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Sharp Zaurus SL-5500 running OpenZaurus and OPIE, with docking cradle and stylus

The Sharp Zaurus is the name of a series of personal digital assistants (PDAs) made by Sharp Corporation. The Zaurus was the most popular PDA during the 1990s in Japan and was based on a proprietary operating system. The first Sharp PDA to use the Linux operating system was the SL-5000D, running the Qtopia-based Embedix Plus. The name derives from the common suffix applied to the names of dinosaurs.


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In September 1993, Sharp introduced the PI-3000, the first in the Zaurus line of PDAs, as a follow-on to Sharp's earlier Wizard line of PDAs (the Wizard also influenced Apple's Newton). Featuring a black and white LCD screen, handwriting recognition, and optical communication capabilities among its features, the Zaurus soon became one of Sharp's best selling products.[citation needed]

The PI-4000, released in 1994, expanded the Zaurus' features with a built-in modem and facsimile functions. This was succeeded in 1995 by the PI-5000, which had e-mail and mobile phone interfaces, as well as PC linking capability. The Zaurus K-PDA was the first Zaurus to have a built-in keyboard in addition to handwriting recognition; the PI-6000 and PI-7000 brought in additional improvements.[which?]

In 1996 Sharp introduced the Sharp Zaurus ZR-5800. It used the same compact design, ports and pointing device as the previous Zaurus models. The changes were mostly in the ROM. It came with 2 MB RAM and a backlit 320x240 LCD display.[1]

During this time, Sharp was making significant advances in color LCD technology. In May 1996, the first color Zaurus was released; the MI-10 and MI-10DC were equipped with a five-inch (12.7 cm) color thin-film transistor (TFT) LCD screen. This model had the ability to connect to the internet, and had a built-in camera and audio recorder. Later that year, Sharp developed a forty-inch (100 cm) TFT LCD screen, the world's largest at the time. In December, the MI-10/10DC Zaurus was chosen as the year's best product by Information Display Magazine in the United States.[citation needed]

Sharp continued to make advancements in display technology; the Zaurus gained additional multimedia capabilities, such as video playback, with the introduction of the MI-E1 in Japan in November 2000. The MI-E1 was also the first Zaurus to support both Secure Digital and Compact Flash memory cards, a feature which would become standard on future models as well.

Although the MI series sold well in Japan, it was never released in either the USA or Europe, and the Japanese user interface was never translated into any other language. The machines released outside Japan were the Linux based SL series, the first of which was the SL-5000D "developer edition." This was shortly followed by the SL-5500; both used 'Embedix' - an embedded version of the Linux operating system developed by Lineo - combined with Qtopia, the Qt toolkit-based embedded application environment developed by Trolltech.

The development of the MI series in Japan was continued for a while, but the MI-E25DC has been officially declared to be the last MI-Series Zaurus.[citation needed]

Sharp has continued development of the SL series in Japan releasing the SL-C700, C750, C760 and C860 models which all feature 640x480 VGA screen resolution. They are all based on faster 400 MHz Intel XScale technology, although the SL-C700 was flawed and the apparent speed was the same as the 206 MHz SL-5500.[citation needed] All four of the SL-C models are clamshell type devices with the unusual ability to rotate the screen. This allows the device to be used in landscape mode with the keyboard, much like a miniature notebook PC, or in portrait mode as a PDA.

Sharp introduced a very different device from the clamshells in the form of the SL-6000 in early 2004; the SL-6000L (Wi-Fi only, no Bluetooth) was sold in North America, the last and only device since the 5xxx series to be officially sold outside Japan. It returned to the slider form of the 5xxx, but with a VGA display; a slider with a few key buttons covered a thumbboard. There was a joint project with IBM;[citation needed] the 6000 did not gain mass popularity and Amazon sold off their remaindered stock.[citation needed]

In October 2004 Sharp announced the SL-C3000 - the world's first PDA with an integrated hard disk drive (preceding the Palm Life Drive ). It featured a similar hardware and software specification to the earlier C860 model; the key differences were that it only had 16 MB of flash memory yet gained an internal 4 GB Hitachi microdrive, a USB Host port, and "lost" the serial port (in some cases the components were not fitted to the motherboard or were incapable of driving the regular serial adaptor cables). The keyboard feel and layout changed somewhat, and most owners preferred it over the 760/860.[citation needed]

In March 2005 the C3000 product was joined by the SL-C1000 which returned to the traditional 128 MB flash memory but lost the internal micro-drive. The C1000 was cheaper, lighter, faster in execution due to running from flash memory, but would require the user to "waste" the SD or CF card slots to fit a memory card for mass storage; at the time the largest card supported was 1GB. The C1000 cannot be upgraded to fit an internal micro-drive because vital components were missing,[which?] but the space can be used to fit internal Bluetooth and Wi-Fi modules using the USB host facility.

In June 2005, Sharp released the SL-C3100, which had flash capacity of the C1000 yet also had the micro-drive, and proved a very popular model indeed. The 1000, 3000 and 3100 models were overclockable, boosting the device's ability to play back video more smoothly.

In March 2006 the latest model launched, predictably labelled as the SL-C3200. It is basically an SL-C3100 but with the newer 6 GB Hitachi micro-drive and another tweak to the case colours. The Intel PXA270 CPU is a later variant, and some would regard as inferior because it cannot be overclocked so highly. The kernel gained a vital tweak to the Sharp proprietary SD/MMC module and allowed 4GB SD cards to be used (and this was quickly borrowed by 3000 and 3100 owners). The software package gained text-to-speech software from Nuance Communications and an upgraded dictionary.

While the SL series devices have long been sold only in Japan, there are companies in Japan[which?] who specialise in exporting them worldwide; sometimes without modifying them at all, sometimes an English conversion is available at extra cost. Not all Zaurus models came from Sharp with universal (100/110/240V) power supplies (the Zaurus takes a regulated 5V/1A supply), so either an additional or an exchanged power adaptor would be needed, and not all exporters provide this by default. When buying directly from an exporter in Japan, the buyer is liable for import duties and taxes, and attempting to avoid them can be a criminal offense.

There are also companies in the US, UK and DE who are unofficial resellers; one notable example is Trisoft who prepare and certify the device to "CE" standard compliance.

Since there is no official export channel from Japan, Sharp offers no warranty or repair service outside Japan, so foreign buyers are dependent on their chosen reseller to handle repairs, usually by sending to their agent in Japan who acts as if the device was owned and used in Japan in order to have it repaired by Sharp, before sending it back to the owner. Whilst Zauruses are actually quite robust devices, due to their miniaturization they are not easily repairable by casual electronics hobbyists.

In January 2007, it was reported that Sharp would discontinue production of the Zaurus line after February 2007.[2] Later, in March, a European supplier[which?] tried to buy a batch of Zauruses as demand was still strong and noticed that they were all manufactured after Sharp's original cut-off date, however, Sharp was not able to explain its plans.

Their later units were the WS003SH and WS004SH which, whilst adding wireless and cellular phone and data features, ran the Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system/application suite.


Operating Systems

These are frequently called 'ROMs' in the community because the Zaurus' OS is usually stored in embedded flash memory, and are installed using a flashing tool. There's also a special "rescue" mode NOR flash (or P2ROM in newer models) in all Zauruses since the 5xxx series which allows recovery from a corrupted OS.

For the Sharp and Cacko ROMs, there are third party and somewhat experimental kernels such as "Tetsu's" (a Japanese Zaurus expert) which offer interesting optimisations and drivers for unusual hardware. It is possible to replace only the Linux kernel which can give better performance while maintaining compatibility and retaining installed software that comes with a "stock" ROM.

As well as the choice of GUI (qt/qtopia, X11 + matchbox, X11 + E17 etc.), one key difference is the choice of whether the kernel was built with using ARM standard EABI or not, and whether it uses software or hardware floating point (code using hardware floating point is actually slower because the hardware doesn't support it, so those instructions cause an exception which then has to be handled by the kernel, with noticeable overhead).

There was a port of OpenBSD for several Zaurus models.[6] The port is available on the SL-C3000, SL-C3100, and SL-C3200 with development continuing in order to expand support to the C860 and C1000. This port of OpenBSD does not however replace the original operating system entirely, nor is it made available as a ROM image, instead it uses the original Linux install as a bootloader and installs the same as OpenBSD would on any other platform. There is also a NetBSD port is in development, based on the work from OpenBSD.[7] In early September 2016, the OpenBSD Project ceased support for the Zaurus port of their operating system. [3]


SL-C1000 screen with NetFront Browser on Qtopia desktop (converted to English)

With the switch to the Linux operating system the Zaurus became capable of running variations of a wide variety of proprietary and open source software, including web and FTP servers, databases, and compilers. Developers have created several replacement Linux distributions for the Zaurus. Software provided by Sharp includes basic PDA packages such as a datebook, addressbook, and to do list. These PIM applications are fairly unsophisticated, and a number of individuals and groups have developed alternatives. One popular - and free - alternative that runs on the Sharp ROM and OpenZaurus as well as Windows and Linux is the KDE PIM/Platform-independent set of applications. KDE PIM/PI is based on PIM applications from the KDE desktop suite for Linux. KDE PIM/PI includes KOrganizer/Platform-independent (or KOPI), KAddressbook/Platform-independent (or KAPI), K-OpieMail/pi (or OMPI), K-Phone/pi (kppi) and PwM/PI, a password manager with strong encryption.

In addition to standard PDA applications there are many programs available that are more commonly associated with desktop and laptop computers. Among these are a selection of office programs, web browsers, media applications and many others.


  1. ^ "Pen Computing Magazine: Reviews". Retrieved 2012-10-21.
  2. ^ "January, 2007". Archived from the original on July 8, 2008. Retrieved 2012-10-21. ((cite web)): Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (|url-status= suggested) (help)
  3. ^ [1] Archived October 15, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ [2] Archived October 15, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "Cacko ROM - English Qtopia ROM for Sharp Zaurus C7x0/C860". Retrieved 2012-10-21.
  6. ^ "OpenBSD/zaurus". Retrieved 2012-10-21.
  7. ^ "port-arm: NetBSD/zaurus". 2006-11-19. Retrieved 2012-10-21.

General resources

Application software

ROMs and distributions