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Eye2Eye: David Potter - Gates, ARM and the Crusoe

In Part 2 of Richard Barry's interview with David Potter, the Psion boss gets to grips with Microsoft, ARM and the battle of Stalingrad -- and also hints at a possible relationship with MIPS technologies

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So what of Microsoft? The Redmond team isn't about to step aside and let Symbian take one of the largest markets of the digital revolution without a fight. Potter calls to mind the battle of Stalingrad where the Germans fought the Russians during World War II and lost.

"The question to ask of Microsoft is 'Is what it is trying to do feasible?' I think the answer is no. It is very unlikely that Microsoft will be able to migrate what it has on a PC to these other spaces. History suggests that is very unlikely."

Adds Potter: "Microsoft has traditionally been seen as the dominant player in many spaces, but it is so enormous that it is being forced to fight on too many fronts. That's a problem. You can point to the server market and to the home. That's where Microsoft is not establishing itself at all on set-top boxes etc, there are seven or eight different players."

He continues: "Then you have to look at the incumbents, the people in place. There are massive incumbents in the mobile sector and those are Symbian's partners. And in the home there are massive incumbents in terms of content the media space. They won't hand over anything to Bill -- and that is why they have not, and will not, allow Microsoft to establish a hegemony across that whole space... They simply won't let him."

At this point, where Microsoft had been likened to the fall of a great Empire, Potter is clearly enthused, his voice raised as his hands gripped his coffee mug. I ask him how he would deal with a billion customers. Would he give them choice? "Well of course, they can pick and choose whatever they want. Symbian won't tell them which device to use or with which operator."

Will you run Symbian devices on anything other than ARM processors? "Of course, oh indeed. Symbian is in portable built-in C++ object oriented form and it is encodeable on a variety of different processors."

"I should also tell you, though I cannot give you details, that there is an implementation of Epoc on another processor as well -- which I'm not going to mention!" he laughs. "And there will be more if the market warrants it. But the fact of the matter is that ARM has a substantial part of this section of the industry."

That Gates is joined at the hip to Intel, perhaps at the expense of other processor manufacturers, is not lost on Potter, who was quick to dispel any misunderstandings about Symbian's relationship with ARM. I asked him about the recently announced Crusoe chip and whether any Symbian devices would ever use the maverick new processor.

"To be quite honest, I can't give you a definitive answer because I just don't know enough about the Crusoe chip." Interestingly, Potter was very clear about one thing however: "There's absolutely no reason why we can't do an implementation with MIPS. But the real thing of importance here is that we are not tied to any one processor, not at all."

Potter says that the reason why he is so well placed "is because the genesis of the technology for Symbian comes from Psion -- which is now in its third generation with EPOC in a 32-bit environment. This technology has been designed from the bottom up over the last 20 years."

"Microsoft has simply tried to shoehorn its position -- and that's not usually successful in any sort of business. We have a really well designed robust and reliable technology. Win CE is not robust or reliable, those things crash. Psions do not. They cannot afford to crash."

"We have had a huge input of technology from partners like Ericsson and Motorola. One question you might ask is, what of Palm? It has an OS based on someone else's kernal, and maybe the OS doesn't need all this technology to work well. Then Palm could slip in on the rails, because it has a 16-bit technology with not a great deal of depth of architecture."

Potter also ponders: "Could they supplant Symbian? They have a presence with the Pilot, which is a great product in a certain way. But we've said we are involved in talks with Palm and I hope that comes to a successful fruition with a natural deal."

So is there a good chance Symbian and Palm are looking at working with one another on a natural synergy? "That is what we are looking at right now and I really hope that we can find a natural on-going relationship."

Tomorrow in part 3, Potter gets to grips with Tuesday's SyncML announcement, the role of Symbian and BT's responsibility with the local loop!

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