Since seeing the great Windows Media Center solutions running on Windows Embedded at CES I wanted to have a look at what you could do with Windows Embedded. Last year Microsoft opened up the beta of Windows Embedded Standard Edition SP1 and so I downloaded a build to play with. There are a couple of different ways of installing Windows Embedded, one option is to have a development machine that you pick the individual Windows features such as IE, games, accessories etc and then create an image for you to roll out to multiple machines. The other way of doing it is to download an image and install it on your target machine, pick the features you want eg Windows Media Center and then Windows Embedded will create an custom build for your system. The installer has a list of templates you can pick from eg Thin Client or Set Top Box, so I picked Set Top Box and off it went and installed a just the components needed for an install of Window 7 including Windows Media Center.
After a couple of standard Windows 7 install questions like PC name and user name the PC rebooted and booted straight in to Windows Media Center, there was no IE, no Window Explorer just Windows Media Center, if fact there was no way of getting out of Media Center so this is a Windows TV device. Windows Media Center in Windows Embedded is exactly the same as in Windows 7, home group worked out of the box. I imagine I could have added some additional applications such as the Made For Media Center addin or TunerFreeMCE and come up with a great install of Media Center.
So this has given me a taste of what can be done with Windows Embedded, there are a ton of customisation options. You could pick extra features, drivers and change the configuration from the installer so you can easily see how an OEM can make a great device. OEMs also have access to special Windows Media Center customisation tools that give them a whole range of options to brand and customise the install, so its easy to see the possibilities . I installed all this on an old Sony Laptop so I am not talking about the hardware I was just curious about how Windows Embedded worked.
I am probably not doing a very good job explaining Windows Embedded and you can get a lot more information from Microsoft but from my initial messing around I can see the potential of the OS. Imagine getting a little Atom powered box and putting Windows Media Center on it without the rest of the Windows overhead (I nearly said rubbish) and connecting it up to your TV, you could have a really fast light weight system.
I can’t wait to try and build a little custom machine with Windows Embedded
More information from WindowsEmbedded.com
Installing WIndows Embedded
Picking the install option
Picking the Set Top Box option
Windows Media Center up and running
Ian Dixon is a Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional), founder of TheDigitalLifestyle.com tech site and producer of the weekly The Digital Lifestyle Show podcast. Ian has been writing and talking about Windows for over 10 years and has over 20 years in IT as an IT Manager. Ian has thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook and over 4 million views on his YouTube channel.