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Intel, Microsoft move closer on CE

Intel will work more closely with Microsoft to bring its chips to Windows CE devices such as handhelds and other specialized products.

SAN JOSE, California--Although it missed out on the first round of handheld computers, Intel has begun to work more closely with Microsoft on pairing its chips with the Windows CE operating system that the software maker is aggressively pushing in the market for small consumer and business devices.

The first stage of the cooperation between the two industry giants will come on the AutoPC front, said Mike Aymar, Intel's vice president and general manager of the consumer products division. The companies have agreed to merge their independent efforts to bring PC technologies to cars.

The alliance will extend to handheld computers and consumer devices as well, Aymar noted.

"We are working to make sure that Windows CE is optimized for the Intel architecture," he said. "The goal here is to make sure that as the Windows CE platform expands into other areas, we are able to bring Intel architecture value there."

Aymar made his statements as part of today's keynote speech by Microsoft's Paul Maritz, group vice president of the platform and application group, at the Windows CE conference taking place here. Aymar came out as a guest during the speech.

The public pledge of allegiance between the two companies suggests that the competition between processor vendors could become more intense.

The handheld computing market has been one of the few where the two hegemons have not seemed to move in lock-step fashion. Currently, most CE-based devices are utilize chips developed on the MIPS architecture or other RISC-based chips. The Palm PC, for example, was optimized for MIPS or SH3 RISC processors, said Dave Wecker, principal engineer in Microsoft's mobile product unit.

Intel processors, which historically cost more and consume more power than RISC devices, have not been the chip of choice for small, inexpensive devices. So far, only one set-top box design and one terminal design have selected Intel processors to be at the heart of CE-based machines. Neither one of these units use batteries and neither device is out. (Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.)

Aymar's statements make it clearer that Intel will commence competing more aggressively in this space. The chip that Intel uses will depend upon the application. Intel has already said it will use the Celeron processor, a Pentium II chip, in set-top boxes. A press release today said that Intel and Microsoft are working to bring CE to the Pentium processor, which has already been phased out of Intel's desktop line.

Speaking to CNET at the WinHEC convention two week ago, Aymar also indicated that Intel is looking into using the StrongARM processor in certain applications, including subsystems of the Auto PC. Intel is in the process of acquiring StrongARM from Digital.

Maritz told an audience of 2,000 that CE development would move into three general areas: handheld computers, vertical business applications, and consumer products.

The handheld computer market is already on its way, he said. Approximately 100,000 handheld computers using CE have already shipped and the Palm PC will emerge in a few weeks, he said. Later this summer, the first Auto PCs will arrive.

Wecker provided more details on the upcoming Palm PC. The device will contain a digital voice recorder, feature one-hand operation, and allow users to write in data with a stylus, for automatic translation to typescript on a PC screen.

Vertical business applications will emerge over time, he said. Another keynote guest was Aziz al Adrisi, vice president of engineering at Data Critical, a company that makes patient monitors which page nurses or doctors when a patient's condition changes. The company said it is giving up it own OS systems in favor of CE.

Consumer products, such as set-top boxes and gaming platforms, will roll out in a similar fashion to the emergence of business applications. That is, there are not set deadlines, but Microsoft is beating the drum for developer support. In a related announcement, Sony announced that it will license CE for use in future consumer devices such as home networking products.