By Steve Gereb, Sr. Director, Embedded Software & Services Group (ESSG)
John Coyne, group manager and technical leader for the OEM engineering and services team within the Windows Embedded business group at Microsoft, has a busy schedule working and collaborating with some of the industry’s most innovative OEMS. John took time out of his busy schedule to share some of his insights into the embedded business and what Microsoft is doing on the embedded front as Microsoft evolves toward a “devices and services” company, positions itself for growth within the expanding intelligent systems market, and works to transition customers to the “modern platform” of Windows 8.
Q: There’s a lot going on at Microsoft these days. But first, tell us a little about your role at Microsoft OED and your goals for FY’14.
John Coyne: I manage the Americas Account Technology Strategy team for Windows Embedded OEM. We are chartered to support our OEMs and partners as they design Windows Embedded solutions into their products. For FY’14, we will focus on Windows 8 and 8.1 devices in the market, and continue to deliver the intelligent systems message, as Microsoft engages in devices and services solutions.
Q: The industry is buzzing about the notion of “intelligent systems”—a term that Microsoft helped invent and popularize. To you, what does it mean to be an “intelligent system” and how can Microsoft’s Windows Embedded help facilitate an OEM’s transformation?
John: Intelligent systems means many things to many people. At a base level, you have a device that collects or relays data. That data, in past lives, would just live “somewhere,” often times having to be manually aggregated and analyzed, which doesn’t scale. As we move forward, the concept involves using things like cloud services to host data aggregation points (databases) and being able to perform analytics on the data, so that people can achieve actionable results from that data—automatically.
Think of Windows Embedded as many endpoints out there: a kiosk, a digital sign, a sensor array on a manufacturing floor, etc. Each of these devices collects mountains of data that can help bring efficiency up in manufacturing or correlate sales data for retail, patient care information for healthcare, and the like—literally, millions of endpoints all with bits of data to gain insight from.
Q: Windows Embedded 8 [the componentized version of Windows 8 specific for dedicated embedded applications] has been a much anticipated addition to the Microsoft portfolio. As engineers contemplate their next embedded design, what do you see as the primary technical advantages that Windows Embedded 8 (WE8) offers an OEM customer, especially when comparing to competitive operating systems like Linux?
John: With the Windows Embedded 8 family, we have multiple offerings to meet the needs of our partners. Some benefits include the ability to exclude features of Windows that you’re not going to use (by way of componentization) and the ability to lock the device down for specific functions, both in a mouse/keyboard world as well as a touch environment. We can help partners remove the Windows look and feel of the device, in favor of their own experience, including the logo branding and such. Our filtering technology allows OEMs to create stateless operating environments, ensuring that the device maintains an end-to-end experience each and every time the device boots and ensures no changes to the device.
OEMs can combine these options to create a best-in-class device that meets all their needs, while maintaining the Windows development environment. With Windows 8, we have the familiar Win32 “legacy” API as well as the new WinRT API, which are both supported on the same device. You also can use a combination of the modern UI and legacy UI, depending on your specific need.
Q: As “Big Windows” looks to roll out Windows 8.1, what does that mean for WE8?
John: Windows Embedded will also offer 8.1 versions in our Windows Embedded Industry and Windows Embedded Pro families. These operating systems will be released along the same time frame as Windows 8.1 for the desktop, laptop and tablet.
Q: At Avnet, we are certainly seeing much interest from customers around WE8; however, some customers are not comfortable designing with WE8 because of complications around OEM activation. Can you please describe the nuances around OEM activation for WE8, how it differs from previous WES versions and what words of advice you have to help customers get over the “activation” hurdle?
John: While yes, we have brought the Windows product activation method into the Windows Embedded world, this brings an added level of security for our customers, ensuring a genuine Windows experience. With the lines between hardware and software blurring, it’s possible for an entire solution (OS + applications) to be pirated by the less-than-honorable folks out there. Product activation ensures a genuine experience for both Microsoft and our partners. While this adds some technical actions for OEMs, the longer term benefit outweighs the upfront work. We have multiple ways to help with activation, and if an OEM is experiencing challenges, I’d suggest working with the Avnet and Microsoft technical teams to help.
Q: You talk to a lot of customers in your travels. What are some of the most common misconceptions that you hear about Windows Embedded? What are some of the best kept secrets about Windows Embedded technology that many customers are not aware of that you would like to share?
John: One of the most common misconceptions that I hear from customers is that they have to “completely re-do their devices to use Windows Embedded.” The short reply I give is that this is still Windows. And while you have to do some configuration to achieve a fully locked-down experience, the applications and services generally port over with little to no effort. The upshot—you can lock down a device and still use all of the familiar APIs that developers have come to count on, as well as all of the enterprise features of Windows, such as Domain Join, Group Policy, etc.
One of the best kept secrets—and one we’re trying to not have be a secret anymore—is that this product is not the Windows Embedded of yesteryear. No longer do we require a lot of up front dev work to get a platform up and running. An OEM or developer can literally have a platform up and running for test in a manner of about 45 minutes! We are continually striving to shorten the design cycle for our partners.
A little more about John Coyne
John Coyne is the Americas’ Group Manager for OEM Engineering and Services for Embedded Business at Microsoft. John got his start in the electronics industry in his youth, working alongside his father on various communications projects, as well as a humble beginning in distribution as a local delivery driver for a distributor. John has been in the computing industry for the past 17 years, servicing various customer bases, including consumer, enterprise and industrial. John’s travels most recently (the last 13 years) have found him working in the embedded space. He has worked with the Microsoft Embedded distribution base in the Americas, assisting customers in the digital signage, medical, entertainment, industrial automation and retail verticals, to name a few. Prior to joining Microsoft in 2007, John was a Microsoft MVP , in the embedded operating system discipline.
Steve Gereb is Sr. Director of Avnet’s Embedded Software & Services Group (ESSG), responsible for driving the embedded software and software services business for Avnet across the Electronics Marketing and Technology Solutions divisions within the Americas. As a graduate of St. Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif., Steve has spent the past 20 years within distribution (the last 8+ years with Avnet) supporting the design, manufacturing and supply chain needs of OEMs, ISVs and VARs while also fostering strategic relationships with the industry’s leading technology providers such as Microsoft, Wind River, Red Hat, Intel and others. Steve is a contributor to IntelligentSystem.com.