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Sharp signs Intel for Linux PDA's processor

StrongARM muscles out Hitachi chip

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Sharp is ditching Hitachi for Intel, breaking with tradition to equip its upcoming Linux-based Zaurus PDA with StrongARM, the company admitted yesterday.

The reason? StrongARM offers "because it offers the lowest power consumption and the best functions", Sharp's head of mobile systems, Hiroshi Uno, said in an interview with Bloomberg.

Price clearly has something to do with the decision, too, since the adoption of the Intel CPU is "a step forward to curb costs".

The deal isn't entirely as pro-Intel as it might at first seem. Uno's comments are addressed toward Sharp's mobile multimedia PDA, one of two it's developing in an attempt to regain leadership in the market after being knocked into a cocked hat by Palm. Even if the second device, also running Linux but aimed at the PDA-meets-cellphone arena, is based on the same platform, that still leaves a third next-generation Zaurus, aimed at the Japanese market and continuing to be based on the existing Zaurus OS.

However, Uno hinted that Sharp is investigating emulation technology to allow the Zaurus OS and its apps to run on StrongARM. If that programme proves successful, Sharp will use the Intel processor in the Japanese PDA too, Uno suggested.

Japan is certainly Sharp's main target, at least in the short-term. Of the one million PDAs the company has pledged to ship by the end of next March - the new devices will ship in the autumn - only around 200,000 of those will be sold overseas, said Uno.

Why should Japanese buyers return to Sharp? Because the new Zaurus will be able to run over 10,000 third-party applications, the company reckons. Those apps will come from Java coders and run on the PDA's new Java runtime system, licensed from UK developer Tao.

Indeed, we wonder if that's the only reason Sharp is to offer a Linux-based Zaurus and shipping it overseas rather than for the domestic market: to target the world's biggest community of Java programmers, in the US.

The new device will get its first public outing in the States at the JavaOne conference next week. ®

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