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Microsoft End of Life for Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5 OS Presents Real Security Risks

May 15, 2019
6 min read
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It’s old news that Microsoft is phasing out legacy Windows® Embedded Handheld operating systems. This transition affects well over 10 million rugged handheld devices supporting business and mission-critical applications in industries such as warehousing, retail, logistics, manufacturing, and healthcare.

According to a recent enterprise mobility study, more than 50 percent of decision-makers said they will remain on legacy Windows after End of Life phase or are still evaluating their options1. This means that organizations will be running software that’s no longer supported, resulting in the potential for data to be compromised.

With so much information, why do companies still take a wait-and-see approach, hoping to extend the lifecycle of devices beyond their intended life? For some it’s because this transition is not simply about buying replacement devices. It will take substantial resources to support moving to a new OS. For others, it’s not knowing where to begin the process. Whatever the reason, the transition from legacy Windows to an operating system like Android™ is a business necessity.

On the upside, moving from legacy Windows devices is an opportunity to drive operational efficiencies by refining workflows, by leveraging the capabilities of modern mobile devices and providing employees a richer and more intuitive mobile experience.

In this article, we will explore what the end of life of legacy Windows operating systems for rugged environments means for your organization. We will provide a few ideas where Honeywell can make a difference in this transition/migration. The three takeaways will include:

  1. Microsoft Windows OS for rugged environments is gone.
  2. Honeywell Mobility Edge™ is the migration platform of choice.
  3. Honeywell will provide migration support and services.

January 14, 2020: Windows Embedded Handheld OS End of Life

Microsoft will once and for all end its support for Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5. This will complete the end of life for all Windows ruggedized environments.

If you are running Windows Embedded Handheld, Microsoft announced in 2013 that it planned end of life for these products. The dates announced were:

  • June 10, 2018 – Windows Embedded CE 6.0
  • January 14, 2020 – Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5

Less than five years ago, Windows was the most dominant operating system in rugged environments, with industry analysts stating that four out of five facilities were using it in 2014. Today, the Android operating system has become the standard for industrial mobile devices.

The Meaning of Legacy Windows End of Life

Microsoft will stop issuing security patches and software updates for rugged environments, leaving many companies with the challenge of migrating from legacy Windows devices to operating systems like Android to complete daily tasks.

Without these OS updates, literally hundreds of thousands of rugged mobile devices will increasingly fall short of mission-critical requirements. These devices will become prime targets for hackers to find ways to penetrate system security because they are unprotected against security threats and vulnerable to viruses and malware. And you won’t be able to add any new applications to those devices.

As is the case with Windows XP, the end of extended support doesn't mean that the products will stop working, but that fixes (e.g., security updates) will cease.

Relying on an unsupported product is challenging when the device is central to operational processes, such as manufacturing, or is being used in a regulated industry in which the devices are used to handle products that are regulated, such as pharmaceuticals.

Legacy Windows End of Life Presents a Serious Security Threat

You are sitting on a serious security vulnerability that attackers will be targeting. Without updates to the operating system, which you will no longer be receiving, you will simply not be able to continue running devices you already have without introducing a large hole in your infrastructure. As Honeywell consults DCs and warehouses of all sizes, we have heard comments like “We don’t use wireless LAN or cellular. We just use Wi-Fi within the four walls.”

Any device that is on that Wi-Fi network can be a source of malware into that network. At Honeywell, we have a global perspective on security and have the team to help you assess your security risks and how to close them as you migrate off legacy Windows devices.

Many devices are IoT-based, collecting real-time information that is shared with host systems beyond the four walls. Security may not be the highest priority but from a compliance perspective, it is hardly ever acceptable to run unsupported versions of an operating system in mission-critical production.

Bottom-line, relying on unsupported devices will be challenging when that device is central to your business processes or is being used in regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals.

Why Companies Are Still Using the Legacy Windows OS

Across the supply chain most organizations have made the decision to move off Windows CE and are well into the transition if not already complete. However, there are a mix of large and small operations that are still needing to make decisions. It is important to remember from a regulatory perspective third-party suppliers that are running outdated operating systems can become a vector of attack. Just recently a breach of a third-party payment processor exposed sensitive financial data for customers of large healthcare organizations.

Warehousing is a low-margin business and there is a predominate feeling among the industry that “if it is not broke, we really don’t want to fix it.” Traditionally warehousing invests slowly and uses the device as long as possible. Larger operations may have the focus but are lacking budget and/or don’t know if they have the right plan in place for migrating to a new OS. And smaller operations don’t feel an urgency and don’t have any immediate plans.

Android Is the #1 Platform of Choice for Legacy Windows OS Users

Android OS is the #1 platform that organizations are choosing to replace legacy Windows. Android OS is the platform that Honeywell has chosen. Some of the key features of the Android OS include:

  • Open-source platform. As an open-source platform, Android OS allows developers to respond quickly when users need new functionality or need to scale their deployments. These include custom security APIs, hardware integration APIs, and more robust mobile device management features.
  • Most used platform in world. Android is currently the most used mobile OS in the world. Most of your workforce is already familiar with the platform and that will make it much easier to transition with new employees.
  • Device compatibility. There is a wide selection of Android-compatible hardware that is rugged and designed for high-volume use in industrial settings.
  • Strong community of development. That there is a very strong community of Android developers is well-established. For example, Honeywell has a growing community/offering in the Honeywell Marketplace You will find most if not all of the applications you will need for business success with Honeywell and Android devices.
  • Strong and growing investment of Google in Android. Google and its Android platform partners have been investing heavily in application development to expand and improve applications. Honeywell has been working with Android since 2011 and has hundreds of resources throughout the world that are focused on application design, security, device development, and more to ensure that our platforms are world-class.

Honeywell Has Deep Experience with Android OS

Honeywell has been working with Android since 2011. We have made massive investments in Android engineering competency. Honeywell helps companies confidently select, deploy, and manage Android operating system devices and services. As part of the Google-led Android Enterprise Recommended Managed Service Provider program, Honeywell provides customers more confidence in deploying Android solutions and making sure their enterprise mobility deployment is consistent and current.

Honeywell provides customers with a comprehensive set of enterprise services that address every phase of the mobility lifecycle to help streamline operations and reduce IT-related costs. Honeywell globally manages more than two million devices such as smartphones, tablets, and ruggedized mobile computers.

Honeywell is one of the only companies that delivers both Android Enterprise Recommended mobile devices and managed services. Honeywell's validated devices are built on the company's Mobility Edge platform, a common hardware architecture and set of software tools that provide IT departments with an agile approach for deploying, managing, and updating devices.

Mobile devices built on the scalable Mobility Edge platform help extend product lifecycles by supporting current and future versions of the Android operating system. Honeywell is one of the only rugged mobile computer providers to commit to supporting through at least Android 11 (R).

Mobilty Edge Platform and What It Means to You Through 2027

Mobility Edge is based upon extensive research gathered from Honeywell’s global community of customers from a range of technologies. Honeywell recognized that businesses wanted a unified hardware and software platform for all form factors – one that allowed for rapid deployments, robust performance, and adaptability to changing needs.

We completely rethought our approach to meeting the challenges of supporting a mobile workforce, and Mobility Edge was the answer. This unified, dynamic platform for mobile computing is designed to:

  • Accelerate Deployments
  • Optimize Business Performance
  • Extend Lifecycle
  • Strengthen Security

Honeywell Mobility Edge devices built on this common hardware and software platform are easier and less costly to deploy and manage and have longer lifecycles than similar competitive devices.

Mobility Edge devices feature a common hardware System On Module, or SOM, which is a single, certified module that includes the device’s CPU, memory, WWAN (in selected devices), WLAN, Bluetooth®, near-field communication (NFC), and Zigbee (in selected devices). They also feature a common OS software image and a common software ecosystem, which includes not only Honeywell software, but also software from Honeywell-approved independent software vendors (ISVs).

Having a common SOM and OS software image provides flexibility and reduces costs for businesses to deploy additional device form factors, because there are no added development or certification costs. Companies can validate all their mobile devices, use cases, and software once, and then deploy across multiple devices in multiple form factors, more rapidly and at a lower cost than typical mobile deployments.

Businesses wishing to extend product lifecycle and gain a better return on their technology investment will be assured by the fact that Mobility Edge platform devices can be upgraded through Android R. Honeywell also provides critical security updates for up to two years past Google’s last security patch through its Sentinel service, giving customers a product lifecycle through at least 2027.


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