Adapting Palm OS to ARM Processors

Palm Inc. last week announced more steps in its plan to arm all its devices with processors based on the ARM core.

Palm Inc. last week announced more steps in its plan to arm all its devices with processors based on the ARM core.

Intel Corp., Motorola Inc. and Texas Instruments Inc. will help Palm move to ARM, said officials at Palm, in Santa Clara, Calif. The three companies will develop reference designs to help Palm OS run on the processors, officials said.

Intel, Motorola and TI license technology from ARM Holdings plc., which owns the intellectual property for the chips. Palm is not a direct licensee of ARM but will work with ARM Holdings on development efforts to make sure the migration to ARM will be smooth, officials said.

Intel develops ARM-based Strong- ARM chips that boast speeds up to 200MHz. Intel has plans for processors known as Xscale, which will run significantly faster than that. Intel will provide both StrongARM and Xscale solutions for Palm OS, officials said. Motorola is expected to release the Dragonball MX1, based on ARM, next year. TIs reference design will be based on its Open Multimedia Applications Platform architecture.

Microsoft Corp.s Pocket PC devices run on Intels StrongARM processors. Palm devices use Motorolas Dragonball processors and run at 33MHz, so the switch to ARM should boost speeds dramatically.

The transition means the industry should see more interesting applications for Palm, now that developers understand the platform can handle such things as streaming video.

Until now, "Palm developers have targeted their apps for the limited platform," said Christopher Bell, a Boston-based software developer and avid Palm user. "I imagine that this will allow for some new types of apps."

Bell said, though, that most streaming applications are Web-based, and just as with PCs, the speed of the stream is not dependent on the processor alone.

"I would like simple streaming data first," Bell said. "For example, its painful to get frequent updates on the Palm VIIx or via OmniSky, and Id be pleased to get streaming updates without having to refresh. But this is more about the data network."

Its not clear which company Palm will tap to provide chips for its next generation of handhelds. Officials stressed that the ARM announcement was about the platform, not the hardware. Palm CEO Carl Yankowski has said publicly that the company likely will split into two parts—hardware and software—but he has not said when.

On the platform side, several companies license Palm OS and will likely want their hardware to run on ARM as well.

"This is about getting acceleration for the development efforts in getting products to market," said Pam Diezel, director of product marketing for the Palm platform. "It should accelerate time to market. ... Sony [Corp.], Handspring [Inc.] and Palm will be able to get products to market faster. ARM is the architecture of choice for the wireless space."

Palm OS licensees should be receiving development kits in the fall, and devices based on ARM should be on the market by next year, officials said.