Microsoft is courting embedded device developers by including new tools with the release today of Windows Embedded CE 6.0, which can now run a wider variety of applications.

Among consumers, CE is one of Microsoft's lesser known OSes, but it can by used in a wide range of devices such as vending machines to parking meters and set-top boxes. Windows Mobile, Microsoft's OS for mobile devices, is based on CE.

Microsoft is throwing in new goodies in the CE package. Developers will be able to look at all of CE's code and modify it without giving the changes back to Microsoft. Previously, Microsoft only revealed 56 percent of the code base.

That's appealing to OEMs trying to differentiate their products, said Tony Cripps, software analyst for Ovum PLC in London.

CE 6.0 will come with Visual Studio 2005 Professional, an application development tool. The inclusion of Visual Studio should attract organizations already using it to develop other applications for the desktop or servers, as it's one of the most commonly used integrated development platforms, Cripps said.

Visual Studio will also come with Platform Builder, an embedded-specific plug-in for building applications, Microsoft said.

CE's kernel has also been revamped. It's capable of doing 32,000 simultaneous processes with 2 G-bytes of virtual memory address space per process, up from 32 processes. The increase means developers can include more applications on devices.

Other features include allowing devices to make data connections and voice calls over the cellular networks. Also, CE has new wireless technology that would, for example, let a laptop and a projector communicate wirelessly during a PowerPoint presentation, said Hardy Poppinga, a Microsoft product manager.

CE 6.0 also enables new machine-to-machine data exchanges, such as parking meters communicating via GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) with servers to authenticate credit card information, Poppinga said.