This curious member of Microsoft’s family of operating systems was originally designed to work in pocket devices and was released in November 1996, being in operation until October of this year 2023.
The development of Windows CE began before the arrival of Windows 95 under the code name Pegasus. Microsoft’s idea was to have a “pocket-sized” alternative to its main operating system for desktop and laptop computers. These devices should have, as a minimum, a QWERTY keyboard, LCD touch screen and stylus support, although these requirements were changing.
WINDOWS CE, MICROSOFT’S COMPACT OPERATING SYSTEM
After passing the testing stages and refining its requirements, Windows CE landed on the market between 1996 and 1997 on the NEC MobilePro 200, Casio Cassiopeia A-10, HP 300LX and Philips Velo. In all cases these were Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). The system, although it had the name Windows, had some rather considerable limitations, even for the time.
If there was one thing Microsoft excelled at, it was productivity, but Windows CE version 1.0 lacked compatibility with its flagship application: Microsoft Outlook, although this was fixed a year later. Another problem it faced was application development. It was not easy and, moreover, required developers to invest in hardware and in Visual Studio 97 and specific development modules.
As time went by, Windows CE evolved and ceased to be an option exclusively designed for pocket devices. In later versions, it was optimized to be the heart of closed systems, such as ATMs, scientific and industrial devices, healthcare equipment and automobiles. In 2005, in fact, Windows Automotive 5.0 based on Windows CE was launched.
Far from ending its presence in cell phones, this peculiar system continued to be present in pocket devices, giving life to some PDAs of the 2000s. The system also found its way into General Dynamics’ Edge Sectéra. Yes, the famous U.S. defense contractor behind aircraft such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon developed a “secure” phone for the government.
The Sectéra Edge was a very peculiar device. In 2008 it was one of the few devices approved by the National Security Agency (NSA) for high-level security communications. It was not a smartphone, at least strictly as it relates to what we understand today by that concept, but a personal assistant with phone capability.
After 26 years on the market, Microsoft has decided to say goodbye to this peculiar operating system. Support came to an end on October 10 of this year, but it will still be running on millions of ATMs, medical and industrial equipment around the world. Generally, let’s remember, these are closed machines that are not connected to the Internet.