Microsoft is set to release Tuesday a set of drivers and utilities for its Windows CE 5.0 operating system to make product development easier for device manufacturers.The upgrade, called the Networked Media Device Feature Pack, is free for OEMs, said Hardy Poppinga, a Microsoft product manager. Windows CE 5.0, released in July 2004, is an embedded operating system that runs on PDAs, portable music players and other hardware.Microsoft's intention is to reduce the work involved in developing consumers electronics, such as networked media devices, as the market grows, Poppinga said.The feature pack has built-in middleware components that provide networking technology, codecs and customizable user interfaces, Microsoft said. It also supports a range of Windows Media and other video formats.The idea is to reduce developers' dependence on third-party middleware and speed up product development. With the feature pack, "there is no need for [developers] to do any integration anymore," Poppinga said.Principal analyst David Bradshaw of Ovum said middleware makes it easier for multiple vendors' software to interoperate.Microsoft may be cutting out third-party middleware to reduce the complexity and increase the performance of devices, Bradshaw said. "Direct connections and drivers cut out some of this complexity but at the expense of flexibility," he said.A problem could arise, however, if developers want the operating system to be more open, Bradshaw said.Microsoft said companies including Samsung Electronics and Humax will use the upgrade. About 30 OEMs use Windows CE 5.0, Microsoft said.As part of the feature pack, Microsoft also is offering access to the Windows CE source code. The license for the software includes a Digital Video Recorder engine with functions such as customized encoding, compression and digital rights management.Windows CE is due for a major release later this year, but Poppinga said a date has not been determined.