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Internet of Tardiness: Microsoft puts on a brave face as IoT boat prepares to set sail

Lots of previews and coming-soons, but is it too little, too late?

Build Microsoft's scattergun approach to IoT continued at the company's virtual Build shindig with Azure IoT Central gaining new toys, updates for Digital Twins, and Azure RTOS reaching General Availability.

CEO Satya Nadella famously shunted the company toward the IoT world, having realised that the BSOD Bobs had missed the boat on phones and assistants. As of Build, Microsoft has four different IoT product lines: Windows IoT Core and Enterprise, Azure Sphere and Azure RTOS.

Describing the approach as somewhat messy would be charitable, and the lengthy gestation of tech such as Azure Sphere has left Microsoft in danger of missing the boat once again.

Azure RTOS hits GA

A few months after Azure Sphere finally left preview, Azure RTOS, a rebrand of the company's 2019 Express Logic acquisition, has emerged blinking into the General Availability light at Build. An embedded IoT development suite, the platform features a lightweight real-time OS for microcontrollers (MCU) and microprocessors (MPU).

Microsoft has already signed up the likes of STMicroelectronics, Renesas, NXP, Microchip, and Qualcomm for development kits to support the platform.

A public preview of an Azure Security Center module has also been included and an add-on industrial certification package is coming down the pipe later this year to reduce the time to get kit to market.

Azure Sphere and IoT Edge go Central

Not to be outdone, Microsoft's other MCU-based IoT operating system (the Linux-based Azure Sphere) was made a first-class citizen of the Azure IoT Central app platform at Build last night, along with IoT Edge.

The move is important for developers in Microsoft's ecosystem since it makes the modelling, deployment and monitoring of IoT applications and devices considerably easier.

Azure Digital Twins redux

After a 2018 debut at Microsoft's Orlando Ignite conference, the company has announced the next iteration of the digital replica tech. Developers were teased with new toys such as a live execution environment and better integration with out Azure services.

That integration was something we were a little surprised was not already in the box, but such is the array of IoT tech emitted by Microsoft over recent years, it can become tricky to keep up - even for its own development teams.

More interesting is the impending arrival of the Digital Twins Definition Language, based on the JSON-LD standard, which will make it easier to integrate with other platforms.

This is all assuming you can get on the preview. At time of writing, it was "Temporarily Closed" due to "overwhelming demand". And the new toys? "Expected to be out in the next couple of months."

Maps and Time

Also confirmed were new features for Azure Maps and Time Series Insights.

The latter received a public preview of a Creator feature, handy for creating the map information of indoor spaces and devices for the use of the forever-in-preview Azure Digital Twins while the former's already-announced new features, such as the Time Series Explorer as well as scalability and security tweaks, are scheduled for GA "in the next few months".

Windows for IoT

Finally, Microsoft also announced plans to reduce the footprint of Windows for IoT by 40 per cent (needed for smaller footprint devices), over-the-air updates and the ability to run Linux workloads on Windows via Linux containers with Azure IoT Edge.

Sadly, while a preview is imminent, it'll be 2021 before anything is generally available.

The team also announced plans to converge Windows 10 IoT Core and Enterprise in the next long-term supported release of Windows.

Overall, the IoT updates are interesting and will be welcomed by those already swimming in Redmondian waters, as will the arrival of a new Azure IoT Developer Speciality certification.

However, with a variety of IoT technology that only now seems to have begun playing better together and the lengthy gestation period of technology such as Azure Sphere, there remains a good chance that despite Nadella's best intentions, Microsoft may yet find its dream of being a big noise in IoT somewhat muted. ®

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