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Why would you want Windows for IoT anyway?

Mary Branscombe | Oct. 23, 2014
The IoT market is overcrowded, but a headless version of Windows has definite advantages if you're building your own hardware - and it could save you money.

There are plenty of rumors about Microsoft coming out with a smartwatch or a fitness band, but Microsoft's interest in the Internet of Things is much bigger than that.

When Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talks about the ambient computing that will come from billions of sensors all around us, he isn't just interested in having customers collect sensor data with the Azure Intelligent Systems Service or in the big data analysis and machine learning you can do with Microsoft cloud tools like Power BI and Azure ML, or even commercial versions of the sensor-driven building management system Microsoft created for its own campus.

There's certainly an opportunity there. Azure IIS is currently in private beta with enterprise and commercial developers building large infrastructure projects. And the IIS team built their own version of the campus building services system, to track how much electricity each building was using. "One building was using an awesome amount of electricity; so much electricity that we thought there must be a problem in the data," Pranish Kumar of the Microsoft IoT told CiteWorld. In fact, it turned out that the heaters in the parking garage that were supposed to turn on during the coldest months of the year were running all the time.

"You couldn't see it by looking at a chart of the data; the curve looked reasonable but the base was too high and you would only notice when you compared all the buildings." The $600,000 Microsoft saved by turning off the heaters is the kind of low hanging fruit that IoT sensors and analytics are good at detecting. Kumar calls it "the Internet of your things; you have a set of devices with sensors and data you're collecting. It's a brownfield opportunity."

But Microsoft also wants Windows to be a platform developers build those Internet-connected Things with - and for a much wider audience than Microsoft's traditional enterprise developers.

Despite decades of experience in embedded systems (everything from Point of Sale terminals to exercise machines to medical imaging systems and factory control devices run on embedded versions of Windows), most IoT developers are thinking in terms of Raspberry Pi and Arduino rather than Windows for their devices. That's why Kumar is just back from Maker Fair in Rome, as part of Microsoft's attempt to reach out to the makers.

"We think there's value in bringing Windows to that community," Kumar maintains. "They're building things that are trying to solve similar problems."

Making makers think of Windows
Because that community hasn't naturally thought of Windows for IoT already, the team is trying something different from the standard Microsoft approach, says Microsoft's Tony Goodhew. There have been internal changes, bringing the automotive, embedded and phone teams together in the operating systems group. "We're creating a single team so all  these diverse things have a coherent offering all the way across from the top end to the maker space and we deliver the right version of Windows that customers need for each of those areas."


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