Sharp's Linux PDA makes US retail debut

Sharp this week put on sale its Linux-based Zaurus handheld computer and included one unexpected feature: a US$50 price cut.

While showing the device to developers at various trade shows since it was detailed in June, the electronics maker had said it would charge $550 for the product. When it goes on sale this week through Sharp's Web site and several online retailers, the Zaurus will cost $499, according to Randy Dazo, director of marketing for Sharp's mobile solutions group.

The Zaurus is one of the first Linux-based PDAs (personal digital assistants) to hit the market, and the only one that is positioned for commercial success as it competes against industry-leading devices based on Microsoft Corp.'s PocketPC operating system and PalmSource Inc.'s Palm OS, according to one industry analyst.

"It does put Linux up against Pocket PC and Palm," said Stacey Quandt, an industry analyst with Giga Information Group Inc. "As far as the hardware and interface go, it definitely has potential for success."

The Zaurus SL-5500 features a color screen, 64M-bytes of internal memory, a 206MHz Intel Corp. StrongARM processor, a small retractable keyboard and expansion slots for CompactFlash and Secure Digital cards. An 802.11b wireless LAN card is available for the device, as well as a hardware add-on that turns the device into a digital camera.

Applications that ship with the device include MP3 music and MPEG video players, programs for viewing Microsoft Word and Excel files, e-mail and calendar programs, and a Web browser from Opera Software ASA. The devices will work with Windows and Linux PCs as well as Macintosh computers.

The Zaurus runs on Lineo Inc.'s embedded operating system, called Embeddix. Sitting on top of that operating system is the software that users interact with -- a graphical user interface and application runtime environment called Qtopia.

Developed by Oslo, Norway-based Trolltech AS, Qtopia works on devices such as PDAs (personal digital assistants) and smart phones and is capable of running applications written in Java or those built with QT, a toolkit developed by Trolltech. Two versions of the toolkit are offered, a commercial version and an open source version.

In concert with the launch of the Zaurus, Qtopia announced the availability of the first commercial version of Qtopia, according to Haavard Nord, chief executive officer of the Oslo, Norway-based company. The existing version is available under an open source license.

Trolltech said it has started work with as many as 10 hardware makers that expect to develop devices based on Qtopia, including Web pads and digital set-top boxes. In addition to Sharp's PDA, the Osaka, Japan-based electronics maker will deliver a Linux-based smartphone using the Qtopia platform, which is due out in May, according to Nord.

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