Psion handheld computers to sport Java

Sun Microsystems gains more ground in gadgets as makers of handheld computers continue to sign on to Java technology.

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Psion's latest handheld computer and another coming in October will be able to run Java programs, president Craig Swallow said.

The Series 5mx, which will arrive in about two weeks, is the latest gadget that will come with the ability to run programs developed in the "write once, run anywhere" language. Last week, Java creator Sun Microsystems and handheld computer frontrunner Palm Computing announced that the Palm devices would become Java-enabled later this year.

The Java technology is a logical step for Psion, because the company founded and owns 28 percent of the Symbian consortium that announced in March that it would use Java.

Both the 5mx and the NetBook use the Epoc operating system, which Symbian has selected for use to power the next generation of Internet-enabled smartphones. Symbian is 28 percent owned by Psion, but its other members include top cellular phone makers, including Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola, Matsushita, and Philips.

Swallow said he expected Java-enabled smartphones from the companies to start appearing in the first or second quarter of 2000.

Though Sun has won several licensees of its Java technology, it hasn't convinced everyone that the technology works well in gadgets. Hewlett-Packard is the most prominent dissident, though programmers have written dozens of versions of the underpinnings of Java without Sun's blessing.

Despite that resistance, Java is undeniably gaining ground in gadgets, with deals with Palm, Motorola, Symbian, Sharp, NTT Docomo, and others.

Psion's reason for Java
Psion selected Java as a way to jumpstart programmer interest by appealing to the large base of Java developers, Swallow said. Without being able to run Java programs, it would be harder to attract developers to the Epoc operating system, he said.

Psion wrote the email, browser, word processor, and other software on its devices, Swallow said. He added, though, that Psion is a business partner with Espial Group, which has its own suite of miniaturized Internet applications written for Java gadgets, he said.

It's a similar strategy to that of Palm, which in three days sold programmers 10,000 Palm V devices for $199 apiece--less than half of retail price--during Sun's JavaOne conference.

Psion also hopes that putting Java on its devices will appeal to companies that have employees on the road but that don't want to pay the greater expense for laptop computers, Swallow said.

He said Java programs run five times faster on the Epoc operating system than on Microsoft's Windows CE.

The Psion Series 5mx is in the same size as its two-year-old predecessor, the Series 5, which when folded up is about the size of a checkbook but somewhat thicker. It opens up to display a small screen and keyboard.

The Series 5mx doubles memory to 16 MB, uses an Arm 710T processor that at 36 MHz is twice as fast, and will cost an estimated $549. The improved memory and processor let its Web browser display frames, run Java applets, and handle cookies.

Psion's NetBook, a small leatherbound computer about half the size of an ordinary laptop that's due in October, also will have the ability to run Java programs, Swallow said at the PC Expo show in New York. The NetBook can use up to 64 megabytes of memory and runs on a 190 MHz StrongArm processor, he said.