When the first announcements came out that a new Sharp Zaurus would “run Linux,” the Linux community was abuzz with fascination and rumors. Years later, there are still handheld devices running Linux that draw inspiration and ideas from Sharp’s work, even though the Linux-based Zaurus has faded to obscurity in the U.S. market. In this article Peter Seebach dismantles the Zaurus SL-5600 to get a better look into history. Elsewhere, Linux boots on Palm devices.
Zaurus Pioneers Embedded Linux
About The Author
Ex-programmer, ex-editor in chief at OSNews.com, now a visual artist/filmmaker.
Follow me on Twitter @EugeniaLoli
2005-12-14 10:39 pmEugenia Loli
The Zaurus SL-5500 in particular was just way to slow, and I blame the unoptimized (at the time) OS and toolkit, not the hardware. On pretty much the same hardware and CPU speed (on the Tungsten E2 for example) the TPCMP media player runs circles around the Zaurus in QVGA DivX video playback. There were 3 media players for the Zaurus SL-5500, none of them could do more than 3-5 frames per second on a QVGA divx video (even if some of them were using the same codecs TCPMP uses). It could do about 8 fps on mpeg1 QVGA video.
The Zaurus SL-5600 was able to play similar size videos full frame, however the 5600 model was 400 Mhz with a later OS version, not 206 Mhz.
Microsoft put up for years being the underdog of the PDA market behing Palm and Psion (in EU at least) but made it in the end.
Sharp lasted a year in the UK. The unit I bought lost of platform related value instantly. No accessories got developped, specific software development eventually stopped, and sync capabilities went from weak to inexistant.
If anything, Sharp has given a bad name to linux based embedded products by sticking a ‘no demand’ label on the market because of their lack of commitment and pushing a half finished software (not really the kernel’s fault, more qtopia limits) and trupetting LINUX on the debacle.
Nothing to celebrate about in my opinion.
Zaurus is too expensive for me. I’d still prefer to buy some older iPAQ. IHMO Windows is better for PDAs because it just works. I don’t need shell or goddamn init and all those scripting overhead in PDA. I want consistent GUI, good hardware support, mini-office software, PIM, calculator, remote control stuff, GPS support and other software that already works when I buy it. I don’t want to recompile anything or touch even single configuration script.
2005-12-15 12:03 amraboof
software that already works when I buy it. I don’t want to recompile anything or touch even single configuration script.
Agreed – but I sure want to be *able* to modify stuff. One of the main reasons I’m not buying any such devices for a while is that they cost a lot of money, and are bound to have these small UI annoyances or slight misimplementations of features I happen to want (example: i once had a phone with a syncable iCalendar application built-in, which is great, but it didn’t support recurring events, which made it largely useless to me. I’d have been quite willing to add such support if the application was generally in good shape already, that would have greatly improved the value of the thing for me).
I happen to be of the kind of people that can hack stuff, and for now I’m not settling for a solution that doesn’t allow me (properly).
The Zaurus hardware, especially the 5000/5500 was very poorly designed. They made a number of bad choices, inclduing making the CPU responsible for battery charging. The Z has *terrible* battery life, I don’t think Sharp did very much for power management.
There were many other shortcomings in the hardware design. Bad hardware design set the Z back with respect to the competition, the and Sharp’s software completely broke it.
Sharp (Japan) was also bad about giving developers documentation. The OpenZaurus guys had to reverse engineer and re-write a lot of things for the 2.6 kernel on their own, apparently the Lineo implementations were quite bad.
All in all, Sharp approached the market with a typical Japanese attitude, and failed. Instead of correcting their mistakes, they just axed the line (and a number of good people in the US).
I was not employed by Sharp, Lineo or anyone else, but I did have great interest in the products. There is still no company that has made a Linux based PDA and succeeded.
All true but I thought they totally redeemed themselves with the SL-C3100.
I’m be original author of the above subject. Man I didn’t realize that many people were in agreement upon the issues the Zaurus has. If I get a Palm, I’m throwing my Zaurus in my closet, to never been seen again. It had soo much potential. I felt with the SL-5500 they were right track back in 02. Sharp should have stuck by the thing instead of ditching it after the conclusionary failure.
The device (SL-5500) wasn’t a failure, beyond battery. The software was the ultimate failure. It was like they decided to provide the basics and pray the community decides to picks up 95% of the slack, therein. Dumb on Sharp. They should’ve had teams developing apps upon apps with quality, usability and stability in mind. Opera was the only commercial apps Sharp touched. They should been asking Palm/Pocket PC companies to port to Linux, beyond Opera.
Trolltech is providing ROM’s built on later greater versions of Qtopia. The latest at Qtopia.net is 2.1.2. And 2.2 I would expect fairly soon, but don’t really know. IT’S NOT STABILE, SO DON’T DEPEND ON IT.
True, I wish there were more big apps ported to Qtopia (especially kword) but my dad got a Zaurus C3000 recently and we were totally blown away! Honet to god, most impressive machine I’ve seen since the Amiga. It should’ve (the C3100) really been called the Commodore Zaurus
Some good qtopia progs include:
KO/PI – Excellent, fully featured calendaring
kino2 – Great music player
zplayer – excellent mplayer front end
snes9x – full speed SNES emulation with sound
zeditor – powerful text editor
All those progs are 100% free. My only real gripe with the Z is that Hancom word truly stinks and Textmaker (which looks like a pretty good WP) is a commercial prog AND doesn’t install properly on my C3000 under Cacko. I’m hoping somebody will port kword to microkde soon.
Its no biggie though as pdaxrom is being ported to the C3000 and then I’ll be able to run abiword and 20,000+ other open source programs on it. Take that WinMobile users!
Although the comments on Sharp’s support outside Japan are well justified (my wife got my SL5500 from John Lewis’ in London, an even then JL advised her against it ‘coz they knew Sharp were pulling the plug on it), I think the comments about the hardware tech are pretty wide of the mark. I’ve got an SL6000 now, and it’s astonishingly useful, much more powerful than any Windows or Palm based PDA. The hardware is amazingly good – the screen is luverly, the built-in wifi just works as you’d expect it to. The USB host port is amazingly handy – I use all sorts of gear with it: keyboards, hard disk, mouse….I mean, how many PDA’s can you plug a USB ethernet adaptor into and use ethereal for doing network snooping on the move?
Ok, as a PDA it probably lacks a lot – although with KO/Pi and friends (basicly ports of the KDE PIM app’s), it works nicely for me on that front (and sync’s up perfectly to my desktop machine).
I tend to think of it more as a low-resource laptop replacement than a PDA – and in that space, there’s nothing to touch it. Apart from the SLC series clamshells of course (one of the guys at work has an SLC3000 – astonishingly lovely machine, only downside is the lack of built-in wifi).
It might never have been a wonderful consumer PDA – but the sort of people who read OSNEWS should be looking for more from a portable PC than just looking at their phone books….
I think the Zaurus would have done better if they had made the default theme look better. It did not look like a commercial product. It looked awful. They should dump QT as well, and use something that’s truly open.
With each version of the Zaurus the reviewers asked why a spell checker wasn’t included, but they never listened.
There is an underlying problem with PDAs, Salespeople don’t want to sell them. Most stores have terrible PDA areas–even Frys.
And while its “cool”, it can’t do things you come to expect from a good PDA, such as non-suck NES emulation and MP3 playing (good luck finding a player worth a damn)
I do own the SL-5500. Open Zaurus is not what I consider the greatest embedded linux distro ever made. Very few decent programs were ever made for the Zaurus with a decent GUI. The Kompany atleast did what other developers should have in terms of program stability/GUI/usuability. Sharps 3.13 ROM (the most stable) didn’t wirelessly sync without smb.conf mods. Syncing beyond that was a joke unless you use the Trolltech 2.1.2 ROM’s which works fully with Qtopia, but is highly erractic/unstable.
I wish I could flash mine with a MS Pocket PC ROM, sometimes. I’ve been using Mandrake since 7.1 and current have Mandriva 2006 installed.
I purchased Dr.Z Video, tkcVideo, tkcPlayer, tkcFTP, tkcRadio, SerialIO Dialup Manager for my Zaurus. Really the thing that would have made the Zaurus good would have been more commercial developers working with Sharp to make apps better. Sharp depended primarly upon the community to develop apps and that was their downfall. Sharp should have been the ones to develop the apps, license the codecs, upgrade Qtopia Desktop and ROM’s continuously. The Zaurus Software Index has a good selection, but most tend to be obsolete, pending the distro you have installed.