Posted by on Jun 26, 2010 in All, Mobile Application Development, Mobile Devices, Windows Embedded | 2 comments

You may have seen images of Microsoft Tablet prototypes displayed at the recent Computex trade show in Taipei, Taiwan.  Some very credible tablet devices, showing advanced touch screen navigation, were displayed.  If you want to investigate the Microsoft Tablet for your own purposes, you don’t need any special hardware.  Through the magic of virtualization, you can build and test your own version of the Microsoft Tablet right on your desktop or notebook computer.

In this blog, I will take you through the steps necessary to build your own prototype with free downloadable software.  Windows Embedded Compact 7 is highly customizable, and you can create many prototype configurations of what you think a tablet should be.  Some of the features of this OS that stand out for the tablet space are:

· An available touch-centric navigation model

· Backward compatibility with older Windows Mobile apps

· Forward compatibility with Windows Phone 7

· Enterprise level features for database, communication, and security

· Application access to native C/C++ code.

· Internet Explorer 7

· Developer productivity via Silverlight across the full range of Microsoft operating systems

· Ability to run with ARM architecture CPUs that are low cost, powerful and energy efficient

· Support for Adobe Flash 10.1 will become available soon

An example of what can be accomplished is shown here:

http://www.engadget.com/photos/microsoft-windows-embedded-compact-7-prototype-tablet/

Start Building Your Tablet

With this release, Microsoft includes the ability to build a custom version of Compact 7 that will run on Windows Virtual PC or Virtual PC 2007.  This dramatically reduces the amount of effort to assemble hardware compatible with Compact 7.  You can download the necessary components, build your creation and see the results in an hour or two of effort.  All the necessary software is available free for download on a trial basis.

The end result is a Virtual PC .vhd virtual disk that can be booted up on demand to download a custom Compact 7 image for demonstration purposes.  I found this scenario very useful to evaluate the many available combinations of features and desktop rendering schemes.

You can download the Windows Embedded Compact 7 Public Community Technology Preview (Public CTP) here: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsembedded/en-us/products/windowsce/compact7.mspx.

The Public CTP requires the Visual Studio 2008 Professional version.  If you do not have this available you can get a 90 day free trial here: http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=83c3a1ec-ed72-4a79-8961-25635db0192b&displaylang=en.

Note that you are installing the tools to build an operating system from the ground up and this is a bit more challenging than, say, installing Windows 7 or Microsoft Office.  Once you download the CTP  files from the Microsoft Connect website, you can find detailed installation instructions in the document in the root of the downloaded folder:

“PublicPreview_June2010_Windows_Embedded_Compact7_ReleaseNotes.htm”.

Make sure you have no other previous version of Windows CE installed on the machine you are using to build Compact 7 images. You can locate the instructions for building a virtual machine version in the 15 page document file:

“<windows drive> Program FilesWindows Embedded Compact 7DocumentationGetting_Started_With_Virtual_CEPC.pdf”.

This document is well written and very detailed.  Also, you can run Virtual PC 2007 on Windows 7 if you wish to avoid the triple download and installation of Windows Virtual PC.

After installation of this software and before attempting to run your build in Virtual PC, make sure that “Virtual Machine Network Services” is enabled on your LAN adapter.  The Platform Builder tool running on Visual Studio 2008 utilizes Ethernet over LAN to transfer the OS image you customized and built to the virtual machine image running on Virtual PC.

I chose a slower single core notebook computer to build my Compact 7 image.  Because the CEPC boot loader running on Virtual PC utilizes 100% of the CPU, I found it necessary to use the Windows Task Manager to reduce the task priority of Virtual PC to Low to give the  Platform  Builder sufficient CPU cycles to transfer its data to Virtual PC.  Without a dual core CPU, the transfer rate was greatly reduced until I changed the task priority on Virtual PC.

An Options Bonanza

The new project wizard in Platform Builder offers serving suggestions for various types of devices you might want to build, such as smartphone, set top box, enterprise web pad, etc.  Choosing one of those will set an initial group of options that you can then fine tune in the Platform Builder GUI.

With Compact 7  Platform Builder you can experiment with hundreds of options to include with your build.  You can incorporate one of several touch-oriented desktop interfaces built on Silverlight.  Three standard screen sizes are available.  You can include the more classic Windows mouse or stylus oriented desktop interfaces.  The Platform Builder includes a GUI interface itemizing the hundreds of available options and does some prerequisite checking for you.

Once you select your options, you can build your custom OS image file to download later to Virtual PC.  The build cycle can take anywhere from a few minutes to two hours, depending on options selected, speed of your build machine, and whether this is the first build after installation of Compact 7.

A great aid in understanding the available options is the Visual Studio help system.  The installation of Compact 7 adds a large body of documentation to the Visual Studio 2008 help system under the contents item named “Windows Embedded Compact 7.0”.  Another body of help is a group of PDF documents installed at “<windows drive> Program FilesWindows Embedded Compact 7Documentation”.

Let me know your thoughts.

With 20+ years as a top software and firmware developer, Charles Wilde has acquired a combination of proven business smarts, mobile development skills and device engineering expertise that is hard to match. Charles is available to consult with you and your team about native code development in Android, Windows Mobile or Windows Embedded. He can be reached at AtonMail ( at ) aton (dot)com. © 2010 Aton International, Inc.