Microsoft is shipping the board as part of a Windows Developer Program for IoT. The recipients of the board appear to be carefully selected, and not everyone who applies succeeds in getting in to the program at this point. But developers can still apply for the board through Microsoft's website.
"We've been overwhelmed by the public response and we've already received more requests for kits than we have inventory for this first round," Microsoft said on a GitHub website for the IoT developer program.
Though Microsoft declined to comment on the types of devices it is targeting, it provided possible clues on GitHub's frequently asked questions page.
"We're surrounded by all kinds of smart devices. Cars and parking meters and microwaves and watches. But for years, it's been difficult to get started making your own devices. On your desk, in your home, in your garage," Microsoft said, adding that boards have made it easier to take on do-it-yourself projects.
The board runs a "small version" of Windows, according to notes published by Microsoft on GitHub. Microsoft declined to comment on the exact version, but on GitHub said it's pre-release software that the company just calls "Windows." The OS is compatible with Arduino, a popular software and hardware development platform designed to enable the to creation of small electronics and connected devices.
The preview Windows image running on the Galileo for IoT toolkit "is a custom non-commercial version of Windows based on Windows 8.1," a Microsoft spokeswoman said in an email.
The proof-of-concept OS is in its early stages, and there are no set rules yet on hardware requirements, the spokeswoman said.
"We simply chose to target Intel's Galileo board with a pilot project designed to bring a preview image based on the latest Windows OS to low cost, low power devices," the spokeswoman said.
Microsoft, meanwhile, is stressing that Windows Embedded Compact is still an important part of its product range. Windows Embedded Compact is a full featured OS supporting commercial devices, the spokeswoman said.
"Windows Embedded Compact remains an important part of our broad IoT offering. It remains Microsoft's only real-time operating system and is the operating system with the broadest set of ports including numerous levels of ARM and x86 architectures," Microsoft said on GitHub.
Nevertheless, questions remain about how precisely the new OS will be different than Windows Embedded Compact.
The new OS "may be a more modern, or possibly a more application-specific product (intended for IoT type use)" than Windows Embedded Compact, said Al Gillen, program vice president, servers and system software, for IDC, in an email.
Microsoft "rightfully sees IoT devices as being a huge opportunity, both in terms of selling the embedded solutions that power those IoT devices, and to make sure the IoT devices connect and pass their data back to a Windows Server on the back end," Gillen said.
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