There are many scenarios in the computing world, where a full featured operating system just doesn’t make sense: Take Set-Top-Boxes, Multimedia-Player or digital photo frames. Take public internet terminals (at an airport). Take the TV in your living room, even! This is where WES 7, Windows Embedded 7 Standard, comes in. Find out here what it is.
Preston VanderWeyst, Software Development Engineer, starts his session off with the goal of WES 7: Microsoft wants to be a major player in the market of standalone devices designed for multimedia. An example of such a device would be the WD HD Media Player – a cute little box handling all sorts of video and music files. The problem with these sort of devices is: They aren’t very customizable and run their own proprietary piece of software. Wouldn’t it be cool to have all the power and freedom of Windows 7 on such machine?
So what is WES 7?
WES 7 is a “modularized” version of Windows 7. With the help of the WES 7 toolkit, you can strip the Windows 7 foundation of any unnecessary features – about 160 features can be removed using the toolkit. The user chooses which features he wants and needs for his specific WES 7 scenario. Same thing with drivers: All the Windows 7 RTM Driver Packages can be removed in order to save hard-disk space and keep the WES 7 as slim as possible.
The picture above shows that you can reduce Windows 7 to about 600 Mbytes (x86, 32-Bit) or 850 Mbytes (x64, 64-Bit) and still have a functional operating system that you can use to install and start applications.
Let us give you an example: A user can only choose to install the wireless technology, the .NET 3.5 SP1 Framework, Internet Explorer and nothing else – and still have a functional OS. However, as you know, Windows 7 is an operating system FULL of dependencies. Preston showed us a small portion of the internal Windows 7 dependencies on the big screen:
Let’s “zoom in”: Programs like Windows Media Player and Media Center are dependent on dozens of features, like network services, codec support, and the diagnostic and troubleshooting feature-set in order to function properly.
Another great example is Internet Explorer: You can’t just go ahead and uninstall the entire Internet Explorer and all its dependencies features. Take a look yourself:
Why? There are many other applications out there that access sub-features like the “IE Core” or the “Graphic Platform” to display their content. If you never used these kinds of clients, you’re good. If you depend on them, you have an unusable machine after you’ve stripped your custom Windows 7 version of these features. This is why Microsoft doesn’t just provide the tool to remove these features, but also added a dependency checker software.
It’s getting “ICEy”
In order to strip Windows 7 of specific features, Microsoft offers a toolkit which includes the necessary software: “ICE” or Image Configuration Editor. Using this, you can create a so called answer file that you can use to install Windows 7 Embedded and specifically leave out these features that you don’t need. ICE also gives you an overview of the most important settings – like cache settings, computer name, custom shells, Explorer, browser start page etc. It’s a summary of many known settings that you can set before you install the custom Windows 7 version on the device.
The nice thing about ICE: When you’re about to remove a feature from your custom WES 7 install, it shows you all the dependencies. Also, you can analyze an installer file – say the setup file from Office 2010 – and see which Windows features you need to run Office on the machine. It is a great tool that we will diver deeper in a future blog post.
The Windows Embedded Standard 7 Evaluation Edtion is available right here. You need to fill in a little form to download the trial.
Why WES 7 for multimedia?
With WES 7 you can customize one single device as a Media Player device: Strip off any unnecessary Windows features that you don’t need on your MP device, for example Internet Explorer, BitLocker, or Windows Backup. You could even strip out the Media Player interface itself and program your own small-footprint player software that just uses the Media Player engine. This is what Preston did: He quickly programmed a window with a “Start” and “Stop” button that accesses the Media Player engine – obviously to proof his point.
I believe it is something we will see going forward: Multimedia-Device manufacturers don’t want to build an entire Windows-7-PC, they just want their set top box to start their own customized version of Media Center without the full-blown operating system behind this. This, of course, increases not only performance and reduces the memory footprint (both RAM and hard disk), it also increases security. The less attack vectors you have, the more secure your machine is. You can save a lot of money on hardware by building low-end systems that are able to run this stripped-down version of Windows.
Gaming is another prime example where Windows Embedded might be useful: A company could just build their own little gaming device, running WES with just the basic components required for games.
Bottom line: We are fascinated!
From a performance point of view, this is one of the most interesting things that Redmond’s software giant is working on right now. Yes, this is aimed at device manufacturers, but I will try Windows Embedded 7 out as soon as I get back home and see what potential this technology has: I have just recently dedicated an entire Windows 7 machine as a Media Center rig. However, it’s running the full-blown version of Windows 7 – I’m gonna see how well a totally stripped down version does with handling my movie, photo slideshow and video needs. I’ll report back with an interesting report. Stay tuned!
I am very excited to see many many multimedia devices running Windows Embedded in the future. As I mentioned at the beginning of my article, I used a WD TV and finally got rid of it and replaced it with a full-features Windows PC. Why? I needed more customization! I had files that the WD couldn’t play – or just played in low-quality. With Windows I was able to install all sorts of multimedia features, programs and codecs and have many more alternatives. So I’d like to see these devices come fully-functional, preinstalled and readily customziable at any time.
This concludes day 3 of TechEd 2010. I have a wonderful schedule tomorrow with lots of sessions to cover:
It’s gonna be a crazy and busy day, starting VERY early. Check back soon for more from N’Orleans!
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