Microsoft has released its Windows Embedded 8 family of operating systems, which it says makes Windows 8 technology available to 'edge devices' such as sensors, handhelds and point of sale terminals.

It is pushing the release as part of an effort to help businesses exploit the 'Internet of Things' – all the specialised devices that businesses use to collect data on their operations and sales.

The idea is that it can help them to collect, store and analyse data from the devices in real time, using it to make quick changes in plans or pricing.

The platforms include a Windows 8 application model and are available on the Windows Embedded website for equipment manufacturers and developers to download.

Two versions are already available: Pro, which has the full capabilities of Windows 8, and Standard, a componentised version for specific devices. Windows Embedded 8 Industry, which is aimed at retail point of sale systems, will be available in the week beginning April 1.

Microsoft is planning to make licensing options available for businesses wanting to develop specific functions in July.

Kevin Dallas, General Manager of Windows Embedded, said: "Edge devices connected and working in unison with an enterprise's broader IT infrastructure unleash the potential of the Internet of Things by yielding the actionable data and operational intelligence that drive businesses forward."