IBM to support Sharp's Linux PDA in middleware

IBM has agreed with Sharp to support the Japanese company's Zaurus Linux-based personal digital assistant (PDA) in some of its middleware products, the companies said last Friday.

The deal gives Osaka-based Sharp, one of the domestic PDA market leaders in Japan, a boost in its attempt to spread sales of the Zaurus overseas and also penetrate corporations. The company is competing against vendors of Pocket PC or Palm operating system PDAs that have broader support in enterprise software packages.

The agreement should see support for Zaurus built into IBM's Linux and Java-based middleware products by mid 2003, they said in a statement. Applications will include the Websphere Everyplace line which allows companies to add mobile devices including PDAs to the list of clients that can access IBM enterprise applications such as WebSphere Application Server, DB2 database, and software from IBM subsidiaries Tivoli Systems Inc. and Lotus Software Group.

The Websphere Everywhere line currently supports Pocket PC and Palm OS PDAs and some cell phones based on WML (wireless markup language) and Sync ML.

Sharp has been eyeing the enterprise market ever since it unveiled its first Linux-based PDA, the Zaurus SL-5000D, at the JavaOne conference in the U.S. in mid-2001, but it has been held back by a lack of experience in the enterprise market. Early on, the company turned to open-source developers and this week said that 550 Zaurus-specific applications have been produced of which only 50 are Japanese language.

Sharp began commercial sales of the Zaurus overseas in April of this year and the company is targeting international sales of 75,000 units during its first 12 months, Hiroshi Uno, general manager at Sharp's Mobile Systems Division, said at a news conference earlier this week held to announce the company's latest two models.

Those models, the Zaurus B500 (called SL-5600 overseas) and C700, extend the company's domestic line-up of Linux-based devices to three. The B500 is an update on a previous model while the C700 is a top-of-the-range model that Sharp said it targeted at business users on the move -- the same audience being targeted under the deal with IBM. To underline this, the company demonstrated the PDA being used with a projector to deliver a Power Point presentation.

The device has a landscape format 3.7-inch (9.25-centimeter) LCD (liquid crystal display) with 640-pixel by 480-pixel (VGA) resolution, which is four times higher than most competing PDAs. The screen can also be swiveled through 180 degrees and folded down to cover the keyboard and allow the Zaurus to be used like a conventional PDA with the screen in portrait format. The PDA is based on an Intel Corp. XScale processor running at 400MHz and also includes 64M bytes of flash memory and 32M bytes of SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM) and slots for SD (Secure Digital) and Compact Flash cards.

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