Compaq Releases Handheld Linux Port for Developers

Compaq Computer Corp. this week said it has ported Linux to its iPaq handheld computer so that open-source software developers can start working on potential applications for the device, which currently is based on Microsoft Corp.'s PocketPC technology and Windows CE operating system.

The Linux-based iPaq isn't being made available to end users at this point, and Compaq didn't disclose any plans to release a commercial version. But application developers can download the source code for the Linux port from a new Web site focused on open-source handheld development that the Houston-based computer maker is hosting.

Bob Iannucci, vice president of corporate research at Compaq, portrayed the Linux port as a research and development project that started with an experimental pocket computer called Itsy acquired by the company as part of its 1998 purchase of Digital Equipment Corp.

The research work has now been extended to the iPaq device that Compaq began shipping late last month, the company said. It added that the Linux port and the new Web site are aimed at enabling "developers and researchers (who are) looking to explore applications and uses for handheld computing to experiment with" the iPaq device.

But Compaq's confirmation of its potential interest in supporting Linux on iPaq follows recent moves by other vendors that are looking to run the open-source operating system on mobile devices. And analysts said that if the test port pans out, they expect Compaq to move forward and start producing a Linux-driven iPaq.

Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Massachusetts, said using open-source Linux "could lead to a lower-cost device" because Compaq wouldn't have to pay the same royalties that it does to Microsoft for Windows CE.

"If they have success (putting Linux on iPaq), you can bet they will market it," said Ken Smiley, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Massachusetts. Whether Compaq would pass the royalty savings on to users of the handheld device is far from clear, Smiley added. But a Linux-based iPaq would "put competitive pressure on Microsoft" above and beyond what it already faces from handheld market leader Palm Inc., he said.

A Microsoft spokeswoman said the company had no immediate comment on Compaq's plans, beyond noting that the test port "is still very much in the research phase."

California-based Palm said it hasn't taken any formal steps to add the Linux operating system to its handheld devices. But late last month, PC maker Gateway 2000 Inc. in San Diego announced plans to develop a line of wireless Internet appliances that will use a mobile version of Linux developed by Transmeta Corp., a Santa Clara, California, company in which Gateway has invested.

Linux vendors such as Red Hat Inc. in , North Carolina, and Lineo Inc. in Utah, have also introduced versions of the open-source operating system that can be embedded into Internet devices and other equipment. Lineo has said a second release of its Embedix software that's due next year will be able to run Windows CE applications.

But thus far, Kusnetzky said, Linux hasn't captured much of the market for embedded systems.

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