Linux PDA UK launch date set

The Linux-based Zaurus SL-5500 handheld computer will be widely available at the end of April, said Sharp, but the price could be a sticking point

Sharp's Linux-based Zaurus PDA is due to go on sale in the UK at the end of April.

UK reseller Dabs.com has already begun advertising the PDA in its catalogues. A Dabs spokesperson said the price is likely to sell for about £450 inc. VAT, adding that the PDA will be available from mid to late April. A Sharp spokesperson was less forthcoming, saying only that the Zaurus will be available from early May. Large resellers often start selling products before their official launch date.

The PDA will be the first from a major manufacturer to run the Linux operating system as standard, and the first Linux-based PDA generally available in the UK.

Sharp's Zaurus SL-5500 will contain most of the features that PDA owners are used to, but is distinct in that it has a miniature built-in keyboard. It has expansion slots for both CompactFlash and SD memory cards -- the latter for storing copyright protected content. A colour LCD screen that displays 240 by 320 pixels is comparable to those used on Palm and Pocket PC-based PDAs.

Streamed video: Lineo software revs up Zaurus

The device is based on a 206MHz StrongARM processor and has 64MB of RAM; the Linux operating system and standard applications are housed in 16MB of Flash ROM. It uses Lineo's version of Linux, Insignia Solutions' version of Java, Trolltech's Qtopia graphical user interface and Opera's Web browser.

But while the Zaurus has been hotly anticipated by Linux and open-source fans, the price could be a sticking point.

Recent figures from market research firm IDC place Palm as the leading PDA supplier in Europe, with a 38 percent market share. IDC attributes much of this success to price, in addition to a reorganised sales force and improved inventory control. But even with aggressive pricing strategies, Palm is continuing to lose ground to Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system, which is used on devices sold by Compaq and HP. These two companies have 17 percent and 6 percent respectively.

While the price of the Zaurus will be comparable to the prices of colour Pocket PC products from Compaq and HP, it will be still be significantly more expensive than colour Palm devices.

In addition, while Sharp may be able to rely on Linux fans to an extent, its stated target audience is enterprise customers, who may be more difficult to convince even if the Zaurus will synchronise with Microsoft Outlook and accept add-ons for wireless networking, digital cameras, video cameras and cellular modems.


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