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> The Now Traditionnal Time For Delirious, Delirious about the Linux PDA market
post Dec 19 2004, 09:31 AM
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Well guys, I'm in trouble.

Since Linux in the 90's, I have never really worked on an Open Source project from the ground. Just submitted a few patches or advices when I could. My big concern today: I don't understand what people are trying to do with Linux on PDA and smartphone. And this, in the hardware as in the operating system.

For me there are three processor worlds that could share the PDA/smartphone market. There is certainly more but I only see 3 interesting.

1. The standard PC 80x86 processor world. The spreader one. A device with the Zaurus design but with full 80x86 PC compatibility can certainly be a great success (as long as it would be under 1000$). A kind of Zaurus with PC laptop internal e.g. a 500Mhz x86 processor, 64Mo RAM, 4Go internal hard drive, 640*480 swivelling screen, full Linux, 8h or battery life... or perhaps better specification (if possible at this price). As long as it is presented like a PDA, the press won't compare its performance with last laptops but with other PDA (well... if you teach them to not mess up between both kind of device... because of few of them are really stupid). With a device like this I would be completely free to do whatever I want and I won't have any cross-compiling issue.

2. The ARM processor world. Spread in PDA mobile phone and embedded device. This kind of processor has had great success. The press never messed up because they can't install Windows or MSOffice on it. Give me a device with the Zaurus design and I would buy it without thinking too much. Well... oops... I already bought one wink.gif hehe..

3.The PowerPC world. Not very successful in embedded market but well know with names like PowerPC G3,G4,G5 PowerBook or previous models... I never understood why IBM for example haven't released a Zaurus like device with PowerPC processor. If they could release a device with Linux in I would be happy and would think about buying a Mac to avoid cross-compiling headache for example. (With little brainstorming you can find a lot of advantage in the PowerPC PDA/Smartphone market).

So at present, the Zaurus is the only interesting PDA because of its price and its hardware design (swivelling screen, 640*480, touch screen, keyboard, SD+CF, and now internal hard drive.). The OQO is the second one in my list because of its PC compatibility. Even if the OQO price is too high, it is a full PC with PDA size. There are other small PC around, mainly in Asia market, but they won't fit in my pocket. They don't have swivelling screen nor touch screen nor 8 hours of battery life... For the PowerPC market... IBM has only released a product draft but never get far with it. Apple never wanted to release a Palm like device. We could ask why. Perhaps because of money issue, hardware issue or operating system issue.
Whatever, for the smart phone market, only the ARM processor as succeeded so far.

<< --- out of subject -- >>
I had the strange idea a few months ago to create a kind of "FORUM GAME" with PowerPC founding fathers. A game where I wanted to ask IBM to take up a challenge: PDA creation! A Zaurus SL-C3000 PDA with PPC processor + bluetooth + Wifi + rpm based Linux distribution. Something like "Well... you talk a lot. I defy you to create this device. You like to talk about small invisible things like processor transistors or like to talk about “blue” computers with big calculation power? Prove your knowledge! Give us what we ask for! Put your foot in the PDA & phone markets." ... than I wanted to give two designs (two 3D scale models), one for the PowerPC PDA, the other for the PowerPC smart phone.

<< --- back to the main subject -- >>

I don't know why PowerPC and x86 compatible processors haven't been used in PDA. The Psion Series 3, 3a, 3c and 3mx where 80186 compatible processors for example (necV20, necV30 and necV30mx from 1991 to 1995)... but then all PDA manufacturers begun to use only ARM compatible processors. The power consumption is still so high on x86 compatible processors? What hasn't this evolved quickly?

My open source concern with Linux on PDA and smart phone is not only hardware. I'm still waiting for PDA projects with great exchange between developers. OpenEmbedded, pdaXrom, Sharp, Trolltech, TheKompany haven't given me the great developer experience. I was expecting the same kind of exchange I could have with other Open Source projects. I'm not a simple user with basic needs like “ movies MP3 icecandy ssh and a distribution release each years”. I was thinking or real exchange between developpers. First I thought I had completely misunderstood the community so I tried to help a distribution like Mandrakelinux to see how it works (the internal). Well, Mandraksoft try to protect themselves from been forked but they accept quite well help and good advices from the community. So I'm not made! The Linux PDA market is driven differently! This is why there are so little contributions from the community!

If you are not only users but also developers and have fill the Zaurususergroup forums with wishes than you now know the great list of feature you will have to add by yourself. You have a great change to receive no help from other. It's better when you work on your own wishes list, less when it's the wishes list of someone else. It could be a ants job if more people could get evolved but they won't... if they see this market like a dupe market (like I do).

Guys, you are just wallets and nothing more! I don't know what other are trying to do but for me at present, companies are trying to become the only providers of open source software. I wasn't aware of this enormous war underground. It's a pity!

Here how I see the Zaurus/iPaq market for example:

_ OpenEmbedded. Many years... and it is still a mess. Still a lot of bugs in packages. The used build scripts still have issue. They are are hard to understand out of the box, they need a lot of memory (640Mo minimum and big swap space), they need powerful processor and... you need to build all packages. When you ask the developers to freeze the software version and begin to fix source code or submit fixed binary packages in feeds... they always reply that they can't because there are other groups using OE for their projects. What groups? Why not forking OE in BitKeeper and have a stable release to work on? Why not using the same package number as Suse Debian or Fedora and takes advantage of the existing distributions fix and submit patches to package maintainers and original authors? And well... all those developers working on it and we only get this? They are full time on IRC! Don't tell me that they are doing something else! Well, I would be the manager of this kind of team, I would show a big dismissal plan with a big smile. Shareholders would have loved it!

_ The OPIE project! the Open Platform Integrated Environment! What a mess! Every developers have run away! At present, OPIE is still used to fight against Trolltech Qtopia. It uses ice candy icons and beautiful screen shots to try to cover up the lake of interest from its developers and the big list of bugs. Remember the women in red in Matrix movie? You got it. Well... all remaining members are for me responsible for the OPIE fiasco. More than this, they are now waiting for Qtopia 2.x and Qt embedded 4.0 to try to mess up those new versions too. Really, do you really see something in OPIE that couldn't be build on top of Qtopia? Need to fork Qtopia and loose Qtopia compatibility for OPIE?

_ GPE? Well guys... most developers have run away too! It could be more interesting with a better X11 server. The current server flicker a lot and is quite slow on Zaurus SL-C760 or on iPaq 3870. Most applications are unfinished and nobody want to help because something doesn't smell good in the project. The same kind of feeling of discomfort I can feel in familiar (the iPaq HP Linux distribution). I don't know what is wrong... but the feeling is strong. Only a few applications has make it to an interesting state (Contact for example).

_ Trolltech Qtopia and the now traditional “Soon! Keep turned!” from lpotter (Trolltech employee).
They never tried to open Qtopia to third party toolkit. I can understand those commercial reasons... but nobody can prevent the open source advance. You can only slow it down. This is exactly what they tried to do. At present, if you run a X11 server with client in rooless mode, you should be able to use both world without problem (mean Qtopia and X11/GTK/.. applications without licence issue.. as long as your server doesn't link to Qte or Qtopia). Just one thing: Qtopia 2.1 is like vapourware. The same kind of strategy MS used to prevent people to switch to something else. Opie with its ice candy is certainly what Trolltech didn't want to see coming for Qt-X11. If the Qtopia 2.1 vapourware is a trap for the Opie developpers waiting for it... welll... good lucke. Learn to tell the true. You will see how far curstomers like to ear it.

_ pdaXrom distribution. Well, exactly what I want on my Zaurus: full laptop power in my hand. It would be very good if external people could help the project. Because they know how far people could try to mess up an Open Source project, they are still trying to prevent “hidden spies” to make a mess of their distribution. PdaXrom is so much protected that it is loosing all potential community help. Well... if you think of the kind of help sent to OPIE or GPE, you can easily understand and excuse them to be so protectionist. But they miss: (1) better and automatic bug report handling (2) patches submission (3) new pdaXrom packages source submission (4) new software built specifically for pdaXrom. I only have one hope: one day, they will switch to bugzilla, use an rpm based package manager and rpm based build system for their distribution.

_ Someone have news from TheKompany? It has died? Other projects have succeeded in disgusting them? Well, I think that there was not enough money to make around Sharp device. They are mainly a software company, isn't it? Well... companies go away... developers go away... and there is much and much users (user only I mean)... :/

_ HP/Compaq and their well know iPaq and handhelds.org. Well, first, they wanted to build a Linux PDA complete suit of software around their iPaq. Instead of completing the kernel port for their first supported models, they tried to add kernel support for new iPaq. Many people bought their device because of the Linux support (me at least) but the Linux kernel port wasn't stable and new device was released to fast. Other device from other manufacturers then come and grab people attention with minimal Linux port. At the same time, GPE and OPIE was becoming more messy with great management. Then HP tried to create a kind of kernel porting school to grab attention and receive help to port Linux on their new device but without luck. Now, handhelds.org is experiencing strange shut-down with vapour explanations. Well... as long as there is no good Linux port for iPaq... I can understand that they don't want to support projects like OPIE GPE familiar or Open Embedded any more.

_ Sharp! Well, they don't mind! They tested the US and EU market with SL-5000,5500,5600 and SL-6000. This was a flop. They know that they can sell device in Asia without changing anything on Qtopia 1.5... so done it! As long as they don't see a real opportunity to introduce new Zaurus device in Europe or US, they won't try to force this product line to comeback in those markets. Why should they? Even Sony stopped to produce Palm Clié PDA (and then focussed on Asia market)!
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post Dec 19 2004, 04:42 PM
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Well someone had to throw that brick.
I agree with some of the things you're saying (though not everything, obviously), but there's one thing that all developpers seem to have forgotten: if you're not functionality-centric, no one is going to use your stuff, but a lot of people are going to argue about it.
FOCUS on enabling people to do more stuff with a Z then they can with even the newest Ipaq, and they'll come. But NOT if they have to sit through an hours long research session.
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post Dec 19 2004, 05:24 PM
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Sorry amrein, but where do you think you are? In heaven, where great god will give you every day a new release of all that linux related stuff based on all devices that exist? And always stable and also developer friendly.
I think it is ok, that some people at qtopia are able to live from their products.
Opie is also nice and there are really a lot of people happy to use that.
Openembedded is a big success. It is stable and flexible. It is possible to set the cvs dates to a fix point and work on a stable release. This has been shown by 3.5.2 that was a bug fix release. You can also have a look at CoreDumps work. He is using openembedded and making the OZroms also usable for newbees. The Cardfs concept is for example really nice, having an installer which formats SD cards to ext2 and installs a lot of apps to card. If a developer is using OE and cant set some basic issues like CVS DATE, then I dont think he or she has got the point of openembedded.
We are all somehow happy to have the zaurus and somehow sad about missing ressources on this issue. But this is the situation as it is and will not help anybody, if you behave like a bored kid and putting pressure on the community, who is not responsible for the general situation and also not responsible for your situation. Take it as it is and if you are not satisfied with the situation, buy a book, learn something, then try to help.
I know, there are still people out there working hard on projects like openembedded. So what makes you believe you can justice about their tears and sweat and mark their work as a mess?
Well if you want to talk with people in this way, please buy a microsoft product, use it, pay the people for the things you want, and then call their support and tell them, their work is a mess and they should do it better for your money.
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post Dec 20 2004, 03:09 AM
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You do make a few good points, and I agree with a lot of them, and your frustration is felt by a lot of users and developers.

Qtopia 2.1 is not vaporware, it has already been released, and the gpl version is to be released any day now. Qtopia has always been open source, and Trolltech was one of the first linux companies embracing open source. Simply because the newest version isn't released yet, doesn't mean that it isn't open source.

Open source is usually developed by people in their spare time. Opie, and GPE are such projects.

Trolltech encourages Opie development. They even hired an Opie developer. See how great and easy it is to customize Qtopia? Qtopia is doing better than ever, and is THE linux smartphone software. It is far from vaporware.

The fellows at handhelds.org, the people at HP/Compaq donate those resources, and port the kernel to ipaqs, in their spare time, aside from the work they do. Most of us have lives, and real jobs we need to do, aside from devloping open source code.

The pda market is changing, basically, it is dying, and smartphones are taking over. There are going to be some really cool devices released in the next years... have patience.
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post Dec 20 2004, 04:37 AM
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QUOTE(amrein @ Dec 19 2004, 06:31 PM)
Well guys, I'm in trouble.

Well amrein, such as life ...

But maybe miracles will happen concerning a Linux based PDA with processing power and well to use applications ... I am hoping it very much ...

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post Dec 20 2004, 08:53 AM
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I don't know why you think Zaurus is a PDA.

Mine is running a full-blown operating system, namely Linux. It is a PC, i.e. a personal computer, that does what I need it too. Read through this board and you will see that people customize their Zaurus in numerous ways installing all kinds of different Linux software, most of which also runs on Linux desktops.

Personally, I think that the ARM base for Zaurus is just right and if anything, we need someone to be selling a compact desktop ARM system running Linux so that it is easier for developers to produce ARM binaries. Right now we rely on people who are willing to work through the hassles of cross-compilation. But most developers who run desktop Linux, would be able to do everything that they currently do on an ARM-based system.

But these are secondary things to worry about. We should really be worrying that Sharp might drop the Linux-based Zaurus altogether. In Europe and in the USA it has suffered because people called it a PDA and it ended up competing with Palm devices targetted at non-geeks. We need to help Sharp find a market niche for Zaurus outside of Japan and I think the way to do that is for Linux geeks to build systems around a Zaurus so that companies will buy the Z in quantities of 100 and higher just to run a certain portable application. There is no single killer application that will fit this market, but it would be hundreds of special purpose custom applications built around the Z's capability to carry (or record) lots of data. You could even sell something based on the Netfront browser and a 2 gig HTML database accessed through Apache. Or some sort of bespoke Portabase database.

I don't have all the answers but I think this is where the future lies. Think of that Microsoft advert where the guy is ordering a car and keeps changing his mind about the color. Every time he does, the factory robot switches colors because the salesman is entering it into a handheld device. We need to make Z into that handheld device.
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post Dec 20 2004, 08:12 PM
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Why would they not abandon it? Let's look at the markets:

(*) Normal user. The Qtopia PDA application isn't bad. Opera is much better than other web apps I've seen. Honestly most of the hacking around people are talking about... well it won't happen. Try explaining the Sharp ROM installation process of Gaim to a person who normally struggles through Installshield Windows apps. So it remains what it is, a decent PDA with some nice web support. Native Japanese support I guess keeps it going in Japan, fine.

(*) IT geeks. Maybe. Slashdot basically trashed the SL-6000L I remember when it came out. The reason? It cost a buttload of money for what you god; anyways, PDAs are out, smartphones are What's Cool.

Plus, right now the development process right now seems very weird. Half the links on Google seem dead. Software may or may not work for your system, same package type different OS... commercial software support is low. Feeds are unreliable as far as having software. You've got the usual open-source problems to deal with (non-existant documentation and bugs that wouldn't make it out the commercial software door) as well, but Linux geeks deal with that well right now. The scattershot nature of the Zaurus forums on the other hand right now doesn't help matters as it makes it tough to figure out problems. Heck it's hard to figure out what ROM to start out with these days.

So. Maybe things will get better. Maybe not. I suppose its up to the development community, right?

(*) Corporate user. They've got a decent hardware set. They got a nice Linux system which makes it possible to develop relatively speedy applications. Built-in wi-fi and durability... hmm... get some developers together and you can make some cool custom applications. But even a corporate user might balk at the Zaurus price eventually. Again... smartphones and Blackberry looks like its taking the place of what the Sharp used to do.

Fortunately, the close-out Zauruses were cheap. smile.gif Plus the Zaurus is a hell of a lot more hackable than many machines out there, and with work *CAN* become basically a half-laptop replacement. Which I like. Still, I can see why Sharp closed out the US market. There's starting to get less reasons for them these days.
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post Dec 20 2004, 10:02 PM
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Long have I pondered this situation amrein. I too am a Linux user and developer, I've patched and debugged several distrobutions since I started messing with Linux when i was 13... Now at 18 I can say Linux in general has come a very very long way, but is still quite fragmented and leaderless. Comes from being stepped on by the big boys like Microsoft for so long.

Now, when I discovered the existance of Zaurus I immediately thought up the idea of making a fully community based PDA. Under the leadership of a company, the community, or key individuals within the community would recive detailed specs, and maybe even developer smaples of a PDA. Now this wouldn't be too difcult, I know both Intel and AMD have Reference Design Kits that go along with their ARM and MIPs processors. The problem lies in the initial investment.

If the big players in the community were given one of these, sothey could tweak a kernel and current distro, preferably Debian, and the documents made available to the rest of the community, for driver optimizations and the like, we'd have a damn awesome starting point.

Again i say, the problem is the initial investment. It has to come under the wing of a company, the original reference design has to be tweaked before it's released to the community, because of patent issues, and for that you need a team (not neccessarily a big one) of engineers and a place to manufacture some new designs. So in the end, again I have to agree. this will only work with a company willing to give to the community.

I've of course had delusions of grandeur and dream that my little custom PC shop will grow enough that I can make my own custom Linux distro to bundle with my systems, and from there I could jump into the PDA market and spearhead a community based revilution, but that would take years, and investors I don't have.

So there you go, it's not likely to happen. Unfortunate.
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post Dec 21 2004, 09:04 AM
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the original reference design has to be tweaked before it's released to the community, because of patent issues

There shouldn't be any patent issues. Copyright issues, maybe, but it's unlikely that a chip maker would raise a fuss about someone increasing their sales by putting their reference design into production biggrin.gif

There's already one "community-based" PDA out there: check out the Simputer. I believe that, if possible, it makes more sense to take an existing hardware platform and build the software for it, since it's much easier to pull together the needed software resources than to do the same for the hardware.

Otoh, you'd need a hardware maker committed to keeping the unit in production even after it "became obsolete", instead of trying to keep up with the competition by replacing it with "leading edge" models. Otherwise, too much of your limted resources will be spent adapting to platform changes.

Thie Simputer folks might be willing to do that, since it also supports their original goal of bringing costs down to the point where the Simputer can become affordable to people who would otherwise be left on the other side of "The Digital Divide".

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