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Transmeta teams with Windows CE .Net

Embedded market, here we come. The chipmaker gets a nod from Microsoft, and hopefully an inside track to cracking the competitive market.

Chipmaker Transmeta said Wednesday it has received a key certification from Microsoft, an important step in the company's strategy to enter the embedded processor market.

Transmeta chips were given the green light by Microsoft to work with the Windows CE .Net operating system. Now manufacturers that buy Transmeta's chips will be better able to develop devices based on the Windows CE operating system, the company said.

Windows CE .Net, code-named Talisker and introduced in January, is used in a range of devices, from handhelds to gas pumps. Since its introduction, it has been updated to add support for IPv6, the latest version of the Internet protocol, as well as support for speech recognition.

Certification is a crucial stage in Transmeta's plans to tackle the embedded chip market. Until now, the company's processors have largely been used in notebook computers. With certification, Transmeta chips can now be used in digital cameras, industrial equipment or other devices that use Windows CE .Net.

"It puts us on the approved processor list," said Transmeta's Chief Technical Officer David Ditzel. "This is what kick starts us into the embedded market."

Transmeta's pitch to embedded customers will follow a new tack. In the notebook market, the company's Crusoe chips are known mostly for their energy efficiency, and compete against processors from rivals Intel and Advanced Micro Devices. Most chips sold in the embedded market, though, are already energy-efficient and are based around designs from ARM Holdings or MIPS Technologies. Transmeta will try to distinguish its chips through higher clock speeds and native compatibility with software for the Windows operating system.

When developers want to bring desktop software to devices, "the last thing that you want to do is write new device drivers," Ditzel said.

Cracking the embedded market, though, is not easy. Unlike the PC processor market, no single company dominates. Chips also sell for far less. On the other hand, a key design win with a successful product can lead to years of sales, even after technology has advanced. For years, Research In Motion used an embedded version of its 386 chip for its popular Blackberry pager.

Chipmakers AMD and Samsung Semiconductor have also pledged their support for Windows CE .Net. NEC also said it plans to use the operating system in a new wireless handheld.