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"It's Windows, Jim, but not as we know it!"

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) promised up a version of Windows 10 for the Raspberry Pi minicomputer and other "internet of things" (IoT) devices.  The outstanding question is what shape Windows might take on such barebones devices.  This week we finally found out as Microsoft has launched the "Windows 10 IoT Core" for this class of devices.

Catering to the embedded market is a challenging chore.  When it comes to Windows on tiny computers, the recently debuted "Mini PC" and "micro-PC" form factors (using mini-ITX class motherboards), come to mind.  These devices retail from anywhere from $100 to $1,000 USD.  But even on the low end they typically pack a modest punch thanks to an onboard Intel Corp. (INTC) multi-core processor.

By contrast, Windows is targeting even thinner clients -- including hobby boards (like the Raspberry Pi) and embedded processing circuits in appliances, toys, etc.  The circuits in this class tend to cost less than $50 USD.

Raspberry Pi Model 2
The Raspberry Pi Model 2 B

The Raspberry Pi is perhaps the most iconic entrant in the class.  In development since 2011, the DIY device first debuted in 2013, priced at $25 USD.  It saw a modest revision last year (and a bump to $35 USD, with it).  And most recently, in Feb. it saw a major hardware upgrade.  Inside the Raspberry Pi 2 B is a 900 MHz quad-core BCM2835 chip by Broadcom Corp. (BRCM) with ARM Holdings plc's (LON:ARM) classic Cortex-A7 core design (long a staple of the smartphone space) inside. by  system-on-a-chip, along with a doubled allotment of RAM (1 GB).

But even with the boost, the Raspberry Pi 2 is a far cry processing power wise from a Mini-/Micro-PC with a PC-grade Intel Atom or a Core Series processor inside.  The closest point of comparison is to Intel's "Edison" IoT platform, which benchmarks show to be roughly as powerful as the Raspberry Pi 2 [source].  

Intel Edison

Edison is a development board from Intel for DIY/hobbyist projects, education, and prototyping.  While it packs an Atom-based SoC, the chip onboard is clocked significantly lower than PC-aimed models at a mere 500 MHz.  There's also a proprietary 100 MHz Quark super-slim x86 core, which is largely tasked with the processing load of running a custom OS/UI interface.

It's precisely such interfaces that Microsoft's new IoT-targeted version of Windows 10 is aimed at.

Rather than deliver a full fledged OS, Microsoft opens up its toolbox, giving developers access to libraries with Windows 10 logic, graphical styles, and interface elements.  This allows for custom, purpose-built slim interfaces utilizing the familiar design language and some of the core functionality of Windows 10.

Among the key features of the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) APIs include:
  • UI elements
  • Text/Fonts
  • Time zone support
  • Networking
  • I2C and other input readings
  • PWM and ADC output control
  • Support for
    • Visual Basic
    • C++
    • C#
    • Javascript (including optimized Node.js API)
    • Python
Microsoft explicitly states that the developer release is compatible with the MinnowBoard Max and Raspberry Pi 2.  I would guess that it should also work with Intel Edison, shortly, if not immediately.

Still not quite sure what all this means or what the new version of Windows 10 can do?  Microsoft gives a rather visual demo here, with an air hockey-playing robot that it coded up.



I've barely scratched the surface, but that's the basic gist of Windows 10 IoT Core and the UWP.  Remember -- while you need a Windows 10 PC and Visual Studio 2015 to write apps and interfaces for slim targets, the API itself is free for hobbyist and prototyping use .

You can head here to get the full information, direct from Microsoft.

Source: Microsoft Windows [official blog]





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