The deal gives ARM the right to use Java on all its chips and means the two companies will collaborate on future Java technology.
But in a news conference, executives from the two companies spoke of the move's greater significance: The license means ARM will be able to offer chips that, in combination with software, will meet Sun's Java certification requirements.
"This is the first formal relationship between the two companies," said Rich Green, vice president of Java Software at Sun. "ARM has provided silicon technology that can provide acceleration" to Java programs, but "this relationship focuses on making sure that it is optimized and fully compliant Java."
Java is a technology invented by Sun that lets programs run on many different chips without being rewritten for each one. The key part of this process is the "virtual machine," software that translates Java instructions into commands the chip can understand.
ARM, along with Ajile Systems, Nazomi Communications, Aurora VLSI, InSilicon, Zucotto Wireless and Parthus, offers chip designs that take over part of the virtual machine, speeding up Java programs. That's a strong benefit for mobile devices such as cell phones or handheld computers that lack the CPU oomph of desktop computers.
ARM, one of the top makers of chips for cell phones, already offered chip designs that could execute some Java instructions. Now the company has a license that will enable ARM chips to fit into a fuller suite of Java software--a subset of Sun's Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) called the Mobile Information Device Profile (MIDP).
ARM isn't the first chip company to sign a Java license. Zucotto is working on the J2ME project; Zucotto is a licensee and has passed Sun's Java compatibility test for J2ME, the company said.
But whereas Zucotto is a start-up, ARM already has a huge presence in the cell phone market. The company licenses its chip designs, called "cores," to other companies that add to them and take care of manufacturing them.
ARM licensed the Java technology because its customers desire the technology, said ARM general manager Reynette Au. NTT DoCoMo sells about 60,000 Java phones a day, and cell phone giant Nokia expects to sell 100 million Java-enabled cell phones by the end of 2003.