Wed Mar 2 10:49:38 MYT 2005

Highlights: Knowing the differences in PDA operating systems

Original at

THE numerous operating systems (OSes) in different personal digital assistants (PDAs) would baffle most tech newbies. Minus the lesser-known and extinct PDA OSes (some of which are proprietary), you are left with Palm OS, Microsoft’s Pocket PC, Symbian and Linux. A good OS makes or breaks the PDA initiative of a PDA hardware manufacturer.

For a while, manufacturers were split into two main camps after Psion (the people who brought us Epoc, which is now called Symbian) left the foray: Palm OS and Pocket PC. And after the failed attempt by Apple (Apple Newton Messagepad), Palm OS dominated the PDA OS scene for a long while.

Microsoft achieved mild success and some failure in its attempt with the predecessor of the now popular Pocket PC OS called Windows CE (WinCE). Some dropped WinCE (especially versions 1.0 to 2.0) as the platform was deemed quite inferior until it was stabilised by version 3.0, which was then redubbed as the now popular Microsoft Pocket PC. WinCE 3.0 still remains the core for other derivatives of Microsoft’s Windows Mobile found in smartphones and PDA phones.

Symbian survived the years due to its stability, versatility, suitability and adoption by smartphone makers. Today, it seems to be making a comeback in a big way, thanks mainly to Nokia and Sony Ericsson.

The question of which OS to use has had big names like Acer undecided as well. In 2001, Acer launched the Acer s10 which was Palm OS-powered. Then in 2002, it launched its n20 which was Pocket PC-powered.

What about Linux? In the PDA world, Linux has enjoyed some success as well, especially in Japan where the Sharp Zaurus PDA sold more than any other PDAs.

Colin Charles, a 20-year-old Malaysian programmer-consultant studying in Australia, is a contributor to the Fedora Project, a community-supported open source project sponsored by Red Hat Linux to build a complete, general-purpose OS exclusively from free software.

"Personally, I’ve taken on an interest in the project run at, where you run Linux on run-of-the-mill Compaq iPaq, for instance. I picked up a second-hand unit and started developing on it as it was an environment I’m familiar with," he says.

The two popular variants for Linux on a handheld are Opie (open palmtop integrated environment) and GPE (a palmtop environment which differs in the developer libraries used). Opie is Qt (a cross platform graphical widget toolkit)-based and has a lot more applications available for it while GPE is GTK (graphical user interface toolkit)-based and has less applications.

A variant of Linux that runs on PDAs is Familiar Linux, a Debian-based distribution. Charles says he sees interesting developments in Linux PDAs, citing that relief efforts in the tsunami-hit Sri Lanka were helped by iPaqs running on Linux.

Sebastian Lim of SoftMedia Systems (M) Sdn Bhd, a Web solutions and systems integrator, says Linux has come a long way since it was unleashed for the desktop and server markets such as Red Hat, Mandrake, Centoo and SuSe.

He is confident that the Linux momentum will continue. "Linux has also moved into the PDA and smartphone segments such as the Sharp Zaurus SL-5x00, NEC N900iL, Samsung SCH-i519 and Motorola E680," he says.

Ahmad Tarmizi Mahayuddin, no stranger to the PDA user group scene, has had many PDAs tried and tested in his hands and found favour with Pocket PC as "it is a simple and practical solution". He says the best feature of a Pocket PC is that it allows users to multi-task, synchronise data, transfer files and install software effortlessly using Microsoft ActiveSync.

Furthermore, faster processor speeds of up to 600 megahertz and built-in Wi-Fi in the newer Pocket PC models make them a comprehensive mobile computing solution, he adds.

Colin Charles <>, © 1996-2004