Sharp Zaurus SL-5500

zaurus picture

When the Zaurus first came available retail in March of 2002, I jumped to get one.  The Palm was ok for PIM, which I didn't  really need, and the Pocket PC was just more of the same toy crap from M$.  Finally, A Real Man's pda!  It was the first big commercial release of a linux-running pda.  (There are many others, but not nearly as attractive).   The price tag was steep: $800+ for the SL-5500 including CF and 802.11b card.   In the beginning, it was great fun finding out what it could do and contributing to a thriving hacker community that grew up around it.  There were problems to be sure, but it was very rewarding to have most of them eventually solved.   Despite all the free software for it, I spent another $500+ on software and hardware to extend its capabilities.

Since then, the technology has moved on of course.   Sharp has produced 6 more upgraded models and my poor old zaurus can't run the latest whiz-bang software.  But it's still useful.  Unlike those other pda's, a linux pda is a complete pc platform, capable of doing most anything a desktop pc could do (considering the speed and graphics differences, of course)

I think the Ideal of a pda is a portable digital assistant.  Back when the Zaurus was conceived, it seemed like we would have wireless connectivity everywhere by now.  Sadly, that has completely failed, and the telecoms are in control of the airways.   The only way I can get wireless access with my Zaurus is to pay extortionate fees to Starbucks... ( ok, I exaggerate, but it's definitely not the guerrilla networks we were hoping for).    The Zaurus might have seemed expensive but as a general computing device it was replacing all these functions which separate devices provide:
* - requires additional hardware peripherals.

We are unfortunately still a long way off from what a pda could be:
Nevertheless, I think the Zaurus and its successors is a good platform to test and develop these ideas on (see my zaurus links for groups that are doing this).

Until digital utopia arrives, I list some of the cooler things I've done with my Zaurus.   These distinguish the Zaurus from other PDA's and show what a superior platform Linux is.  I am skipping many things you will find on other Zaurus sites.

Cool Things to do with a Zaurus

1. Practically the first thing a hacker does with his Zaurus is install a command-line shell.   A micro-edition of the gnu tools (Busybox) needed upgrading, but is quite serviceable.   The built-in keyboard makes the command-line very useable, and I spent hours and hours accumulating my favorite command-line tools and scripting replacements.

2. And the very next is installing ssh and disabling telnet and ftp which Sharp included with no security!

3. Set up various waps (got the USR 2450 because it "could be reflashed with Linux".  procedure turned out to be way too expensive and the wap died after a 1 1/2 years.  replaced with the linux-running Linksys WRT54G, (and Jim Busbee's BatBox linux tools for it))  Opera browser included by Sharp is very decent for normal web browsing (doesn't need slim pda sites)

4. We geeks always have a music repository online, so next I had to nfs mount my repository over the Zaurus' wireless connection and play it on the Zaurus with sound output to my stereo. 

5.  Too lazy to plug in to the stereo?  I got an iRock! FM Transmitter which plugs into the Zaurus jack and I broadcast to my stereo's radio.  Normally I use it in my BMW, which has no input jack on the stereo.

6.  Sharp provided a camera add-on for the Zaurus - which sucked!  So I bought a Minolta DiMAGE-X.   It took a while but eventually I could display the 1600x1200 pictures and 320x240 video on the Zaurus.  Also installed nice photo-editing tools.  The Minolta's SD stick just plugs into the Zaurus.

7.  In desperation for lack of wireless access points, I bought a Sanyo SCP-6200 (Sprint) phone.   After a great hassle, I eventually could connect the Zaurus serially to my phone for data connections to my home server (set up a dial-up server on a second phone-line) .  I also set up an opensource VPN client and rdesktop to connect to my workplace (which uses Cisco VPN)

8.  The Zaurus has an excellent sound chip.  Those tricksters tho' put the microphone and stereo output in the same jack!  My solution was to hack this Labtec Headset (Model Axis 002).  I converted the switch to switch between mono/mike and stereo.   The mono/mike position is good for VOIP, ie, turning my Zaurus into an internet phone.

9.  Altho the Zaurus has an IR port it is too weak for remote control.  No problem!  I bought the Remote Extender from   With it, I can use my Zaurus as a universal remote control from anywhere in my house. I used Thomas Steven's opie-remote software and configured support for my reciever, tv, vcr, tivo, and the hdtv, dvd, winamp, realone, media player, and browser on my HTPC

10. Used Coriander to access the Orange Micro firewire iBot webcam on my linux desktop (proving that the IEEE1394 port on my Audigy 2 Platinum works).  Then, used vloopback to pipe the output to a video device for Palantir streaming video client-server. From  there to a Palantir client on my Zaurus. Now I can watch my cat from anywhere!

11. Altho over a thousand free software ipk's exist for the Zaurus, The Kompany has a great collection of quality software.  I bought quite a few of them.   

12.  VNC is a superior remote desktop product, under several incarnations.  I routinely use vnc to access my Zaurus while it sits in a usb cradle connected (tcp over usb) to my linux desktop.   I also use the usb connection to work on my zaurus thru my desktop - an ssh shell allows you to do much more on linux.

13. Sync'ing was a problem.  At first, Sharp provided a windows and linux client called Qtopia that usually worked, but many if not most had a problem even connecting the Zaurus (I never could get it to work on Win98SE).   When Sharp upgraded the rom they failed to upgrade the linux client too!  And I didn't want to be forced to use Qtopia as a pim.   Lotus Notes sync client didn't work on top of wine.  The Evolution sync client sort of worked, but I had already determined I wanted to sync thru open protocols.   I already had my contacts in a LDAP repository; I wrote an ldap to Zaurus xml converter.  I also set up Mark Crispin's Imapd on my linux server to sync mail and notes.   I use webdav for calendering/tasks and rsync for backup.  Finally, I use jpluck to sync with my favorite news sites on the web, so I can read them when I am not connected.

14. If you have a Zaurus, you've probably hacked your TiVo already. Fred Hubinette wrote a very convenient sync tool for the TiVo. All recordings on the TiVo are automatically "sync'd" to your Linux server. By default, the files are converted to divx and 320x240 appropriate for the SL5500 Zaurus. I automatically copy scheduled recordings to my Zaurus before disconnecting in the morning.

15. Convert your Zaurus to a drawing pad for your desktop with JSquiggle, a cross-platform whiteboard application.  Hmmm, latest jsquiggle seems to crash on the desktop with java 1.4+.  Earlier version still works with connection initiated by the Zaurus

16.  Hoping someday to do some car hacks.   I'd like an autoscan OBD-II software, which the other pdas have.  There is an open-source project...   If I could find the right peripheral, I'd like to do GPS mapping and accelerometer functions like the G-Tech Pro

17. Finally got a GPS receiver - the Holux GM-270U (the Ultra model!) CF card. Just intensely cool. Works great with qpeGPS. The real challenge here of course is getting richly detailed maps and waypoints not hidden in proprietary formats.

Here are my accumulated Zaurus links.


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