As any industrial computer professional, and even your average home PC user, is well aware there are a host of different Windows OS versions. While the consumer space mostly focuses on interface changes with each new Windows release, in the commercial hardware world important differences exist in both functionality and licensing. Over the years, Microsoft’s Windows OS has continued to evolve, with versions more and more specialized to the tasks that the computers they’re installed on will be called on to perform. For many industrial users, Windows Embedded has become the go-to solution for building systems that don’t require the features or, have the storage space for a full Windows install. But with the release of Windows 10, things have changed. Microsoft has continued to embrace the evolving Internet of Things movement by offering a new flavor of their ubiquitous operating system, Windows IoT. But what is Windows 10 IoT, and is Windows IoT the new Windows Embedded?
What is Windows 10 IoT?
Windows 10 IoT is primarily a change in nomenclature. Users looking for a stripped down a la carte OS option, like those building an embedded device or specialized system, have long used Windows Embedded to fully customize their hardware interface and system operation. The storage space savings and enhanced customization that Windows Embedded enabled are still present in Windows 10 IoT, but Microsoft has gone even further, offering one option (Windows IoT Core) that completely eschews any kind of graphical user interface (GUI).
Windows 10 IoT versions include:
- Windows 10 IoT Enterprise
- Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise
- Windows 10 IoT Core
The appeal of Windows Embedded has always been that users only get (and have to pay for) the features they need, and for our clients in particular both Windows IoT Enterprise and Windows IoT Core will be of particular interest. Microsoft’s Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise is specifically intended for use with mobile point of sale and handheld systems under 8”, and therefore isn’t applicable to clients utilizing our industrial computer hardware.
To better understand how Windows 10 IoT differs from previous Windows Embedded offerings, let’s take a quick look at the features and licensing models for past versions. For the sake of clarity, we’ve divided Windows Embedded/IoT options into three basic categories: Modular, Full and License Only.
Modular Windows Embedded Options
Modularity is very attractive for hardware users who only require select features of an operating system. The OS image can be custom built by picking and choosing which Windows features to include. Also, additional functionality is available, such as custom splash screen branding and filters. Past modular OS options included:
Windows Embedded Standard 7 (WES7) – For WES7 there are different license levels available (C, E, P); each license has a difference price, and the licenses dictate which Windows features can be included in the image. Licenses start with the cheapest option C, which only allows a small subset of Windows features, followed by E which is more expensive and includes a few additional features, and finally P which is the most expensive and includes all the features of Windows Embedded Standard 7.
Windows Embedded 8 Standard (WE8S) – Essentially the same as WES7 but with only the single license option which enables all the features of Windows Embedded 8 Standard.
Windows 10 IoT Core – Here is where Windows 10 IoT significantly deviates from its predecessors. Windows 10 IoT Core does not include any form of GUI and was designed specifically for custom development on small embedded and single board devices. With its rollout, Microsoft seems to be targeting the maker movement, folks building custom devices that don’t necessarily require a screen or any graphical output. Microsoft recently partnered with Adafruit to release a Windows IoT Core Starter Kit designed to help new developers get started learning about electronics and the IoT Core OS. You can read a bit more about Windows 10 IoT Core directly on the Microsoft website.
Full Windows Embedded Options
As you might expect, in a “full” windows embedded deployment, the OS image is pre-built and includes all typical Windows functionality, plus the additional embedded functions (branding, filters, etc.).
Windows Embedded POSReady 7
Windows Embedded 8.1 Industry
Windows 10 IoT Enterprise – The full version of Windows 10 IoT, the Enterprise version, also offers an alternate license option called “Windows 10 IoT Enterprise for Retail or Thin Clients.” Unlike the various licensing options for WES7 mentioned above, this alternate license doesn’t limit features. The Enterprise for Retail or Thin Clients option is a bit less expensive, but can only be used on systems in a specific application like retail, thin client, or digital signage.
License-only Windows Embedded Options
License-only Windows Embedded OS options are software-identical to the standard OEM OS. The only difference is that this type of license can only be used on systems in an “embedded” application, meaning that the computer they are installed on must be part of a larger system or device.
Windows 7 Professional for Embedded Systems
Windows Embedded 8.1 Pro
At this point we’re not aware of any Windows 10 IoT license-only option.
As Microsoft continues to release new versions of Windows it becomes increasingly difficult to identify the appropriate version for your particular project. If you have questions about which Windows 10 IoT version is right for you, contact one of our Solutions Specialists.