October 4, 2004 12:12 PM PDT

Microsoft hears jingle of cash register software

Microsoft thinks it can ring up more sales of its operating system by creating a custom version of Windows XP Embedded aimed at high-tech cash registers.

The company announced plans Monday to release Windows Embedded for Point of Service, although the software won't ship until the first half of next year.

Microsoft software is already used in many retail devices, with analysts estimating that about 70 percent of machines that have an operating system use a Microsoft operating system. However, that share is split among several versions of Windows and even a fair number of DOS-based machines. Hewlett-Packard and Dell are among the big-name computer makers that offer Windows-based retail terminals.

But Windows is not the only game in town. IBM for example, announced a partnership in January to use SuSE Linux in similar point-of-sale devices.

Many older systems were designed in an era in which terminal software was never updated. But modern kiosks and point-of-sale devices are often connected to a network and need both security and networking features. Microsoft's new OS also will allow support for emerging technologies, such as RFID.

"That will really help retailers move their point-of-service systems from 20th to 21st century," said John Starkweather, a product manager in Microsoft's Windows Embedded unit. Microsoft uses the term "point-of-service" to refer to point-of-sale devices such as cash registers and other in-store devices, including kiosks and self-check-out machines.

Earlier this year, Microsoft launched a "smarter retailing" initiative designed to sell customers on the advantages of more modern Windows systems.

The company hopes that adding a specific retail version of XP Embedded will boost its effort by giving software developers a single version of XP to write their applications on. One of the advantages of Windows Embedded is that the device maker can pick and choose which parts of the OS to use. The downside of that approach is that software makers have to do a fair bit of custom work to map their software to the particular version of Windows Embedded used by each retailer.

Microsoft also plans to add some special features to the retail OS, including plug-and-play support for add-on devices such as bar-code scanners and receipt printers. Right now, customers need to make manual changes to hardware and software settings to use many of these devices.

The point-of-service version will be based on Windows XP Embedded Service Pack 2, which Microsoft also announced on Monday. The service pack included an enhanced firewall and other updates found in the desktop SP2 version, as well as some features unique to the embedded version.

Among the extra features in Embedded Service Pack 2 will be a quick-boot option that will allow devices running XP Embedded to turn on or off in as little as 10 seconds. Past versions of the software have loaded only as fast as XP on the desktop. "It could be a couple of minutes," Starkweather said.

The service pack upgrade will make XP Embedded the first OS to let IT administrators remotely update devices using two Microsoft management utilities, one for OS updates and the other for downloading changes to programs on the device. Windows XP Embedded is used in a range of noncomputer devices, including slot machines and gas pumps.

Microsoft did not give an exact timing for the release of Windows XP Embedded Service Pack 2, but said it is committed to releasing it within 90 days of the desktop version, as has been the company's goal with past releases. A preview version is available now, Microsoft said.

 

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