Sharp offers a peek at Linux-based PDA
By Matt Berger, IDG News Service
(IDG) -- Linux developers, listen up: Sharp needs your help.
The Japanese electronics maker hosted a press conference in San Jose, California, on Monday to announce several partnerships and developer projects aimed at drumming up support among application developers for its Linux-based handheld computer.
Also unveiled during the event was the retail version of the company's Zaurus handheld that runs Linux, which will be generally available in the U.S. early next year, Sharp says.
First previewed at Comdex in November as a developer device called the SL-5000D, the commercial version -- renamed the Zaurus SL-5500 -- features a small, retractable keyboard and two expansion slots for Compact Flash and Secure Digital cards. Sharp currently sells the Zaurus SL-5000D to developers for $399 from its Web site.
"We're getting a very enthusiastic reaction from the developer community," says Steve Petix, associate vice president of Sharp's mobile and IT solutions group.
When Sharp releases the Zaurus SL-5500 to consumers and business customers, its success competing against handhelds running operating systems from Palm and Microsoft will depend at least in part on there being a supply of applications available to run on it.
One of those applications will be from Maryland-based wireless software maker Aether Systems. The company announced during Monday's press event a partnership with Sharp to provide a version of its software for wirelessly accessing corporate e-mail from the Zaurus. Intended for enterprise customers, Aether's software is designed to provide secure, wireless access to e-mail, document attachments, and other customized applications from handheld devices.
Aether Systems also announced that it will manage a series of wireless service packages for consumers and business users, so they can use the Zaurus to browse the Web or access e-mail wirelessly. Wireless connectivity will be available in a variety of technologies, including Bluetooth, 802.11, CDPD (Cellular Digital Packet Data), and GPRS (General Packet Radio Services). Each wireless modem will be available as an expansion card.
Trolltech, an open-source software maker that developed the user interface for the Zaurus, also announced Monday new software to aid the growth of the Zaurus. The company released a software development kit to allow programmers to build applications for the device.
Sharp did not announce pricing of the handheld, although Petix says it will cost more than the $399 that developers currently pay for the device. The SL5500 is built on top of Intel's StrongArm 206-MHz processor, and includes 64MB of standard memory and 16MB of flash memory so users can upgrade the software and operating system on the device.
"It's got an awful lot of horsepower," Petix says, defending the price of the handheld, which will be comparable to devices running Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system, and cost more than twice that of Palm's basic handheld organizer. "We're not competing at the organizer level, we're really focusing on corporate customers that are considering utilizing these devices perhaps in place of the notebook computer."
Pricing for wireless service from Aether Systems and its partner wireless network carriers was also not yet announced. Gregg Smith, corporate vice president of enterprise solutions at Aether Systems, says service will be offered in several price packages for consumers and corporate customers.
The announcements were made in anticipation of the Internet World Wireless West conference, which runs Tuesday through Thursday at the San Jose Convention Center.
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