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Microsoft today said it will offer a preview release of its embedded operating system - now minus the .NET suffix - Windows CE 5.0.

The software giant will be giving away copies of the Technology Preview Kit at electronics show Electronica USA today and will post the software on its website on 1 April.

The final version of WinCE 5.0 is due to ship in the summer. Aimed at embedded roles, WinCE also forms the basis for the company's Windows Mobile offerings aimed at PDAs, wireless-enabled handhelds and smartphones.

Version 5.0, previously known by its codename Macallan, will run on a "dramatically increased" range of processors, including ARM, MIPS, x86 and SuperH platforms - though that doesn't necessarily mean future Windows Mobile offerings will. In addition, Microsoft is touting improved security and multimedia features.

The OS will ship with the maximum level of security enabled, forcing OEMs to reduce the level of protection on a design-by-design basis, rather than encouraging them to raise it if they thought it necessary. The real-time OS will also feature Windows Error Reporting, enabling devices to report glitches to the manufacturer, for a faster turnaround of bug-fixes, which can be delivered across the network.

WinCE 5.0 will also feature Direct3D Mobile, a COM-based version of Windows XP's DirectX multimedia API. Direct3D will work with Wireless MMX, the Pentium-derived multimedia instructions Intel is building into its next-generation XScale CPU, Bulverde. It is also expected to offer DirectDraw for 2D graphics and DirectShow for camera and video digitisation support, which will be included in the Windows Mobile product line.

Windows CE 5.0 is likely to form the basis for next Christmas' 'iPod killer' Personal Media Center entertainment handhelds. ®

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