Microsoft Windows CE

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Windows CE
Windows Embedded 8 logo and wordmark.gif
developer Microsoft
License (s) Microsoft EULA ( closed source , partly shared source )
Current  version 2013 (June 2013)
ancestry Windows CE
Architecture (s) ARM , MIPS , x86 , SuperH , XScale

Windows CE is a line of operating systems from Microsoft and is intended for embedded systems , thin clients and handhelds . The operating system is not based on any other Windows version and is not a "scaled down version".

The graphical user interface can, depending on the configuration of the manufacturer, be the same as Windows NT or adapted to small screens and the intended use. A Win32 - API is available on both platforms, making it theoretically would be possible to source code to develop for both at the same time. In reality, however, this does usually not so simple: Although Windows CE a Win32-based programming interface ( English application programming interface , API) that there are profound differences that the ports of x86 makes -Windows software in reality often very complex .

Nk.exeis the Windows CE kernel , which was completely redeveloped from the ground up, completely independent of Windows NT. Windows CE is not based on any of the other Windows variants ( 9x - or NT -based) and is not a "reduced version" of it. In the meantime, the operating system supported around a dozen processor architectures .

In contrast to DOS or NT-based Windows systems, Windows CE was developed with real-time capability in mind. However, the real-time properties depend on a large number of factors which mean that the real-time capability is not unequivocally available in practice. These factors include the properties of the target architecture, support from hardware and drivers and, above all, the difficulty of verifying real-time capability. Real-time capability has only been checked for a very limited number of platforms under certain conditions, partially using heuristic methods, so that it is not possible to speak of general real-time capability in connection with Windows CE.

The letters "CE" are not an abbreviation, but a hint of a variety of design principles such as compactness, compatibility ( English compatibility ) and efficiency ( English efficiency ). With version 6.0 Microsoft expanded the name to Windows Embedded CE and with version 7 the system was renamed to Windows Embedded Compact so that it can be integrated uniformly into the Windows Embedded product line of Microsoft's operating systems for embedded systems.

Another CE renaming was marketed as Microsoft Windows Mobile from 2002 . In 2010, a CE variant with a special Windows Phone 7 user interface was named. Also, Windows Automotive is another thought up by the marketing department name for Windows CE .


Although Windows CE's orientation towards industrial applications is obvious because of its real-time operating system design, it is more likely to be perceived by the public as an operating system for mobile devices. Microsoft's launch advertising was also most intense in this bulk business.

Programmable logic controllers based on Windows CE are available from Beckhoff Automation and Siemens, for example .

Thin clients with Windows CE have been around since 1998.

operating system

Windows CE was specially developed for use in small and microcomputers, especially for industrial, automotive and mobile devices. It represents the basis for other operating systems for embedded systems, for example Pocket PC or Windows Mobile . These systems are specializations and extensions of Windows CE and are therefore not to be equated with it.

There is no uniform version of Windows CE. Windows CE can run on different platforms with different properties. A developer takes the Microsoft Platform Builder for this and puts together his own individual operating system: with or without a graphical user interface, command line, with Bluetooth support, etc. The license costs per device with Windows CE that are delivered vary between 3 and 16 dollars. The tools ("Embedded Visual Tools") and SDKs required for developing applications for the various Windows CE and Windows Mobile platforms were made available free of charge by Microsoft up to CE versions from 2002. A much more comprehensive, fee-based development environment is Microsoft Visual Studio .


Windows Mobile for PocketPC , formerly “ Microsoft Pocket PC ”, expands the functionality of CE with typical applications for pocket computers such as appointment diaries or address management. The user interface is based on that of Windows , but has been specially adapted for use on pocket computers.

Windows Mobile for PocketPC Phone Edition is a variant that supports a telephony module (such as GSM or 3G / UMTS) integrated in the PDA . There is also a reception indicator, the telephone application, an SMS / MMS extension for the e-mail application (which communicates with normal PocketPCs via Bluetooth or IrDA ) and various additional interfaces.

Windows Mobile for Smartphones , formerly "Windows Smartphone", is the CE variant for mobile phones. In contrast to Windows Mobile for PocketPC Phone Edition , the devices equipped with this system do not have a touchscreen, usually a smaller display and a numeric keypad. So they are more like a normal mobile phone than a PDA.

Although the name of the operating system is now (almost) the same, there are significant differences between Windows Mobile for PocketPC (Phone Edition) and Windows Mobile for Smartphones . As a result, most of the programs that were written for the operating system variant for Pocket PCs do not run on smartphones and vice versa. Microsoft is striving to slowly grow the systems together again. In Windows Mobile 5, for example, there are the softkeys familiar from smartphones (two keys with a function shown on the display) and the option of only running signed programs or warning against the execution of unsigned applications.

License, sales and development model

With regard to its use, Windows Embedded CE clearly differs from the classic Windows operating systems. From the user's point of view, a Windows CE system cannot be viewed as a general-purpose system on which any application software can be installed. Rather, it represents a component of a finished product. The user no longer has anything to do with this component. For this reason there is no obligation on the part of Microsoft to offer extensions and updates for end customers. The integrator of the operating system is solely responsible for maintaining the product.

The sales model that Microsoft prefers consists of a flat hierarchy of companies. There are initially only a small number of distributors who provide development tools and who are allowed to sell licenses to companies. These companies create an image of the hardware on which the system will run. Alternatively, they can hire a third party company to integrate a company-written application for the specific purpose of the product. The image and the hardware form a uniform system that is delivered to the customer as a finished product that cannot be changed in its essential function.

From a licensing point of view, Windows CE is a construction kit for an operating system. There is no generic variant of Windows CE. Every Windows CE used productively is a version of the system that has been specially compiled for the respective purpose.

Special use

There is a special version of CE for Sega Dreamcast , which is supposed to simplify the porting of games to the console from a PC or laptop. The operating system is loaded from the games GD , which is why there are several versions for the Dreamcast.


Although Windows CE was developed from scratch, it has a history that began in 1992 with the operating system extensions for Windows 3.1 and Windows 3.11 ( Windows for Pen Computing ) and Windows 95 ( Pen Services for Windows 95 ).

History as operating system extensions for Windows 3.1 and Windows 95

Windows for Pen Computing is an extension of Windows 3.1x , which was designed for input using a light pen and wasexecutedon tablet PCs . The operation was mainly characterized by the fact that it introduced functions such as trainable handwriting recognition and gestures . A special writing window, divided into cells, accepts one character per cell, converts the handwriting into text and sends it to the corresponding application. The pen palette is opened minimized and recognizes characters and gestures for applications that do not support pen input themselves. The extension also includes an on-screen keyboard, which is a normal standard keyboard on the screen and can be operated with a pen or mouse. The system extension addsa new group "Microsoft Pen Tools" tothe program manager and changes Windows system files, etc. a. Windows start screen, but also DLL and EXE files and adds their own help files to existing applications that are part of Windows, which describe operation with pen input. Windows for Pen Computing is known in at least two minor versions for Windows 3.1 and Windows 3.11 . a. published by IBM Corporation in 1993 on three 1.44 MB floppy disks and requires not only the pen tools but also the device drivers for the light pen.

After Compaq had discontinued its plans to bring out a PDA based on this operating system in 1994, development with the participation of cooperation partners was discontinued. " Pen Services for Windows 95 " followed for the subsequent operating system , but without the involvement of cooperation partners and also only licensed to OEM customers. Since these concepts were not successful in the long term, the independent Windows CE operating system came onto the market as a successor from September 1996.

There was yet another attempt to support mobile devices. In 1994, the Winpad OS project, which was intended to be the successor to Pen Services, was postponed indefinitely because the market development was not yet foreseeable. The development of Windows CE is thus the third attempt by Microsoft to gain a foothold in the PDA market and also explains why Windows CE is still clearly between a handheld PC and a normal PDA (at times from Microsoft also as "Palm PC" and Palm -Size PC , later called Pocket PC ). Handheld PCs such as some models from the Jornada series from HP were quite a bit larger and had a significantly larger display than the palm-sized PDAs . The main difference, however, was the physical presence of a keyboard; with PDAs, this is displayed on the screen (only a few Pocket PC models also have an integrated keyboard).

Windows CE as an independent operating system

Already in Windows CE version 1.0 (1996) it was possible to use rudimentary multimedia functions. With version 2.0 (1998) it was then possible to control color displays with up to 65,536 colors ( high color ). Right from the start, Microsoft relied on integrating these devices into networks and enabling many extensions.

Traditionally, the memory of the devices is divided into data memory and memory for executing programs. While 8 MiB total memory was common in the first generation, this grew to up to 128 MiB in the second generation, which could be divided during operation.

With the introduction of Version 2002 also the first devices on the market, the real resolution of 640 × 480 pixels (came VGA ) on a 3.5- inch - display represent could.

Starting with version 2002, the Pocket PC platform will be massively optimized for the mass market. This also includes many functions that are useful for the specialist, such as the termination of applications, control over the network, etc. either to prevent, prohibit or hide behind "user-friendly" layers.

The “Connection Manager” was also introduced in version 2002, which takes full control of every network connection ( LAN , dial-up data transmission , etc.) and is intended to automate many things.

However, some of the new automatisms do not work in the interests of particularly professional users, but they cannot always be bypassed.

A problem with the entire Pocket PC and Windows CE family is that the processors of the individual devices differ significantly from one another, so that it is not possible to run a program that was written for one CPU type on another to be able to perform. From version 2002 the Pocket PC platform is only available as an ARM version, but many old programs are no longer updated and are therefore still partly only available for MIPS or similar . The execution of applications from other Windows CE platforms, such as handheld PCs on pocket PCs, is also not possible - mostly due to specific extensions of the respective platform. Since Windows CE .NET, it has also been possible to run managed programs ( .NET platform, largely system-independent). This is made possible by the .NET Compact Framework  - a slimmed-down variant of the .NET Framework.

After Microsoft caused confusion by using different names for similar Windows CE systems, the company has recognized today that it makes sense to return to the old naming system. In addition to new interfaces and integrated WLAN functions, Windows CE 5.0 also received support for 3D graphics chips for the first time.

One of the most important changes that Windows CE 5.0 brings with it concerns the memory: The internal data memory is no longer in volatile RAM , but as so-called persistent storage in Flash- ROM , which now protects against data loss when the battery power is used up. In addition, the now modular operating system in the ROM allows a selective update for the first time and no longer has to be completely flashed (overwritten) if the manufacturer or OEM wants to offer bug fixes, improvements or additions.

Version overview

version release Changes
Windows CE 1.0 November 1996
Windows CE 1.01 June 1997
Windows CE 2.0 September 1997 Division into modules from which the device manufacturer can choose
Windows CE 2.10 March 1998
Windows CE 2.11 July 1998
Windows CE 3.0 February 2000 Real time with 256 instead of 8 priority levels and adjustable quantum
Windows CE .NET 4.0 October 2001
Windows CE .NET 4.1 June 2002
Windows CE .NET 4.2 February 2003
Windows CE 5.0 July 2004
Windows Embedded CE 6.0 September 2006 New system core , up to 32,000 processes with an address space of 2 gigabytes each
Windows Embedded CE 6.0 R2 September 2007
Windows Embedded CE 6.0 R3 September 2009
Windows Embedded Compact 7 March 2011
Windows Embedded 8 March 2013
Windows Embedded 8 Industry April 2013
Windows Embedded Compact 2013 June 2013

Web links

Commons : Microsoft Windows CE  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Ten Tips for Programming for Microsoft Windows CE. Microsoft, accessed April 17, 2011 .
  2. API Considerations. Microsoft, accessed September 2, 2013 .
  3. ^ A b c J. Richling: Operating systems: Windows CE. (PDF; 452 kB) Humboldt University Berlin , accessed on April 17, 2011 .
  4. The Meaning of "CE" in Windows CE. Microsoft, September 3, 2002, accessed April 16, 2011 .
  5. Windows Embedded Compact 7 (Formerly CE). Microsoft, accessed April 17, 2011 .
  7. Beckhoff relies on the new embedded operating system from Microsoft . Press release from Beckhoff Automation , February 13, 2007, accessed on July 6, 2012.
    Windows Embedded CE 6.0: In a practical test at Beckhoff Automation . Electronics practice , May 21, 2007, accessed on July 6, 2012.
    Hans Berger: Automating with SIMATIC. P. 42 , accessed April 17, 2011 .
  8. ^ First CE-based “thin client” ships. CNET , September 3, 1998, accessed April 17, 2011 .
  9. Ingo Pakalski: Windows Phone 7: Turning away from the Windows CE kernel was clear from the start . , July 4, 2012, accessed on July 6, 2012.
  10. Windows® 1.x, 2.x, 3.x - Microsoft Windows for Pen Computing 1.00a. Description text and screenshots. From, accessed August 15, 2018
  11. cf. 7Zip archive at, accessed on August 15, 2018
  12. ^ A b Anna-Martina Kröll: Interorganizational Networks: Use of Social Capital for Market Entry Strategies. Springer-Verlag, 2013. ISBN 3-322-81117-4 , ISBN 978-3-322-81117-2 ( excerpt online )
  13. ^ Pen Services for Windows 95. Pen Computing Newsletter, No. 11, August 1996
  14. ^ A b History of Windows Embedded Compact 7. Microsoft, April 12, 2013, archived from the original on April 12, 2013 ; accessed on March 28, 2017 (English). Matthias Wellendorf: Windows Embedded Compact 7 is now available . ( Memento of the original from March 7, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Tom's Hardware , March 4, 2011, accessed March 28, 2012.
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