begins with an overview of each of the two Windows Embedded OSes, and then presents a variety of factors and decision criteria in areas such as OS features, development tools, support for the .NET Framework (and Compact Framework) and…

Web services, and the type of device or application being developed.

In this article, we provide several exerpts from the whitepaper which highlight key aspects of the OS decision process. A link for downloading the full whitepaper is provided at the conclusion of this article.

Selected excerpts from . . .

Which to Choose:
Comparing Microsoft Windows CE and Windows XP Embedded

Microsoft Corporation
July 2003

From the introduction . . .

Windows XP Embedded is designed to deliver the power of Windows in componentized form, enabling you to rapidly build reliable and advanced embedded devices. Windows CE. NET combines an advanced, real-time embedded operating system with powerful tools for rapidly creating the next generation of smart, connected, and small-footprint devices. Each operating system ships with a complete integrated development environment, with support for a wide range of existing hardware, application development tools, and third-party value-added applications and services.

Device-Specific Considerations

The features and functionality typically required for specific device categories can help you choose between Windows XP Embedded and Windows CE.

Table 1 provides examples of some of the device categories that can be powered by the Windows Embedded family of operating system software. In some cases, however, Windows CE and Windows XP Embedded may provide comparable support for a targeted device, so your choice should be determined by comparing your specific design requirements with the features offered by Windows CE or Windows XP Embedded respectively.

Table 1:
Recommended Windows Embedded Operating System
by Device Category

Targeted Device Windows XP Embedded Windows CE
Mobile Clients
Internet and Media Appliances
PC Companions
Digital Cameras
Printers and Scanners
Thin Clients
Retail Point-of-Sale (RPOS) Devices
Windows-Based Terminals
Connected Clients
Basic Set-top Boxes
Advanced Set-top Boxes
Basic Residential Gateways and Servers
Advance Residential Gateways and Home Servers
Industrial Controls
Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Phones

Devices such as mobile handhelds and basic residential gateways require a small footprint, efficient power management, and remote management capabilities along with the ability to deliver rich user experiences, making Windows CE the recommended operating system for smart, connected and small-footprint devices.

Devices such as advanced set-top boxes and retail point-of-sale clients require the latest security and reliability features, familiar and powerful Windows features, and are less restricted in terms of footprint. Windows XP Embedded is the recommended operating system for delivering the power of Windows in componentized form.

The latest versions of Windows CE and Windows XP Embedded are optimized to support a variety of device-specific platforms, including ATMs, thin clients, gateways and set-top boxes. For detailed information about these platforms, visit the Windows Embedded Device Platforms Web site.

Decision Criteria for Choosing a Windows Embedded Operating System

To help you select the most suitable Windows Embedded operating system software, you may want to consider your device design in terms of the following features and functionality:

  • CPU Architecture — Are you using an x86 or non-x86 CPU? If you are using an X86 CPU, you can use either Windows CE or Windows XP Embedded. If you are using a non-X86 CPU, then you must use Windows CE, which supports four families of microprocessors, including:
    • ARM — Examples of supported processors include ARM720T, ARM920T, ARM1020T, StrongARM, and XScale.
    • MIPS — Supported processors include MIPS II/32 with FP, MIPS II/32 without FP, MIPS16, MIPS IV/64 with FP, and MIPS IV/64 without FP.
    • SHx — Supported processors include SH-3, SH-3 DSP, and SH-4.
    • X86 — Supported processors include 486, 586, Geode, and Pentium I, II, III, and IV.

    Additionally, heat dissipation concerns will affect both CPU selection and operating system. If heat dissipation is a concern, and you select a non-X86 processor as a result, then Windows CE is the only choice for your device.

  • Real-Time Support — Does your device require real-time support? Both Windows CE and Windows XP Embedded support real-time performance. Windows CE is inherently a hard real-time operating system. While Windows XP Embedded is not inherently a real-time operating system, you can easily add real-time capabilities and optimize Windows XP Embedded to meet your real-time needs with readily available third-party solutions.
  • Win32-based Applications — Does your device design take advantage of Win32-based applications? If your device will make use of existing Win32-based applications and drivers without modification, use Windows XP Embedded. Win32 applications and drivers must be modified to run on Windows CE.
  • Operating System RAM Configuration — How much RAM will your device include, and what is the corresponding device image footprint requirement? Both Windows CE and Windows XP Embedded are componentized to enable you to create small or managed footprint designs. The minimum footprint for Windows CE is less than 350 KB, while the minimum footprint for Windows XP Embedded is approximately 8 MB. Footprint requirements are an important factor when choosing between Windows CE and Windows XP Embedded.

Figure 1 provides decision criteria that can help you choose whether Windows CE or Windows XP Embedded is optimized for your specific device requirements.

Figure 1:
Decision Matrix for Choosing
Windows XP Embedded or Windows CE

Windows CE and Windows XP Embedded differ primarily in regard to processor support, real-time support, application portability and footprint. If it appears after reviewing this overview that your device requirements can be met by either Windows Embedded operating system, you can find more detailed information at the Windows CE Web site and the Windows XP Embedded Web site.

Read the full whitepaper here . . .

Which to Choose:
Comparing Microsoft Windows CE and Windows XP Embedded

(150KB download, Word file)

Copyright 2003 Microsoft Corp. All rights reserved. This article was initially published here. Reproduced by with permission.

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