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 320×320,
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.”

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