Qtopia to power IBM Linux PDA design

IBM will use Trolltech's Linux-based application platform to pose a challenge to software from Palm and Microsoft

Trolltech, a Norway-based Linux software company, said its applications software will be included in an IBM effort to encourage the use of Linux on handheld computers. The IBM effort poses a challenge to established handheld companies such as PalmSource and Microsoft.

IBM will use the Qtopia software in a PDA (personal digital assistant) blueprint along with its own PowerPC 405LP chip and MontaVista Software's version of the Linux operating system, Trolltech said earlier this week. Qtopia is a widely-used applications platform that runs on top of Linux, and includes a development environment as well as Trolltech's own suite of programs.

The platform has wide third-party support, according to Trolltech, with more than 600 applications available. Qtopia's most high-profile success to date is its use in Sharp's Linux-based Zaurus SL-5500 and SL-A300 handhelds, but it is also used in other PDAs and devices.

Trolltech did not disclose the terms of the deal, but industry observers estimate it is worth $10m to $20m, or about £6m to £12m, in license fees over the next three years. Trolltech will receive fees for each device sold.

IBM's reference design, which will allow people to create several different kinds of PDAs, will be available from IBM Microelectronics and a few partners in March, the company said.

Hardware reference designs usually include the hardware and software components necessary to create a new device such as a processor or an operating system.

IBM says it will make its blueprint easily accessible to a wider range of developers by charging a low price -- allowing the company to pit its PowerPC-Linux combination as an alternative to operating systems like the Palm OS and Motorola's processors or Microsoft's Pocket PC software and Intel's Xscale processors.

The design will be offered in a kit that is likely to cost less than £600. IBM said its licensing terms are less restrictive than others because it doesn't specify hardware features, such as screen size, or require that its logo be used.

By taking this approach, Big Blue hopes to make it easier for smaller companies, and even individuals, to purchase the reference design.

CNET News.com's John G. Spooner contributed to this report.

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