In the past, the wordembedded was limited to specialty devices that a lot of us used, but few programmers really cared about. Embedded devices meant things like the controllers on your microwave oven or the computer that ran your car's fuel injection system. There are certainly a lot of software engineers working in that realm, but for those of us who program for PCs, we had little interest in embedded technology.
But that is all changing thanks to the huge number of handheld devices that need programming. While most of us still won't be writing at the assembly-language level, opting instead for high level languages such as C++, Objective C, or C#, we will, nevertheless, likely be making the transition to embedded programming.
That's why we need to know about Intel's Atom processor. The Atom processor is an x86-based processor (and now dual-core!), but it's used in small devices, whether it's a phone, a netbook, a slate computer, or even any number of other devices. (Here at Intel IDF they showed us a motorcycle with an on-board Atom processor that reports data back to the racing team.)
Or how about this application: In-vehicle Infotainment. (That's Intel's exact wording.) A company called HawTai is developing a car that comes standard with a computer that includes navigation, real-time weather, and entertainment, all powered by an Atom processor running the MeeGo operating system. (MeeGo is Linux-based.) And similarly, Delphi (the car parts company, not the software development tool) is also creating an In-vehicle Infotainment system that is Atom-based and includes a dual display and 3D graphics. (The graphics are for the riders of the car, not the driver!)
While the MeeGo operating system runs on Intel, so does a version of Windows 7. And that's not Windows Mobile or anything of that sort; it's the real Windows 7.
What all this means for us programmers is that we don't need to learn a different kind of programming; we can continue developing in the same languages we're accustomed to. You can write Windows 7 code, or you can write Linux code for MeeGo.
Drop by Intel's Embedded Design Center . They have development tools, driver design information, and more.
Or, if you're really into this, and do want to do some serious software engineering at a lower level, the tools are there fore you. Check out this page devoted to Atom development. The tools aren't free, but if you're building some awesome devices, you're probably willing to spend the money.