Wednesday, 14 December 2005

Coining a word

horricious (adj): Mind-numbingly awful. Descriptive of the speed of Microsoft’s first attempt at a ‘real’ Windows CE emulator.

A colleague asked if there was an emulator for one of Symbol’s hand-helds – a customer wanted to evaluate it with some software. While eVC 4.0 and VS.NET 2003 do ship an emulation platform, and Symbol supplies an emulator image for this platform, it is pretty slow. In describing this emulator to my colleague, I inadvertently coined this word. I’d just used ‘horrible’ and ‘horrendous’ and was searching for a third – lists of three, you know – and somehow got ‘horrific’ and ‘atrocious’ mangled together.


The Pocket PC 2000 emulator, and earlier Windows CE emulators, ran weirdly compiled x86 code inside an app running on top of Windows. Stable it was not, and it didn’t emulate a CE device at all accurately. This made it completely unusable for actually developing apps.

The Pocket PC 2002 and later emulators were a little better. Now they were based on Connectix’ Virtual PC technology, which virtualises your PC’s processor and other resources (Microsoft bought out Connectix soon after). Unfortunately that’s still a virtualised x86, which is different from the actual Pocket PC 2002 devices, which use ARM processors. The result is that you had to do a special build for the emulator, meaning again that you’re not testing the same code you’re going to ship – and it was very hard to get libraries built for the emulator.

Windows CE on the x86 has always been a slug – Microsoft have never really taken it seriously as a platform, most hand-helds using MIPS or SH3 to begin with, then later ARM. Virtual PC wasn’t really designed to run Windows CE. Putting some form of Additions on the image would have been a) hard and b) defeated the object a little.

Visual Studio 2005 (at least, some editions) includes the Microsoft Device Emulator 1.0. This, finally, emulates an ARM processor. And you know what? It’s quicker than the virtualised x86! At last, it’s possible to use virtually a real OS image and real binaries in an emulated environment.

It’s still quite a bit slower than a real device though, even a 400MHz PXA255.

1 comment:

Ian D said...

You forgot about the blue screening in the 2002 emulator too :-)