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Microsoft’s embedded operating system platforms are set to take center stage next week at the company’s Embedded Windows Developers Conference (a k a Embedded DevCon) in San Diego.

Microsoft offers two different embedded Windows flavors: Windows XP and Windows CE. Windows XP Embedded, a subset of Windows XP, is typically integrated into retail point-of-sale terminals, thin clients and advanced set-top boxes. Windows CE is a real-time embedded operating system typically used in small-footprint devices.

At next week’s conference — which will be attended by developers in both the XP Embedded and CE camps — Microsoft is slated to talk up Windows XP Embedded Service Pack 2 (SP2); Windows CE 5.0 (code-named “Macallan,”); SQL Server Mobile Edition (code-named “Laguna”) and other mobile-technologies (namely, Pocket PC and Smartphone).

Embedded XP SP2 is for OEMs, not end users. Microsoft officials have that the release of Embedded SP2 will trail by about 60 days the final launch of XP SP2 (which Microsoft is currently planning to ship in late July).

Like the non-embedded XP SP2, the embedded service pack will include a number of new features and fixes, primarily ones that are security-focused.

On April 1, Microsoft began distributing a “technology preview” version of Windows CE 5.0. Company officials said to expect the final Windows CE 5.0 release will ship this summer; sources say the release-to-manufacturing date is looking like August. Microsoft executives have said to expect CE 5.0 provide better storage capabilities and improved file system technology.

The Windows CE platform is embedded by a number of OEMs into a wide variety of devices. Microsoft itself is one of the OEMs, and builds its Pocket PC, Smartphone and Windows Automotive platforms atop Windows CE.

Microsoft is not expected to talk much about versions of CE beyond CE 5.0 during next week’s show, however. There has been talk among the CE development community that Microsoft has shelved “Cardhu,” the version of CE expected to follow CE 5.0. A Microsoft spokesman said development of CE 6.0 is well underway, but would not comment on which version of CE the code name “Cardhu” represented.

Meanwhile, on the database front, Microsoft is expected to offer an update on — and possibly a first beta of —Laguna at Embedded Devcon. Laguna is a subset of SQL Server that is optimized for mobile devices. The compact database is designed to run on Microsoft’s PocketPC, Smartphone and Tablet PC systems.

In March, Microsoft released an alpha version of Laguna, which it officially rechristened SQL Server 2005 Mobile. (The alpha bits were part of the “technical community preview” alpha release of Visual Studio 2005.) Like Visual Studio 2005, Laguna is due to ship in mid-2005.

(This is an edited version of an article which originally appeared in the May 17, 2004, issue of the Microsoft Watch newsletter.)