Microsoft has laid out its roadmap for the next version of Windows Embedded, with a preview of the standard version available to download now. Windows Embedded is the specialized version of the OS that you'll often see running in devices ranging from kiosks and ATMs to car dashboards and medical equipment. It looks like the next version will be labeled with the Windows 8 branding across the board, though it's officially being called Windows Embedded v.Next in Microsoft's press release. The enterprise version is set for release three months after Windows 8 becomes generally available, and the standard version will come six months after that. The new Embedded Compact, which is designed for smaller devices and has formed the basis of Windows Phone until now, will be out in the second half of 2012. This could provide a new direction for the company in areas where it has recently been lagging, such as rugged mobile devices used in industrial situations.

Windows Embedded Standard 8 is available to download now in Community Technology Preview form. The main improvements are the ability to create Metro style applications, touch interactions, enhanced Web functionality via Internet Explorer 10, NFC support, and enhancements to security. As with Windows 8 on tablets the new version of Embedded will eventually support ARM processors, which would make it a good fit for small-footprint devices, but the preview doesn't have this functionality right now. OEMs that currently use Windows Embedded will have been running on x86 or x64 systems, though, so the preview should play nicely with existing implementations.