February 07, 2001, 10:56 AM — MICROSOFT HAS FORMED an alliance with 10 leading semiconductor makers with the aim of improving microprocessor support for its next-generation Windows CE operating system, according to Kim Akers, the director of marketing for the embedded and appliance platform group at Microsoft.
The Windows Embedded Strategic Silicon Alliance (WESSA), which will be officially unveiled Tuesday at the Microsoft Developer's Conference in Las Vegas, allows member companies access to the source code of Windows CE 3.0. By getting their hands on the source code, the companies will be able to better customize microprocessors to run the new operating system, which is also known by the code name Talisker.
Although opening the source code of an operating system is becoming more common for companies, such as Sun Microsystems, which opened parts of its Solaris OS to developers last year, one analyst questioned just how far a traditionally secretive company like Microsoft will go.
"Opening up the source code is real popular, because everyone wants to be like Linux now, but Microsoft doesn't have a really good history of doing that," explained Linley Gwennap, the principal analyst at the Mountain View, Calif.-based Linley Group.
Paul Zorfass, a senior analyst for embedded systems at IDC in Framingham, Mass., feels Microsoft will have to open WinCE's source code at least enough to allow WESSA members to carve out their own improvements to the OS.
"I think they will have to open the code, because in the embedded and appliance market areas we have industrial and consumer devices where the software is so interwoven with the hardware as a firmware that there will be a requirement for [Microsoft] to do some show and tell and for the chip builders to be able to modify and reflect the optimization they have done in their chips," Zorfass said.
Akers said that Microsoft will work with WESSA members to optimize its silicon to the individual components of WinCE such as the browser component, or the TCIP component, and that WESSA members would not be making modifications to WinCE.
"If you use an ARM processor, and you pick that component [of WinCE], all of the latest ARM technology will already be incorporated into the CE OS," Akers said.
The 10 charter members of WESSA are ARM, Alchemy Semiconductor, Cirrus Logic, Hitachi, Intel, MIPS Technologies, National Semiconductor, NEC, Texas Instruments, and Toshiba.
Since it launched Version 2.0 of the Windows CE operating system in 1997, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft has been facing fierce competition in the operating system space. Although several companies have licensed Palm's OS for their PDAs, a growing number of prototype devices have also been shown running a version of the free Linux OS, and some competitors, such as Sharp, have been using OSes developed in-house.