What are my options when Windows Embedded reaches End of Support?

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Four strategies your business could take

If you run devices that use one of the Windows Embedded Operating Systems, you’ll be aware that these platforms will reach their end of life over the next few months and years. But what exactly does that mean for your business? What are the implications, what are your options and who can you talk to for advice?

I talk to many clients who have this issue – they run POS and mobile devices that use Windows Embedded Operating Systems and they’re not sure of the way forward. As a distributor, Sektor not only sees what our clients are doing, but also has strong relationships with the hardware vendors,  which puts us in the unique position of having an end to end view and be able to help navigate the mass of information and options.

What is Windows Embedded?

The term ‘Windows Embedded’ refers to specialised versions of Windows, designed for devices other than PCs. This includes Point of Sale (POS) machines, Self checkouts, ATMs, consumer electronics, handheld and mobile devices.

What are the products and the key dates I need to know?

What is the difference between mainstream support and extended support?

Mainstream support includes enhancements and fixes for a product. Extended support includes fixes for security and reliability issues but no new functionality. Once extended support ends, there are no guarantees of any support – users can send a request and Microsoft will decide whether to support it.

Why is it important?

Applications

The applications running on your specialist devices have been designed to run on a particular version of the operating system. The significant differences in the architectures between versions of operating systems mean that applications cannot simply be ported from the old environment into the new. A new operating system requires changes to the application, so that it can recognise and operate under the new architecture.

These application changes are significant. If your application is from an external vendor, it will most likely mean a complete version upgrade. If you develop in-house, your team will need to rebuild the application.

Hardware

Applications are not the only consideration. You also need to consider whether your existing hardware has, for example, the required memory and chipset to run the latest versions of the Embedded Operating Systems. 

What are my options?

1) Do nothing - The first option is that you could simply do nothing. You may weigh up the risk and cost of upgrading your OS against the risk of a new bug in your current environment and decide to stay where you are. Like all other business risks, it is a question of taking known factors into account to make a considered decision for your business. In considering this option, however, don’t forget your application.  If you remain on the current version, do you have committed support from your vendor and for how long? You’ll also need to factor your hardware maintenance cover end date into your longer term plans.

2) Upgrade OS - If you are running POS devices, you have the option to upgrade to a new Embedded OS, moving to Windows 10 IoT. As discussed, this is likely to also involve upgrading your application hardware. And you also need to confirm that your old hardware will be able to handle the newer operating system requirements

3) Move to full Windows - If you are running Windows Embedded on a mobile device, there is no upgrade option.  There is no new version of Windows Embedded for mobile devices. Your only Windows option is therefore to move to full (non-Embedded) Windows. However, with the move of many mobile device vendors to Android (see below), be aware that if you choose Windows on mobile, you’re limiting yourself to very few vendors.

4) Switch OS - If you’re running mobile devices and don’t want to move to the full Windows OS, your other option is to switch to Android. Several vendors, having seen the writing on the wall from Microsoft around mobile, have moved away from Windows and have focussed their product range on Android. The consideration here, is whether your organisation is already using Windows on other devices (e.g. desktop and laptop PCs) and if so, the feasibility and overheads of managing two operating systems.

The truth is, there’s no simple answer. There are options though, and with the right advice, you’ll be able to take the right one for your business.

Andre Timothy is a POS & mobile computing specialist at Sektor Distributors. If you’d like to discuss Embedded OS and talk through your options, please connect with Andre at andret@sektor.co.nz