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Royal announces low-cost Linux PDA

Royal Lin@x aims to bring color handheld computers to a lower price point using open source software.

Royal Consumer Information Products, best known for low-cost commodity appliances like shredders and postal scales, this week became the first to announce a low-cost color PDA based on the Linux operating system.

The $299 device, set for launch in the US by the middle of this year, will be one of the cheapest color handhelds on the market, and also promises to bring Linux to a wider potential market. New color devices from Palm, for example, cost about $100 more than Royal's device.

The PDA, called Royal Lin@x, shares many features with far more expensive devices from HP and Compaq, including a 206MHz Intel StrongARM processor, a color display, a CompactFlash Type II slot and an MP3 player. It also includes a serial port and a USB port for further expansion.

Users can connect to the Internet via a CF card wireless dial-up modem or a wireless LAN card. The device includes Internet and information management software from Century Embedded technologies and synchronizes with Windows and Linux desktop software.

"This launch makes Royal the first and only consumer device manufacturer to break a significant price/performance barrier and puts us at an advantage for offering a complete, stable Linux-powered PDA," said Todd Althoff, vice-president of marketing and new development for Royal.

The embedded hardware is supplied by Applied Data Systems.

If the device succeeds, it could be a boost to Linux's acceptance as an operating system for consumer devices. Linux costs far less than competing operating systems like Windows because it is free from licensing fees. Linux is seen as one of the few possible contenders against Microsoft's Windows operating system monopoly.

Other companies have announced plans for a Linux PDA, notably Sharp, but they aim for the high end of the market.