The Great OS Migration

Posted by: Thom Denholm

 Migration graphic

Microsoft ended extended support for Windows Embedded CE 6.0 earlier this year, and plans to end support for all Windows Embedded products in the next five years.[1] We've spoken with many customers who used a Microsoft solution and are considering a migration to Linux. What will they encounter?

Startup Time

Although early Windows CE startup times were fairly quick, later editions could be slower to initialize. However, all of them are considerably faster than a similar solution on Linux, especially if one factors in the graphical environment Android. Many products and services exist to help prune those startup times by hand, delaying or removing the load of some of the slower device drivers.

For most situations, we think a hibernation solution that can also suspend the running application may be the best solution for these startup woes.

Updates and Testing

For embedded designs, security and current updates are a must. To handle this challenge in the WinCE environment, Microsoft released security patches and updates, some of which caused additional new problems. In Linux, new kernels are released 3-4 times per year, though a new kernel usually contains a lot more than just a security patch.

To keep embedded customers current, each new release needs to be tested. It can also be distributed, if the device is designed to accept field updates. The testing burden for Linux is larger than that of Windows Embedded, and occurs more frequently if you want to stay up to date on kernel releases.

Support and Accountability

According to 2017, Embedded Market Study by EE Times[2], Embedded Linux is the most used operating system. This isn’t a huge surprise given the increasing popularity of Linux overall. There are many benefits to using Linux (like a flavor for every project and a large development community[3]). By contrast, Windows Embedded Compact Edition is supported by one company. The benefit of the one point of contact is you know who to go to when you have a problem. That’s not always the case with Linux. It’s theoretically possible for you to have a completely new and unique problem that won’t be fixed by anybody except you.

Flash media solutions

Microsoft's FTL presented both raw and managed flash media as a block device, to be formatted with any available file system, from FAT to TexFAT to Reliance Nitro. The default on Linux for raw flash is to use a flash file system, combining both the FTL and the file system into one driver. That same flash file system can't be used for managed NAND, however, increasing the testing burden again for designs that use multiple storage mediums.

Datalight products ease some migration woes

Changing operating systems – no matter which ones you're moving to and from – offer many challenges. If you are already a Datalight customer, you have one less thing to worry about. The core of our software is the same for all RTOS solutions, and is provided in source code to our customers. When migrating, please contact us for an SDK for your new OS that contains the same well-tested and well-documented core code – only the OS-specific edge is different. In most cases your configuration files migrate directly to the new OS.

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