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Over at the Web Worker Daily blog, there is an article titled “Who Needs a Notebook?”  While this is a very good article and a good look at three alternatives, for our purposes there is one serious drawback: none run UNIX or Linux.

One notable thing about the Windows environment, especially in the embedded environment, is that its requirements are still much higher than any UNIX (especially BSD and Linux).

There are several PDAs and small devices that come with Linux pre-installed (for purposes of discussion, being able to install Linux or BSD is not considered). My current favorite is the Nokia 770 (now superceded by the Nokia N800).  These are sold as “Internet Tablets” but run a Debian-like embedded environment with their own window manager.  The tablets are quite expandable software-wise; available software (from the community) includes OpenSSH, xterm, minimo, xournal, and more.

A classic Linux-based PDA (which is legendary in the Linux community) is the Sharp Zaurus.  While not initially a Linux-based PDA, the CL-5000D was the first of many that would Linux-based. Currently, the Linux-based Zaurus line is only available in Japan. The demand is such that there are many exporters that will sell the Zaurus to non-Japanese audiences anywhere in the world.

However, be aware that buying a Zaurus from an exporter/reseller necessarily means that there is no warranty from Sharp.  It also pays to be wary about power requirements: many such Zauruses will ship without a power supply for the country being shipped to – so if the local power plugs and power output are not compatible with Japan, then you are stuck.

The current Sharp Zaurus page (in Japanese) is here.

The kind people at TuxMobil have an entire list of PDAs that run Linux, including notations denoting those that come with Linux preloaded. If getting a PDA with Linux preloaded isn’t enough, you can put Linux or NetBSD (“Of course it runs NetBSD!”) onto a PDA yourself if you are technically inclined.

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