It was a proto-netbook, it was a palmtop, it was a PDA, it was Windows Phone 7 but not Windows Phone 8, and then it was an embedded ghost. His parents never seemed to know what to do with him after he grew up, beyond offering him up for anyone to mold into their own image. And then earlier this month, without warning, Windows CE was no more, at least as a supported operating system. Windows Embedded Compact 2013, better known (but not popularly) as Windows CE 8.0, ended support on October 10, 2023, as noted by The Register.
Windows CE, which had a name that meant nothing and was often compacted into an embarrassing “shudder,” actually nothing survives. Every Microsoft CEO since its inception and a former Ars writer have offered remembrances. A public service for the operating system will be performed in the comments.
The OS that fits in small spaces
Windows CE was initially Microsoft Pegasus, a team working to create a very low-power MIPS or SuperH-based reference platform for manufacturers making the smallest keyboard computers that could be made at the time. Devices like the NEC MobilePro 200, Casio (Cassiopeia) A-10, and HP 300LX began appearing in late 1996 and early 1997, with tiny keyboards, more landscape than landscape displays, and, by modern standards, an impressive number of ports.
Pegasus reached most consumers as Windows CE 1.0 and by all accounts had a lot of problems, at least if you expected it to look like Windows. The mobile operating system couldn’t work with Microsoft’s Outlook, then a new addition to Office 97, until an update was shipped in March 1997, and it still resisted working with almost any other mail or personal information management system ( PIM). Developers also did not find the platform too attractive, as it requires Visual Studio, Visual Basic or Visual C++ tools from Microsoft, which are not too cheap, along with the purchase of CE-specific modules.
When Ars Technica started mentioning Windows CE in 2003, it was on its way to becoming Microsoft’s “Sure, we have an operating system for that” solution. It was the built-in “Windows CE for Smart Displays” operating system for a ViewSonic V150p Air Panel, allowing you to remotely control a desktop computer from something you could, at an angle, call a tablet. It was modified with “Windows XP extensions” to power a $250 AMD “Personal Internet Communicator” aimed at “emerging markets” in 2004.
When it reached version 5.0 in 2005, Windows CE was now also Windows Automotive 5.0, part of Bill Gates’ commitment to have “30 percent of cars” running Windows CE by July 2006. Gates fell short of this goal. Still, by mid-2005, Windows CE was installed on nearly half of the PDAs sold, and most of its share had been wrested from Palm’s clutches. Later that year, Palm announced that its newest device, the Treo 650, ran Windows Mobile.
iPhones, Androids and Microsoft’s most beloved son
“Windows Mobile” is not “Windows CE,” and if you noticed, you weren’t alone. If you had a device smaller than a PC, you were now presented with two things: Windows CE 6.0 and “its Windows Mobile variant.” Meanwhile, Windows CE also became an OS layer on AccuVote, the OS on a “personal GPS” and also an e-paper tablet (because companies have been testing this idea for a long, long time) . If this was a mobile device and it was released in 2007, it seemed inevitable that it would have Windows CE or Windows Mobile.
Unless it was manufactured by Apple. After Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that the iPhone had “no chance” of gaining significant market share, the iPhone gained significant market share in 2007. In late 2008, Microsoft’s new Android operating system Google was selling on T-Mobile’s G1 and manufacturers were eager to jump on it. Windows CE seemed to pivot further toward its “Definitely Not a Phone” identity, getting a rebrand as Windows Embedded Compact sometime in 2009, and appearing on devices like CherryPal’s $99 netbook aimed at the developing world. And in the ATMs that were hacked on stage at the Black Hat conference.
In October 2010, Microsoft had a shrinking market share in mobile devices and an old new idea: a completely smartphone-focused operating system called Windows Phone 7. It was a big departure from Windows Mobile, although it still had the Windows core. CE as the basis of its technology. . Windows Phone 7 had strict rules about hardware specifications, button layout, and branding. As we noted then, phones had a lot more room to do their thing with Android and Windows Mobile. “If Windows Phone 7 is anything less than a huge success, it’s easy to see them giving up on the platform.”
Windows Phone 8 arrived in 2012 and swapped the Windows CE kernel for Windows NT. That also meant that very few of the existing Windows mobile apps could be updated and that many phone makers would skip the upgrade from 7 to 8 altogether. Microsoft spent nearly two years of development moving away from low-power Windows CE, at a time when it really didn’t have time to spare.
A shadowy cameo and it’s still for sale.
Beyond this point, Windows CE still existed, just at such a discrete level that you wouldn’t notice it unless you saw a strange little computer doing a very specific job. However, it appeared prominently. In 2016, at the height of the US presidential election, an incredibly complex $4,750 Windows CE phone was revealed to be the only real choice for the National Security Agency’s preferred secure phone at the White House in 2009. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton didn’t or couldn’t use that, so she used her own BlackBerry and email server, and we’ve been hearing about it ever since.
Microsoft, in its “Windows CE Migration FAQ,” writes something of a lukewarm obituary about its operating system. It “powered industrial, medical, and a variety of other devices for more than 20 years,” allowing companies to “modify and create their own user interfaces and experiences.” Although support has come to an end, Microsoft will “allow the sale of licenses” for Windows Embedded Compact until 2028. “And of course, Windows CE devices can continue to be used indefinitely,” added a Microsoft technical writer, perhaps wistfully. .