Compaq has announced that Linux can be run on its iPAQ handheld devices, but people installing the open source software risk disabling their device.
The move is part of a programme Compaq is spearheading to encourage the open source community to develop applications for handheld devices. Experimenting with Linux on the iPAQ is a first phase of the project.
However, the Compaq open source development site from which the Linux for iPAQ download is available - ftp.handsheld.org - contains prominent warnings that "if this installation fails then your iPAQ could become unusable". It warns that the procedure has been tested on only a "handful" of units, and that if it fails it will be impossible to restore Windows CE.
The warning adds: "Work is underway to enable you to save your WinCE image before installing an operating system, but at this time implementation is not complete."
Nevertheless, Compaq is bullish about the potential of putting a penguin on a handheld device, and it points out that the iPAQ handheld with Linux is not available or supported for commercial customers.
Bob Iannucci, vice president of corporate research at Compaq, said: "The port of Linux to the Compaq iPAQ handheld computer is designed to encourage the development of novel user interfaces, new applications and innovative research projects for the future. Through the Open Handheld Program we hope to unleash the future potential of handheld and wearable computing, and spark invention on the Linux platform."
In addition to porting the core Linux operating system, Compaq is providing other software components including drivers, X-Terminal emulation, handwriting recognition, touch screen and multimedia support. Compaq will also provide hardware specifications for both the iPAQ handheld unit and its Expansion Pack system.
Catherine Pennington, research analyst at IDC, said: "I'm surprised at how early Compaq have been with this because there are not many handheld applications available for Linux. However, Linux is very stable and therefore useful to many but I'm not sure Linux will appear very fast on handhelds."
Pennington added that IBM, which has made a broad endorsement of Linux across all its platforms, could be expected to follow Compaq.
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