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Sharp tools up with Linux to fight Palm

Hoping programmability to key to corporate success

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Sharp is looking to Linux as the basis for the next generation of its Zaurus PDAs - at least as far as models sold outside Japan go.

The next Zaurus - provisionally due in the US before Christmas, according to a Sharp spokesman cited by Reuters - will run ship with Linux to overseas buyers, but Japanese customers' machines will run Sharp's current, proprietary Zaurus OS.

Essentially, it's all about competing with Palm and co. by providing buyers with the scope to download and add applications to the basic handheld. The idea isn't to appeal to individual buyers, rather to target corporate customers who want to provide employees with PDAs that can hook into their networks.

Certainly your average Palm user doesn't make a habit of installing extra apps on his or her PDA, we reckon. The majority of users buy their PDAs as bionic filofaxes, allowing them to carry their PC-based contact databases and diaries around when their out of the office.

They like the Palm - as opposed to, say, the Zaurus - because it's convenient and is easy to use. The ability to add third-party apps doesn't matter much at all.

The corporate market, however, is very different. So far, PDAs have been primarily sold to individuals, but there does appear to be an emerging market for institutional buyers. Certainly, Palm is increasingly targeting not only executives but the companies they work for.

Speaking at a recent Banc of America Securities Conference, Palm CEO Carl Yankowski noted that the company is working with around 350 organisations who want to give PDAs to their employees.

Sharp certainly needs to do something to compete with its PDA rivals and Palm in particular. While it has more than 50 per cent of the Japanese PDA market, it hasn't troubled the scorer in the US for some time. ®

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