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Motorola allies with ARM

Licenses 32-bit ARM architecture for its own embedded efforts

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Motorola has licensed ARM's 32-bit processor architecture and family of chips for an undisclosed but - we'd imagine - significant sum.

The deal allows Motorola to produce and sell ARM processors alongside its existing 32-bit embedded lines, including PowerPC, M-Core and ColdFire. The company's semiconductor chief, Fred Shalpak, tried to put a positive spin, but it's hard not to see the move as an admission on Motorola's part that device manufacturers want ARM chips rather than Motorola ones.

"We are responding to customers' needs by enabling them to maximise their investments in ARM core-based software systems," said Shalpak, in a statement. We're not sure how anyone who is maximising their investment in ARM technology counts as a Motorola customer, but that's spin doctoring for you. Actually, there's a couple of very good examples, who'll we'll come back to later.

The fact is, ARM has made immense strides selling its 32-bit chips into the mobile device arena, and Motorola's hasn't. Phones, digital cameras, PDAs, set-top boxes, routers - a heck of a lot of them contain ARM products, particularly the wireless ones. ARM has done a good job evangelising its chips as high performance, low power processors. ARM's Web site lists some rather bigger and better customers in these areas than Motorola's Digital DNA site does.

Motorola's move is clearly one based on the old maxim, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Potential processor purchasers coming to the company asking, have you got something like ARM? can now be answered in the affirmative. And it's telling that Motorola's first ARM-based products will be aimed at the wireless world.

And quite possible sold to Motorola itself. Motorola's mobile phone division is, of course, part of the Symbian alliance and is working on phone/PDA devices running Symbian's 32-bit OS. Motorola (phones) may well have decided that it wants 32-bit ARM chips for these, and so Motorola (chips) has licensed the platform to supply it with them.

Then there's Motorola's PDA partner, Palm. Palm is currently using Motorola's 16-bit Dragonball CPU. If Palm is to evolve its platform significantly ahead of where it is now, it's going to have to take its software into the 32-bit world, and ARM is an obvious choice for the new code's foundation. Particularly, given the emerging ties between Palm and Symbian. Again, Motorola may have decided to get into the ARM game in order to retain Palm's future custom.

For ARM, "this agreement will enable Motorola to enhance and proliferate the ARM architecture in the digital marketplace", said Robin Saxby, ARM's chairman and put it. ®

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