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One system for all handhelds?

Two Singapore programmers say they have created an operating system able to run programs written for Windows as well as Linux on a handheld device.

Two Singapore programmers claim to have created an operating system that can run programs written for Windows as well as Linux.

Called MXI (Motion Experience Interface), the operating system will allow handheld devices to run any desktop program, said R. Chandrasekar and Sam Hon Kong Lum, the 22-year-old co-inventors.

At a media conference last week, the duo showed off a Compaq Computer iPaq PDA running desktop versions of Microsoft's Word, Powerpoint and Internet Explorer applications. The same iPaq also ran a Pac-Man game for the Atari OS and a version of Sun Microsystems' open source-based StarOffice software suite.

The secret? The heavy lifting is done on an MXI-based server that runs the actual applications and sends a stream of data back to the MXI client software residing on the handheld.

According to its developers, when a program such as a word processor makes a call to a specific part of the Windows operating system (to save a file, for example), MXI intercepts the call and acts on it. It then lets the program know if the operation was carried out, just as Windows would.

The two inventors, who run an 11-person company in Singapore called Intramedia, "stumbled on the code" that lets MXI perform this feat of translation and have spent the last four years perfecting it, said Chandrasekar. MXI is influenced by Unix, and borrows aspects of the kernel at the heart of the software, he said.

Because MXI saves interim data on the PDA, people can edit a document without being online. But when they hit "save," the handheld synchronizes with the server, and the changes are saved on the server copy of the document.

This method keeps MXI's data stream low in bandwidth use, so a 28.8kbps data connection would be sufficient, Chandrasekar said. It means that a handheld with a GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) or other 2.5G connection can run MXI; handhelds on faster 3G, Wi-Fi (802.11b) or Bluetooth networks will enjoy even better responsiveness, he added.

However, Chandrasekar said that the PDA that will realize the full potential of MXI has yet to be invented.

"The ideal MXI-based handheld is one that has every 'flavor' of wireless connectivity: GPRS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth," he said.

MXI is expected to be ready for commercial release at the end of the year, said Gane Ramachandra, Intramedia's vice president of strategy and operations.

Ramachandra said the company is in discussions with handheld makers and telecom companies in Asia, but he declined to reveal their identities.

CNETAsia's John Lui reported from Singapore.