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Sharp readies Linux-based handheld

The consumer-electronics maker is preparing to release a handheld in the United States that uses a version of the Linux operating system, sources tell CNET

Sharp is preparing to release a handheld computer in the United States that uses a version of the Linux operating system, sources have told CNET

In the coming weeks, sources said, the consumer-electronics maker is expected to make the handheld available to developers. A consumer version is expected in the first quarter.

The handheld for consumers will offer 64MB of memory, the sources said, while the one for developers will feature 32MB in order to offer them a lower price. With the exception of memory, the two handhelds will have the same features. The devices will use an Intel 206MHz StrongARM processor. Their displays will offer a resolution of 320 pixels by 240 pixels and will support 16-bit color. The devices will also feature CompactFlash and Secure Digital expansion slots, as well as handwriting recognition and a keyboard with a sliding cover.

The devices are also expected to use Tao Group's Java virtual machine, which allows them to run Java applications, and to include an Opera browser.

Sharp's new devices will target the business market and will cost between $400 and $600.

In May, Sharp announced that it would use Lineo's Embedix operating system for a handheld. Embedix includes a Linux core and proprietary add-ons.

Sharp representatives declined to comment on the upcoming handhelds, but details about them appear on the company's developers site.

Several handhelds using Linux have emerged in the past year, but they haven't gained much market share. Analysts say that Linux won't likely Sharp's Linux-based handheldmake a major impact in the market for a few years and that estimating the market share of the Linux OS for handhelds is difficult because the market is so fragmented and new.

Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said that Linux is technically a good operating system but that its major obstacle is a lack of public exposure.

"It's about marketing, not about technology. It needs a major backer to take ownership of it and market it properly," Dulaney said. "Without proper marketing, there won't be enough users to encourage developers to create applications."

Linux is open-source software that depends on a community of developers--some volunteers and some working for companies--to expand and update the operating system.

One major benefit of Linux is that it allows any developer to manipulate the source code to fit particular needs without having to depend on a single supplier for the code. The code is also free, which helps to reduce the cost of products that eventually use the OS. This also can be a problem when companies try to standardize on the operating system, because they have to do their own work to develop and update it.