Windows 10 has yet to be finalized, but it’s already made some pretty big waves. For the first time in a long while, people have a genuine reason to get excited about a new version of Windows. The latest announcement to catch everybody’s attention is Windows 10 being the first Arduino certified operating system.
Arduino already an incredibly popular line of microcontrollers. The $25 boards ($5 if you purchase unofficial models) are commonly used in Internet of Things and DIY electronics projects – as diverse as night lights, motorized laser turrets, and Pong games.
“Arduino Certified” simply means that it’s easier for developers and makers to integrate Arduino projects with the Windows operating system. The official announcement gives the example of an Arduino security camera that is controlled through the Universal Windows Platform, and can be extended to Microsoft-operated, cloud-based motion detection and facial/voice recognition systems.
So, what does this mean for makers? And more importantly, should anyone care?
The Microsoft-Arduino Partnership
Windows 10 is one of the more ambitious projects to come out of Redmond in recent years. But unlike earlier iterations of Microsoft’s flagship operating system, it’s not a single OS, but rather an umbrella of operating systems that covers an entire spectrum of devices, from tablets and desktops, to embedded systems and microcontrollers.
In the latter category, we have Windows 10 for IoT. Announced in February, it runs on the Raspberry Pi II, and is provided free of charge by Microsoft. This is a decidedly unusual move for Microsoft – a company that turned Bill Gates into a multi-billionaire by selling huge volumes of software rather than giving them away.
But Microsoft isn’t expecting people to use their Raspberry Pi II as their main computer. Not with its anemic CPU and scarce RAM. They’re not worried about it cannibalizing sales of PCs and Tablets.
Rather, they’re expecting people to use it in lieu of Linux for Internet of Things projects, which can be built by connecting the Raspberry Pi’s built-in GPIO pins – 26 of them – to sensors, servos, LEDs, and more.
Microsoft’s IoT ambitions don’t just end with the Raspberry Pi, though. The company has also made it phenomenally easy to connect an Arduino to systems running Windows 10 through two different software libraries.
Windows 10 is built around a design philosophy of a Universal Windows Platform, where applications can be written once, and used across the entire family of Windows 10 devices. Consequently, any application built around the Windows Remote Arduino library can run on Windows 10 Phones, as well as traditional computers, and Raspberry Pi systems.
The second product in the Microsoft Arduino family is Virtual Arduino Shields. This makes it possible for any Bluetooth-enabled Arduino device to use the sensors and functionality of a Windows 10 smartphone, rather than using an Arduino Shield. These are notorious for being eye-wateringly expensive, with the most elaborate costing hundreds of dollars. But this makes it possible to replace individual shields with a single smartphone (In this case, a Lumia 535 or 635), potentially saving developers hundreds of dollars.
Both of these libraries are available to download now from Github.
Microsoft has seemingly graduated from Bill Gates’ original vision of a computer “on every desk and in every home”, to a vision where computers are integrated into everyday, commonplace items, and with Windows powering it all.
In traditional Microsoft fashion, they’re late to the game here. Arduino is approaching its tenth birthday, and Microsoft ignored it for almost a decade. This left a vacuum for other companies to build the kinds of products Microsoft has just released.
For instance, the 1Sheeld, from Egyptian-based Integreight, which we reviewed just a few months ago. This affordable ($55) Arduino shield lets developers integrate the sensors of their Android smartphones with their Arduino-based IOT projects.
At the time, reviewer James Bruce remarked that the 1Sheeld was “an amazing bit of kit to have around the workshop” and “the sheer versatility [of the 1Sheeld] is outstanding”, but he had reservations about its long term usefulness, given that it has to be tethered to a mobile device via Bluetooth.
A New Beginning for Microsoft.
Over the past few years, Microsoft has shaken off its stuffy, corporate image – and its long, insular legacy when it comes to cooperating with other major tech companies. This latest foray into the IoT world only emphasizes that.
Adrian McEwen, co-author of Designing The Internet of Things, says, “It’s interesting to see Microsoft getting more involved in IoT and good to see them partnering with the existing communities and platforms (including their Raspberry Pi announcement) rather than replicating it like they did last time they embraced makers with the .Net Gadgeteer.”
The .Net Gadgeteer was, of course, a commercial failure which enjoyed nothing like the success of the Arduino.
However, if anything, Microsoft’s willingness to engage with the Arduino community shows how radically it has changed as a company, especially since the hiring of Satya Nadella as CEO. In just over a year, the company has open-sourced the .Net framework, released Visual Studio for the Mac world, and made Microsoft cool again.
But Why IoT?
But why should Microsoft care about the Internet of Things – a relatively niche field still in its infancy? It’s true that the only people truly excited about IoT today are an elite of developers and power users.
But it’s also true that what becomes the norm for power users eventually becomes the norm for everyone else. Microsoft is abundantly aware of that, and wants to be at the center of this rapidly growing market before it enters the mainstream consciousness, and before a rival company gets there first. In the process, it’s going to make it easier, faster, and more accessible to build IoT devices.
In short, Microsoft wants to do for IoT what it did for productivity software, and for operating systems.
Internet of Windows Things
Will you be using Windows 10 with your latest Arduino product? Have you got a burning idea for a Microsoft-powered IoT device? I want to hear about it. Drop me a comment, and we’ll chat.