The news coming out of Microsoft’s Build developer conference, still happening right now in San Francisco, shows that the company is going after the “maker” market that continues to drive much of the growth of the Internet of Things.
First came a preview release of Windows 10 IoT Core, a free version of the operating system designed for low-power devices and compatible immediately with the Raspberry Pi 2 and Intel Minnowboard Max. Now, it’s the announcement of two open-source software libraries that will act as a bridge between Windows devices and the Arduino ecosystem of programmable microcontrollers.
Windows Virtual Shield for Arduino allows any hardware that runs Windows—like a low-cost Lumia mobile phone—to connect wirelessly to an Arduino board. That gives the Arduino access to all of the hardware in the phone, from gyroscope to touchscreen, just as if those components were hard-wired through an Arduino “shield” module. Windows Remote Arduino essentially runs the equation backwards, allowing a Windows application to control and draw on the components of an Arduino device.
The libraries make Windows 10 the first operating system to join the Arduino Certified program, which supports hardware manufacturers by ensuring their products have basic Arduino compatibility in exchange for a licensing fee. Though Windows is a software product, the new libraries allow Arduino to link to a wider variety of hardware by connecting to any Windows 10 system.
This foray into open-source software is a bit out of character for Microsoft, which has a reputation for being “decidedly proprietary”, as one commenter in the Arduino community put it. Other reactions were more positive, but most ranged from polite skepticism to declarations that the partnership would “make enemies” of the maker movement by eroding Arduino’s commitment to the open-source philosophy.
But Microsoft may truly be trying to change its stripes, at least where the Internet of Things is concerned. Tens of billions of devices are expected to join the IoT in the coming years, creating a massive new market—and Microsoft is aiming to have at least a billion of them run Windows 10. Considering the wide-open nature of the evolving IoT opportunity, Microsoft may have decided that, at least in this one arena, success will come from openness and compatibility.