Microsoft today revealed its roadmap for Windows Embedded, which includes the Windows Embedded Standard v.Next and Windows Embedded Compact v.Next platforms. Together, these products target what Microsoft calls the "intelligent systems" market and are "tightly aligned," architecturally, with Windows 8 for PCs.

"With today's pervasive network connectivity, the emergence of cloud services and low-cost yet high-powered microchips, traditional embedded devices can now connect and participate as part of a broader IT infrastructure and exchange real-time data all the way to the customer's fingertips," Microsoft Windows Embedded general manager Kevin Dallas says. "Intelligent systems offer endless possibilities for organizations to collect and act on information in real time, from understanding customer buying habits to tracking product shipments around the globe."

That's a mouthful. But what does it mean?

Basically, there are two major versions of Windows Embedded coming. Both are aligned closely to Windows 8 and are apparently being developed simultaneously with that more mainstream OS.  These are:

Windows Embedded Enterprise v.Next. This OS provides full Windows application compatibility and the same basic feature set as the desktop versions of Windows, but on embedded devices. Versions will be made for specific device types, including as ATMs and kiosks, and Microsoft says it will ship this OS "[one calendar] quarter after Windows 8 is generally available for PCs."

Windows Embedded Standard v.Next. This OS will "deliver the power, familiarity and reliability of the Windows operating system in a highly customizable and componentized form," Microsoft says. It will be available in a pre-release "community technology preview" for developers during the first calendar quarter of 2012, but the final release is expected "three quarters after Windows 8 is generally available for PCs."

And just so we're clear, "Microsoft is not disclosing specific dates for the Windows 8 release schedule at this time." No surprise there. But let's say it's roughly Q3 2012 for purposes of horseshoes and hand grenades.

But wait, there's more.

In addition to the two embedded Windows versions discussed above, Microsoft actually has a third embedded Windows version, though this one is technically based on Windows CE, not mainstream Windows. That OS, called Windows Embedded Compact 7, was just updated in October. And the next version, currently called Windows Embedded Compact v.Next, will ship in the second half of 2012.

So how this that OS different? According to Microsoft, Windows Embedded Compact v.Next will support ARM systems and "continue to provide a proven, real-time operating system and a full tools suite for a streamlined development experience on small-footprint, specialized devices ... It will deliver technologies for customized, rich user interfaces, enhanced always-on connectivity, and all of the management and security functionality provided by Windows 8."

So I know what you're thinking. That's too many OSes and OS types. But you know what? We've only just started. Microsoft also has related OSes such as Windows Embedded Handheld, Windows Embedded POSReady and Windows Embedded Automotive, all of which will be updated to "include the latest Microsoft technologies as well."

I don't know how even Microsoft keeps this all straight.