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IBM looks to arm more PDAs with Linux

Big Blue is ushering in design standards for personal digital assistants based on its PowerPC 405LP chip and MontaVista's Linux.

IBM is using its technological might to back Linux for personal digital assistants.

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IBM's Microelectronics division announced on Tuesday it will offer a PDA blueprint aimed at fostering the development of new versions of handhelds based on its PowerPC 405LP chip and MontaVista Software's Linux. The companies are exhibiting their wares at this week's LinuxWorld trade show in New York.

The 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 for it--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 likely will cost $1,000 or less. 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, said Michael McGinnis, strategic marketing manager for IBM Microelectronics.

"What we're trying to do with the price and fulfillment is make it so a senior engineer can go out on the Internet and get it," he said.


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The move could serve to boost the use of Linux in PDAs. Though Sharp uses Linux in its Zaurus PDA, the operating system still is not as popular as the Palm OS, which is the most widely used PDA operating system on the market, according to figures from research firms IDC and Gartner.

Using the IBM reference design, engineers could create many kinds of PDAs, including inexpensive consumer-oriented models and more sophisticated business models for accessing important company data such as e-mail.

Big Blue expects that the reference design will help it sell more PowerPC chips and lead to more design work. However, the company doesn't plan to get back into the PDA business anytime soon, McGinnis said. Despite the reference design and a partnership with Sharp to make Linux-based Zaurus more attractive to businesses, IBM prefers to leave the PDA market to others at this point.

IBM Microelectronics is still finalizing details on pricing and distribution partners for the reference design, McGinnis said. The company will offer updates and additional information via its Web site.