weeXpc: A PC-like Linux system for SHARP Zaurus PDAs

Archived 2012-10-10: 

This product is not sold or supported by hermocom anymore and this article may be outdated.

weeXpc is now freeware.
You may download it for free. To get access, please contact me and write a few lines, why you need it.



weeXpc is one of the most stable and user-friendly SHARP Zaurus Linux distributions.

It is available for SHARP Zaurus models SL-C1000, SL-C3100 and SL-C3200.
weeXpc is focused towards PC-like usage of the Zaurus, it is not a typical PDA system.

Successor product: OpenPandora

Although you can still obtain weeXpc, weeXpc is not maintained anymore, and the Sharp Zaurus PDAs are reatively hard to get.

If you are looking for a current product similar to a Sharp Zaurus with weeXpc, have a look at the Linux-based OpenPandora PDA.

 

Quick links for people interested in the weeXpc

What is the weeXpc?

weexpc animation The weeXpc (pronounced like weeks-pc) is a "wee X PC". That means, it is a tiny PC in the size of a PDA which is based on the Linux operating system with an X or X11 graphical user interface. X11 is the most common standard for graphical user interfaces on Linux PCs.

In contrast to common PDAs, it contains full-featured and open-source productivity tools, such as

  • Very powerful PIM applications
  • an MS-Word compatible text processor
  • an MS-Excel compatible spreadsheet application
  • a project management tool similar to MS Project
  • a diagram / flowchart editor similar to MS Visio
  • a fast and powerful email client
  • a very versatile outliner for rapid brainstorming or collections of ideas, notetaking, web site authoring etc.
  • the standard Mozilla Firefox web browser
  • an instant messenger
  • a database application
  • a scientific calculator
  • a PDF viewer
  • an ebook reader
  • a graphics/photo viewer
  • image processing tools
  • music and video player
  • DOSBox, a DOS emulation
  • some games
  • utility for data backups and system snapshots
  • the usual system tools, such as file managers, terminal, text editors etc.
  • and many applications more

all this in a perfectly pocketable size.

Almost all of these programs have a graphical user interface, so no special Linux knowledge is needed. However, there are also a lot of command line tools installed for the power users. Even an onboard C/C++ development environment is available. The system can be expanded with more software as needed.

Please note that the product "weeXpc" is the software platform. It does not include the hardware. However, for simplicity, when this web page talks about "the weeXpc", the entire wee X pc, i.e. software with hardware, is meant.

Get the feeling!

In order to experience the look and feel of the weeXpc, have a look at the photos and screenshots section at the end of this page.

Also, the weeXpc manual is available online. The manual has been entirely created on the weeXpc, using the NoteCase outliner, by the way.

 

 

weeXpc hardware platform: The SHARP Zaurus PDA

The Sharp Zaurus PDA is used for running the weeXpc system (Model SL-C1000, SL-C3200 or SL-C3100), which is a clamshell-shaped PDA with a brilliant color VGA screen, a convenient to use keyboard, a built-in hard drive (not for SL-C1000) and a lot of communication interfaces. Click here to see technical specifications of the Zaurus models.
New Zaurus PDAs are not available anymore, and used ones are hard to get nowadays.

 

What makes the weeXpc unique?

Unlike most other PDA platforms, it has exactly the same versions of programs installed as those which can be installed on a standard PC, not the usual "mobile" or "light" versions which lack important features.
This is why I call it a PC, not a PDA.

Also, the weeXpc system contains portable Windows versions of several important weeXpc software programs, so working on your data files can also be done on a Windows XP PC: Simply connect the weeXpc to a PC using an USB cable and continue to work on your files conveniently on a large PC.

Your benefit:

  • Low costs: No license fees, because the entire system consists of open source software
  • "Productivity everywhere": You always have your files and the software necessary for working with them available in your pocket. Not only for viewing, but also for working on them with all features you are used to from your PC.
  • A very mature, stable, powerful, but configurable and flexible computer system in your pocket

 

hermocom's challenge:

The above requirements raise the actual challenge: Making these PC-oriented applications run conveniently fast on the PDA and making the entire environment, which is composed from a lot of different sources, feel like one consistent desktop system with a professional look and feel providing convenient usability.

Also, one goal is to avoid that the user has to do much besides the actual usage of the weeXpc, e.g. the user should not need to worry about installation, configuration and tweaking, so this is done by hermocom in advance.

Only the personalization is left to the end user. Personalization and application usage can be done without any actual Linux or hardware knowledge. The fact that the system is Linux-based is hidden from the user most of the time. The user gets an intuitive, window-oriented graphical user interface (GUI).
So one more challenge is to find a way to keep as much of the great flexibility and expandability of the Linux system, while strictly limiting the steps the user has to take to adapt the system to his needs.

Last but not least: The convenience for the user is not only supported by the "big" paradigms, but also by small, almost trivial, considerations: So, for example, I have put the "X menu", the start menu for the applications, on the right side of the screen, so that it is easily available for right-handed people using a stylus. A lot of PDA systems have that menu on the left side (I always wonder why?). And the clock always also shows the day of the week and day of the month in weeXpc: How often did you see the clock on the screen of your PC or PDA and asked yourself "And what date do we have today?". weeXpc answers that question at a glance. These are only a few obvious examples of the many small optimizations we have put into weeXpc.

I don't want to conceal the fact that, being a Linux and open source software based PC system on PDA hardware, weeXpc is not capable to perform some state-of-the-art tasks which many PDAs nowadays do: weeXpc is not suitable for GPS navigation, for doing phone calls, for Outlook synchronizing and it is not optimized for watching video or playing games (but it is possible to do so).

 

Information for HP 200LX palmtop users:

I am a long-time power user of the HP 200LX palmtop. Hence weeXpc covers many aspects considered important as a 200LX successor or 200LX replacement.

The weeXpc contains pendants for most, but not all of the famous HP 200LX applications.
The list below gives a comparison between some HP palmtop programs and their weeXpc equivalents, as well as some of the hardware features of the HP palmtops compared to the weeXpc's:

Database (GDB): There is a good database application (Portabase), but data migration from GDB format is not automated. So GDB databases will have to be migrated manually via CSV export and CSV import and manual creation of an empty skeleton database on the target side. Due to data type differences an automated solution is not very probable.

Appointment book and address book (ADB/PDB): The PIM applications of the weeXpc are outstanding and even more powerful than the 200LX ones. Data migration can be done via Outlook (OL2LX software) and subsequent import of Outlook data into the Windows version of the weeXpc PIM applications. Bidirectional synchronization between weeXpc and Outlook is not possible, though. The way of the data is: 200LX --> Outlook --> KDEPIM/PI for Windows --> KDEPIM/PI in weeXpc

MindMap/LX: Although there is a mindmapping program, which runs on the weeXpc, it is recommended to switch to an outliner. The outliner included with weeXpc (Notecase) supports most features of MM/LX, including great HTML export. An outline makes much more efficient use of the small screen size as opposed to mindmapping. Data migration from MM/LX is very easy using the MM/LX import filter of Notecase.

Post/LX or other email programs: The email program coming with the weeXpc is more powerful than those available for the LX. Usage is similarly convenient. Migration of email files from Post/LX is possible using a converter program (converts Post/LX files to mbox format) and an mbox import feature of the weeXpc email program. On weeXpc it is possible to use POP3 and/or IMAP4 access to mail servers. The weeXpc mail program also supports NNTP (usenet news groups).

Spreadsheet: There is no adequate replacement for Lotus 1-2-3 for mobile computers. However, I have found a spreadsheet program for the weeXpc which has a lot of capabilities and can directly import Lotus 1-2-3 files. So data migration will usually be no problem. One caveat: The weeXpc spreadsheet application does not support macros or menus inside the worksheet. Lotus 1-2-3 can be used as well on the weeXpc, running inside DOSBox, the DOS emulation environment. However, this is not very convenient due to the relatively slow speed of the emulation and due to some keyboard mapping issues.

Text processing: Dependent on what you used on the 200LX, it will be more or less simple to migrate your text files. MEMO files will be migrated easily, but with loss of formatting data (save as ASCII, then open on weeXpc). If you need to keep formatting data, you may use the DOC2RTF converter first, which is available for the 200LX. MS Word files and RTF files will be migrated directly by file import. WordPerfect files are not directly importable. However, WordPerfect is able to save files in formats the weeXpc is able to use, e.g. RTF. So WordPerfect files may have to be opened on the HP Palmtop and re-saved in another format.

Plain text files: Files created or edited by text editors such as MEMO or PE, without formatting, i.e. plain ASCII, can be used with any text editor on the weeXpc, too. The weeXpc has several text editors, some of them with a GUI, some on the console. Depending on the used set of characters, the files may have to be converted to another encoding. iconv is installed on the weeXpc, which will do almost any imaginable conversion between character sets. The usual encoding on the weeXpc is Unicode (UTF-8), but other encodings can also be used.

Application development: There are C, C++, Pascal, Forth and many more compilers available for the weeXpc. However, source code which makes use of DOS- or HP palmtop specific libraries or functions (such as the PAL libraries) will have to be ported. Most simple text mode / console programs can be compiled on the weeXpc directly without code modifications, as long as they have no OS-specific code.

Battery life (Sharp Zaurus hardware): The excellent value of several weeks on a set of AA batteries, as we know it from the HP Palmtops, cannot be achieved with the weeXpc, since it has a much more powerful processor, a hard drive and a backlit color TFT screen. Depending on the usage pattern, the weeXpc gives you 4 to 7 hours of constant usage. The battery is replaceable so carrying a spare battery is possible. Although the weeXpc has instant-on, a battery change requires a reboot, unless it can be powered by an AC adapter during battery exchange.

Instant on (Sharp Zaurus hardware): The weeXpc also has instant on, but it is not as fast as on the LX. Depending on how many programs are open, instant on may take between 5 and 20 seconds. Due to the high stability of the system, rebooting is almost never required. This is comparable with the HP 200LX.

Reaction time (Sharp Zaurus hardware): The reaction time on user input is comparable with the LX. The weeXpc has a much faster processor and much more RAM, but the software is also much more complex, so these two improvements balance and result in comparable user input reaction times as on the 200LX. There are things which are snappier on the weeXpc, e.g. searching in databases or emails. However, there are also things which are slower, compared with a doublespeed 200LX. The weeXpc has multitasking, so it also depends on how much applications are open and active at the same time.

Screen (Sharp Zaurus hardware): The screen is much more brilliant than the screen of the LX and it is backlit and in color (TFT). It has a higher resolution of 640x480 pixels. It is a bit higher but narrower than the screen of the LX. It can be read very well in normal or dim light or in total darkness. However, it is difficult (but possible) to read it in brightly lit environment.

Size and weight (Sharp Zaurus hardware): The size of the weeXpc is in two dimensions almost identical to the HP palmtops. Only the third one, the width, is smaller: Take your HP palmtop and imagine the right part cut off, approximately where the numeric keypad begins. Then you have the size of the weeXpc. The weeXpc with its 298gr. is slightly lighter than a HP Palmtop.

Data safety: The 200LX is prone to data loss when the batteries are depleted. All contents of RAM drive C: are erased in such a case. Even the backup coin battery quickly depletes when it once gets active due to main battery failure. The weeXpc does not have this problem. All data is stored in internal flash memory and on the internal hard disk. Both kinds of memory are persistent without power supply. However, storage of data on removable media (SD card, CF card) requires correct handling, i.e. "unmounting" the card before actual ejecting. This is a step which was not required on the LX, and the user will have to get used to it. Unmounting is made easy on the weeXpc using a graphical applet in the panel. It is comparable to "ejecting" a USB flash drive on a PC prior to removing it physically.

Other MS-DOS or HP palmtop programs: weeXpc comes with DOSBox, an IBM compatible PC emulation with DOS operating system. Within this emulation,

you can run almost any program, which could be run on the HP 200LX Palmtop, except the original 200LX ROM programs. However, some of the 200LX ROM programs are available as PC (DOS) versions in the HP Connectivity Pack. The Connectivity Pack can be used under DOSBox, so you can, for example, use the phone database, appointment book, HP calculator etc. on the weeXpc, if you own a copy of the HP Connectivity Pack. The Connectivity pack is not part of weeXpc because it requires you to buy a license to use it. 

The specifications of the DOSBox DOS environment are: Intel 80x86 processor, 4MB RAM, VGA color graphics. Using a palmtop graphics emulator, such as Palrun or INT5f, it is even possible to use PAL programs, such as Post/LX, PE, MM/LX, TT/LX etc. However, those programs run a bit slower than on a HP 200LX.

Using a pointing device within DOSBox (Mouse, touchscreen) for mouse-enabled DOS programs is possible but problematic.

Why should I switch to the weeXpc? The weeXpc allows to do more modern things, such as WiFi (connecting to a Wireless LAN) or connecting to a Bluetooth mobile phone (using optional CF WLAN/BT cards), dealing with modern file formats without conversion, viewing PDF files, using large modern storage media (CF, SD, USB sticks or external USB hard drives etc). It can also play media: For example, Color JPG image viewing and high-fidelity MP3 music are no problem for the weeXpc.

Another big advantage is the availability of a pointing device (touchscreen with stylus or a mouse connected via USB) which makes menu navigation and general program operation more convenient and intuitive. However, I also take care that all weeXpc applications can as well be operated using the keyboard, because frequently changing input methods between keyboard and stylus / mouse is inconvenient and slows down the workflow.

And last but not least: The Zaurus / weeXpc is smaller than the LX, so it fits better into your hip pocket or inside pocket.

Screenshots and photos

Click on a thumbnail to enlarge it. A gallery view will appear in which you can switch to the next / previous image by just one click.

View the embedded image gallery online at:
https://hermocom.com/archive/20-weexpc#sigFreeId8b312dfb28