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ARM aims Linux initiative at mobile Internet devices

Oct 4, 2007 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

ARM Ltd. has unveiled a sweeping project designed to ensure that its processors support a modern Web browsing experience on mobile devices running Linux. Spearheaded by embedded Linux service provider Movial, ARM and unnamed partners will port GNOME, Firefox, and associated browser plugins to specific hardware based on ARMv5/6/7 architectures.

Most of the work will be released into open source as early as January, through the auspices of open source projects like “GNOME Mobile” and Meanwhile, the hardware partners involved get a few months of early access to the ports, said Bob Morris, director of platform enablement for ARM's mobile processor group. “We're doing boards at the rate of four in three weeks right now,” he boasted.

Morris credited competitor Intel with providing the impetus for ARM to get actively involved in porting Web technologies to ARM Linux. “We were getting beat up because at their Developer Forums, Intel came out and said that ARM can't deliver a great browsing experience, that you need x86 to access the modern Internet. But we knew it wasn't because of any weakness in the processor.”

Intel launched its own “Moblin” mobile Linux initiative in July, and has been talking up Linux-based Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) based on mobile Intel Architecture processors for some time.

Morris said that after Nokia ported Mozilla and Flash 9 to its N800 Internet Tablet's browser, and added support for various Korean, Chinese, and Japanese fonts, ARM was able to quantify that ARM could in fact deliver a browsing experience comparable to a desktop PC. “Although not a partner in this announcement, Nokia has been a guiding light,” Morris said. “We ran 57 websites on a notebook running XP and Firefox, and on the N800. The results correlated one-to-one,” he said.

Morris admitted that performance on the N800 was in some cases “not as fast as you'd like it to be.” However, he suggested that forthcoming products from ARM customers will close the performance gap, while retaining ARM's battery life advantage on mobile devices. He explained “[ARM gives you] days of use versus hours of use. It's not just our core, it's what our partners know how to do with everything else around it, like the graphics processor and [various peripherals]. Intel is going to have to learn that it's what you're doing when you're not doing anything at all that's most important.”

Interestingly, Morris's comments echo Intel's recent positioning of Menlow/Poulsbo mobile chips at last month's Fall Intel Developer Forum.

More about ARM's Linux browsing initiative

Morris said the first phase of ARM's new Linux initiative involves simply porting and tuning the GNOME Mobile Platform and the Firefox browser with key plugins, such as Flash and Java, to partner hardware. He hinted that initial hardware targets might include Marvell's ARMv5-based SoCs (system-on-chip processors) and reference designs; Samsung's ARM11-based hardware; and TI's currently sampling ARMv7 (Cortex-A8) based OMAP3430 SoC. Hardware based on the just-announced multi-core-enabled Cortex-A9 will also benefit in time, he suggested.

A secondary phase involves the development of open source applications to fill in functionality gaps, such as an open source Linux telephony interface.

Asked specifically about Flash 9 — currently available for the N800 only, thanks to Nokia's own porting work — Morris said ARM and Adobe both recognize the importance of Flash ports to ARM, although delivery details for wider access to ARM Flash ports have yet to be resolved. “At our Developer's Conference this week, we made sure that Adobe got to meet the key semiconductor guys, and a few equipment people. Both Adobe and ARM agree that we have to have an excellent browser experience, whether with Flash Lite 3 or Flash 9.”

In addition to its porting and development efforts, the ARM-sponsored, Movial-led Linux initiative is charged with feeding back performance data to ARM, potentially enabling the processor vendor to optimize its architecture for a better handheld browsing experience. Morris did not rule out the possibility of ARM offering Web acceleration engines in the future — similar to its Jazelle Java add-on, for example — but said the company had not yet formulated specific tactics. “We're just now rolling up our sleeves to look at what needs to be done,” he said.

Morris added that ARM remains committed to supporting advanced browsers and associated Web technologies on other embedded OSes, including Symbian and Microsoft Windows CE. However, he said, “We already have excellent partner support on those OSes.”

Regarding Movial, ARM's chosen embedded Linux development partner, Morris commented, “We were looking for a design company with a very good reputation, and that's Movial. They're very understated in terms of doing more than they say they will do. Our experience so far has been very good.”

Morris added, “Movial made sure the community was briefed in advance of our announcement. They are now actively opening projects. We have contracted them to deliver the GNOME Mobile environment and get the Mozilla browser set up in a way that our partners can leverage very easily.”

In addition to leading ARM's Linux porting project, Movial will continue to deliver its usual range of commercial products and services around mobile ARM devices. These include a just-launched “Movial IXS” (Internet Experience Suite) for ARM, positioned as “an application suite for custom-branded user interfaces for Linux-based connected devices.”

In a statement, Mike Inglis, ARM's executive VP of marketing, said, “Today's consumers are very knowledgeable about technology, want to be connected to the Internet and access multimedia content and applications anywhere, at anytime, yet they do not want to be restricted by short battery life and inadequate features that will limit their experiences. By stepping up the collaboration among key stakeholders in the mobile market, we will be able to jointly deliver the devices and applications with the cutting-edge innovation consumers have come to expect.”

Inglis added, “Movial experts know the mobile Internet experience inside and out, and we look forward to working with them closely to enable significant innovation and growth in this sector.”

According to Jim McGregor, research director at In-Stat, as quoted in ARM's statement, “The market for ultra mobile devices is expected to grow at over a 20 percent compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) through the next decade, driven by new communications standards, content rich data provided over the Internet, new usage models, and new business models. A critical component of success in this market will be building on industry standards that promote innovation in silicon, systems, and most importantly, software solutions. Through open standards and growing industry support, Linux naturally promotes such innovation.”

Henry Kingman

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