RealTime IT News

Windows ARMs Race Heats Up

Windows CE .Net will run on Motorola's upcoming line of 32-bit PDAs, Microsoft officials said Wednesday.

The news comes on the heels of news by its archrival Palm , which Tuesday released a Web browser for Palm OS 5 handheld devices. Both companies, Palm and Microsoft, are expected to hit off an intense marketing campaign this Fall to tout the latest enhancements to personal digital assistant technology using ARM-based silicon processors.

ARM licenses its 16- and 32-bit reduced instruction set computer (RISC) microprocessor technology to silicon makers like Motorola and Texas Instruments, who go on to manufacture PDAs and other specialized handheld devices. The company's design is considered by many manufacturers to be the most efficient architecture for processing power on handhelds, both in terms of reducing power drain and speeding computations.

Motorola represents the latest of the three major handheld silicon makers to support Microsoft's embedded platform. The other two, Texas Instruments and Intel , are already on board. That's good news for Microsoft, which is eager to sign up silicon vendors making devices with 32-bit processors to match the efforts undertaken by Palm to release its OS 5 this fall.

Thirty-two-bit processing power is the latest, greatest improvement to handheld devices, sporting powerful new tools, including: multi-tasking capability, Web browser functionality, screen resolutions of 320x320, 128-bit security encryption and Wi-fi Internet connectivity. To date, a handheld's biggest knock has been its poor battery lifespan and weak enterprise applications to remain within power constraints.

While a little late to the 32-bit market, Motorola is making up for lost time and expects to release Windows CE and Palm OS 5 devices by the end of the year. Earlier Wednesday, Motorola announced it would also join the ARM Consortium for Windows CE; the company was one of three new partners (the other two were STMicroelectronics and NeoMagic ) announced at a Windows CE executive summit hosted by ARM and Microsoft.

The deal struck with Motorola was crucial for Microsoft's embedded group. While it already has TI and Intel in hand, Motorola is a major PDA vendor that has supported Palm OS 5 since June.

Eric Carpenter, ARM director of strategic platforms, said the company has been working closely with Microsoft for almost five years now and expects wide vendor support to help both sides of the handheld equation, the hardware and the software.

"The big benefit to everybody is that there is one architecture that spans a wide variety of products and a wide variety of choice in silicon vendors," he said. "So its very easy for silicon vendors to get engaged in very compelling products without having to worry about the details of making Windows CE run on their silicon."

Getting Windows CE .Net out to as many people as possible is critical for both Microsoft and Palm these days, though for different reasons. Palm, the PDA pioneer that sparked the handheld craze years ago, has seen Microsoft steadily chip away at its market share the past year.

According to Jupiter Research, Windows CE has doubled its market share at the expense of Palm's bottom line since 2001. The report, "Handheld Computers: Evolving Platforms and Going Mainstream," predicts 35 million Americans will own a handheld device by 2006.

The authors, Jay Horwitz and Michael Gartenberg, define a new kind of market segment, the "enterprise consumer." While many corporations aren't funding a PDA handout to its employees, many of these employees are going out on their own to buy a device to help manage their jobs.

Such enterprise consumers are going to be looking for business applications that enhance their productivity; applications like spreadsheets, organizers and word processors, with Web browsing as an added bonus.

Microsoft, on the other hand, sees Windows CE .Net as an essential element in its Web services platform and will draw on the broad developer pool the software company has at hand.

Scott Horn, director of marketing at Microsoft's embedded and appliance platform group, expects the popularity of Windows PC applications and developers to help push the migration to Windows CE.

"The reason I think the popularity of Windows will translate is because the Windows PC ecosystem spawned million of knowledgeable developers around win32 and .Net, that's the largest developer base in the world," he said. "You have all those people who can now apply their skills to the device base, including PDAs."

Palm was not available for comment at press time on Microsoft's expectations.

Asked whether Microsoft expects to court Palm's hardware division, which split up with the OS software division in January, Horn replied:

"The short answer is no," he said. "Current Palm hardware isn't powerful enough to run Windows CE."