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Linux/GPE stack powers up low-cost Acer PDA

Apr 10, 2006 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 18 views

[Updated Apr. 11] — A project to create complete open source firmware stacks for COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) PDAs and other devices has achieved its first release. The Letux project's first release supports Acer's thin, inexpensive n30 PDA, which can dual-boot Letux through “the simple exchange of an SD memory card,”… according to Dr. H. Nikolaus Schaller, project co-founder.

(Click for larger view of the Acer n30 running Letux)

Schaller says the Letux project aims to produce a “commercial distribution for existing popular handheld devices, with a focus on specific markets such as healthcare.” He expects future releases to support personal video player devices, game devices, and smartphones, in addition to other PDAs.

Letux firmware for the N30 can be freely downloaded and copied to an SD card. It is also commercially available through It comes preinstalled on a 512MB SD memory card, with or without an Acer n30 PDA. The card costs 50 Euros, or 275 Euros ($333, currently) with the PDA, making it the “first commercially supported free software handheld availabile in Europe for less than 300 Euros,” Schaller says.

The Letux SD card includes a 400MB user filesystem based on ext2, along with a 100MB boot partition based on a DOS filesystem. It can be used to boot the n30 into Linux, and then removed to reboot the device to its stock Windows Mobile environment. Replacing the Windows OS completely is also possible, Schaller says.

Letux is based on a Linux kernel 2.6.14 kernel, compiled for the Samsung S3C2410 processor that powers the Acer n30. Linux support for the S3C2410 is very mature — Mizi Research of Korea began offering a Linux development kit for the SoC in October of 2002, and a set of patches for the processor is maintained by the Consumer Electronics Linux Forum (CELF). The mainstream ARM Linux kernel tree support for the S3C2410 is maintained by Ben Dooks.

Letux additionally includes a full X11R6 implementation, which yields faster performance than the kernel framebuffers used in most free software handheld stacks, according to Shaller. An added benefit is the ability to x-host applications running on larger, more powerful systems.

Letux also includes a full GNU C library based on glibc-2.3.90, rather than the minimalist uClibc libraries found in some embedded devices. Along with its standard X-based graphics, full C libraries should simplify porting open source software to the device. The strategy is similar to that of the Maemo project, a Nokia-sponsored effort to create software for the Nokia 770 Internet tablet.

The Letux project website includes a software index for its n30 release, although no applications have been added as yet. It also maintains user and developer forums, and a bug-tracking system.

The Letux distribution does come standard with a PDA application stack based on the 2.7 release of GPE (GPE Palmtop Environment). GPE 2.7 includes a PDA PIM suite, along with a variety of free software components, including the X window system, GTK+ graphics toolkit, matchbox window manager, and MiniMo browser.

Additionally details about the Letux project are available from its homepage, here. Hardware specifications and other details concerning the Acer n30 are available in a Device Profile at WindowsForDevices.

Schaller also leads another PDA software project — his QuantumSTEP (formerly myPDA-Zaurus-Edition) project aims to create open source PDA stacks highly compatible with Mac desktops.

Letux's other co-founder, Guylhem Aznar, recently wrote an essay expounding the benefits of free software on PDAs. Aznar is perhaps best known as the coordinator of the popular Linux Documentation Project.

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