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Intel lobs software grenade back at chippy Redmond

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Although it got buried in the XScale announcements this week, Intel is stepping up its software offerings in intriguing fashion. Intel's Integrated Performance Primitives are a set of libraries that run across Intel architectures and began life as way of tapping MMX and Screaming Sindy instructions without dropping down to assembler code. These libraries already exist for image processing, signal processing, maths and recognition primitives, including Hidden Markov models and neural nets. That's already a substantial body of useful code, and not something you'd knock together over a weekend.

But with XScale the IPP libraries are being extended to all kinds of new wireless and comms functions that while not making YourWirelessOSofChoice redundant, could certain convince developers to make their applications less OS-specific.

XScale engineering director Jay Heeb tells us that the goodies include GSM/AMR (adaptive multi-rate) and E.729 speech codexes, MPEG4 and H.263 streaming protocols.

"As we get to two and half or 3G bandwidths, these will provide support for all the emerging protocols that you'll need for reliable Voice over IP or streaming media," says Heeb. He says you'll be able to code to these generic calls in C or C++. Intel doesn't plan to release support for CDMA/TDMA air interfaces, says Heeb, because of the intellectual property issues involved. But it could, we reckon.

It's not an API, he insists, but just when does a rich programmer's toolkit become a cross-platform API?

Well, when it becomes truly cross platform, for a start. Although IPIP is StrongARM, IA-32 and IA-64 that's all. But should the free software community want to adopt the programming interfaces and backfill the code for generic x86 or MIPs chips, then you start to have a framework that makes the underlying OS less important. And that in turn makes the OS choice based on ubiquity (which should favour Symbian) or flexibility and price (which should favour Embedded Linux).

Perhaps emboldened by the antitrust verdict (in which it was revealed that Intel agreed to sideline some software initiatives at Gates' request), Intel feels it can take the lead. It's always been proud of its software R&D - justifiably so judging by the number of patents that come out of Intel and Microsoft respectively. (Clue: one of these is supposed to be the software company...)

So what started life as an initiative to banish assembler coding looks like it could be a framework for wireless and multimedia development. It's already halfway there, and the history of free software should tell it just where the finishing line lies.

Heeb says XScale chips are already sampling, and that expecting a product announcement this year, with real product following within three months wouldn't be unreasonable. ®

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