Every device that’s used to scan your item prices in a store, or mark your package as delivered, runs an embedded operating system. And right now, 99% of these “rugged” devices are running Windows Embedded 6, which was released in 2006. However, similar to the worry around XP a few years ago, Windows is ending support for this operating system in April 2018, leaving organizations like the Home Depot and the US Air Force wondering where to go from here.
Unfortunately, a Windows upgrade is not feasible. Windows Embedded 7 and 8, the latter of which was geared more towards consumers with its phone-like interface, require developers to rebuild apps that previously worked on version 6 from scratch. The upcoming Windows IoT has the same issues.
In an article for InfoWorld, Mark Kirstein, Senior Director of Enterprise Software at Zebra Technologies, explains difficulties that Home Depot had with Microsoft in particular:
Home Depot was the largest planned deployment of WE8HH [Windows Embedded 8 for Handhelds] , but never happened. I was driving/owning the Microsoft/MSI relationship during this announcement. [MSI is Motorola Solutions, which had bought Symbol and then got bought by Zebra later.]
The end result is Microsoft never delivered the OS on time when they committed to it, nor did it include the key requirements that were expected or needed for enterprise devices. Chipset vendors stopped supporting it, and then we were told we had to wait for Windows 10 to come out. Home Depot moved on, as well as dozens of other large enterprises.
Since migrating apps to a new version of Windows over and over again would cost too much money and headache dealing with Microsoft, enterprise developers are looking to the Android Open Source Project. There are numerous benefits to do this. First, while Google is no longer actively contributing to the project (focusing instead on Google Mobile Services), many developers are, and enterprises are willing to put forth the effort to make the system better. Second, the OS can be forked and modified to fit whatever specific needs are necessary for specific devices. Third, it’s much cheaper since any Android app can run on any version of the OS without modifications.
While these organizations won’t be left out in the cold for two more years, it’s important get in front of this issue now. Best of all, it’s contributing to an enormous open source project that will help so many developers and consumers who use Android devices.