Saturday, July 12, 2014

Will Windows IoT And Galileo Survive The Corporate Curse

Microsoft and Intel are corporate powerhouses that have nearly unmatchable R&D and marketing budgets. But those budgets don't always translate into success. Microsoft just announced a new push to participate in the Internet of Things (IoT), and Intel released the Arduino-compatible Galileo development board powered by the Quark microcontroller (MCU) in October 2013 to
participate in the 'maker' movement.

A June 11 post on Microsoft's blog introduced their Windows Developer program for IoT. The post explains the new program this way:
"...we’ve begun rolling out a new Windows Developer Program for IoT. Through this program we are introducing a new Windows Developer for IoT Portal, with documentation and examples to support the developer kits we are starting to ship in small batches. These developer kits include a Galileo board and preview Windows image that supports the standard Arduino Wiring API set and a subset of Win32 API. This Windows image does not yet support Galileo boards outside of our program. We are putting out the developer kit in preview to gather feedback...We’re sharing this toolkit to find out what folks think, see what kinds of cool things you build with it and learn how to make Windows ever-better on this class of devices. To make things even easier, Microsoft Open Technologies has open sourced much of the toolkit..."
Paul Thurott published a post on WinSuperSite titled, "With SDK Release, a Better Understanding of Windows IoT," covering the Microsoft announcement about their IoT SDK. Paul's post goes into a lot more detail than the Microsoft post, including pointing out three reasons this new Microsoft initiative for an embedded OS might be different from their previous efforts at a Windows product for embedded devices.
Quark microcontroller / SoC
"...this is basically just another stab at a version of Windows aimed at embedded devices...let's step back for a moment and examine the Internet of Things (IoT) and a planned Microsoft product that sort of called Windows for the Internet of Things (Windows IoT)...Intel's Galileo development required if you want to get started with Windows IoT development today. It's based around a (32-bit) x86 System on a Chip (SoC) design, called Quark, meaning it is a modern and miniature PC chip. (It's roughly analogous to a Pentium CPU, but in a tiny 5mm design.)...If you're familiar with Microsoft's various embedded OSes, all of which are in fact based on Windows to one degree or another, you may be wondering what the big deal is here. I guess I'd say it's three-fold. First, these devices—whatever they may be—can run real Windows apps, and that means that developers can leverage their existing skills...Second, for (basically) the first time an embedded version of Windows is running on real Intel hardware, so there's no porting involved. Up until now—and, yes, Microsoft will continue to support its other embedded efforts—these sort-of Windows systems ran on non-Intel hardware...And third, for the first time a Microsoft embedded OS is designed exclusively for an interconnected world."
Two challenges exist for both the Windows IoT and the Galileo board to gain significant market share in the IoT world.
  1. Microsoft and Intel need to be serious about making these tools better than existing tools for the IoT, and about participating in the maker movement, and must support their current products be for the long term, not just for a year or two.
  2. IoT companies and developers, as well as hackers and makers, must be convinced to use the Wintel software / hardware combo in significant numbers. If they don't see good reasons to switch, they'll just stick with non-Intel microcontrollers (primarily ARM-based) and use firmware and software from companies other than Microsoft.
Intel Edison
In June 2014, Intel announced the Edison, a development board that's much smaller than the Galileo and focused primarily on wearable computing. Light Reading's post on the Edison says, "its Edison compute module...will be aimed at professional device makers and entrepreneurs, rather than amateur builders, as Intel's current Galileo development platform is." If you want to read more about the Edison, check out the ZDNet article, "Intel's vision of our wearable future: From onesies to wetsuits." The article gives this slant on the Edison's design for wearable computing:
"...Intel is developing several platforms, including Edison, a system on a chip processor with integrated wi-fi, Bluetooth, memory, and storage. Edisons are the size of an SD card, small enough to be integrated with clothing, and a recently-upgraded model includes a sensor hub that almost any kind of sensor can be connected to. Along with Edison, Intel also offers Galileo, slightly larger and compatible with the Arduino software platform, which can perhaps provide the company with ideas it can take to its partners to develop wearables based on its technology. Galileo boards are designed to work with the open-source Arduino software platform, which can use sensor information to control devices — useful for participants in the Intel Make it Wearable Challenge, a contest that the company has been running for the past months in order to see what wearable enthusiasts come up with, with the grand prize winner set to be awarded $500,000...While it can only be considered a 'wearable' to a certain extent, because the actual sensor device is detachable, Intel is aiming for technology that is actually woven into clothing and accessories."
At this early stage of the game, it's impossible to say if Windows IoT and the Galileo board will escape the corporate curse of being far outside the companies' traditional business model and way of thinking. Both companies have experienced challenges when trying to gain market share in recent emerging technologies or sectors, e.g. search engines, music players, smart phones and other mobile computing devices. Microsoft and Intel may provide enough free and low-cost development kits to convince developers, hackers and makers to start creating Wintel MCU projects. Or the two companies could have technical breakthroughs that give their products a performance advantage over other options. It's now up to Intel and Microsoft to show the IoT and MCU communities good reasons to try out their equipment.

If you want to sign up for the Windows IoT program and possibly receive a free Galileo development board, head over to the Microsoft sign-up site for Windows IoT. And good luck!


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