Sharp Australia dubs US parent "crazy" over Linux PDA

Sharp Australia said that neither it, nor its US parent, has developed any applications for the Zaurus-branded Linux PDA yet and is critical of its parent company's decision to launch the SL-5500 in the US on Monday.

Sharp Australia said that neither it, nor its US parent, has developed any applications for the Zaurus-branded Linux PDA yet and is critical of its parent company's decision to launch the SL-5500 in the US on Monday.

"It hasn't got any of [the applications] that people expect yet," said Sharp Australia product manager, Burak Zirh, listing a range of common personal productivity software such as word processing, email and spreadsheet.

"I think it's crazy for them to release it [the Zaurus] when there's no applications for it," he said.

Understood to be an indication that Sharp is re-affirming its prowess in the personal organizer space and one of the few instances where a company has linked arms with the open source community to enter the handheld market, the Zaurus has attracted attention from industry observers.

The Zaurus, has very similar hardware architecture to the to devices running PocketPC, carrying a 206MHz Intel StrongARM procsser, and both CompactFlash and Secure Digital card interfaces. However adopting the Linux software platform, Sharp is hoping to leverage the collective resources of the global open-source community to give users access to free programs.

"If you wanted someone to develop a word processor for Windows they'd charge an arm and a leg for it," said Zihr.

US analysts believe Sharp will face a steep challenge competing with devices built around more widely adopted operating systems from Microsoft and Palm.

"Now they have an alternative," Steve Petix, associate vice president of Sharp's US mobile and IT solutions group, said of potential customers. "It's up to us to prove the alternative offers an advantage."

Zihr said that Sharp's global subsidiaries are conditioning the Zaurus for the market independently, and that the local arm of the company is using a different strategy to its US parent.

Taking more conservative steps on to the local market Sharp Australia is releasing a handful of developer versions of the Zaurus SL-5500, the 500d, to media outlets in order to generate interest in the new PDA.

However it has set itself a tight-deadline to produce applications for its Zaurus-branded Linux PDA before its official launch next March.

"At worst we're hoping to have as many applications as Palm OS and PocketPC 2002," said Zihr.

Palm currently offers approximately 10,000 applications on its Web site.

Sharp Australia says it is currently considering three applicants from the Unix fraternity for the development task, but refuses to be pinned down on whether the Zaurus will be ready to compete with PocketPC 2002 by next March.

"I'll be able to tell you in two weeks," said Zihr explaining that the company would only be able to provide firm answers after meeting with developers. Zihr, however, did raise the possibility March launch may not be a "full retail launch," meaning that its distribution may be limited to developers.

Over the short-term, Sharp Australia will concentrate on growing the new PDA's presence in vertical markets, placing it in the hands of specialist corporate solution providers.

As a mature retail product Sharp is hoping the PDA will become the focus of a new handheld culture, with plans for a Web portal--to be administered jointly by the company and an unnamed Linux organisation--already in the pipeline.

Staff writer Andrew Colley reported from Sydney.

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