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Old 01-20-2007, 02:47 PM   #1
Bob Russell
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Sharp Zaurus production is being terminated

TamsPalm has posted the sad news that Sharp is ending production of it's line of Linux Zaurus PDAs in February. Apparently, parts will be available for a long time from third party suppliers, which is a testament to the dedicated following that has been built by the products.

The Zaurus is one of those devices that everyone says they love, but nobody actually seems to buy or own. I think we all just really like the idea of having a clamshell device, but when it comes down to it, other form factors are usually more practical. Pocketable form factors like the Treo and other smartphones are often criticized, but they work.

If it's not going to fit in my pocket, then I want it to be easy to carry around, and big enough to get extra usability. That means a "real" keyboard (even if it's small), and a bigger display. A small notebook computer shape would be nice, so you can carry it like a Franklin planner, and the screen isn't exposed.

Usually electronics are rather fragile, so devices need to stay relatively convenient to carry even when in a case. That's one of the big reasons I'm very high on the future of UMPCs. I think they'll eventually get the form factor tweaked so that you can do decent typing on it, and it's still small and portable, and easy to carry around with you. (If you don't carry it around most of the time, what's the advantage over a traditional notebook computer?)

So you can see why I think the Zaurus line didn't catch on, just like most other clamshells. Mostly, it's the form factor. I'm not sure why they didn't go ahead and add a better keyboard like the old handheld PCs. You remember... like the Jornada 720. Believe it or not, I have still recently seen those in use for pharmaceutical field sales.

And, of course, if you don't have mainstream 3rd party software options or a spectacular set of built-in applications, then it becomes a hard sell. People want to be able to use the device, not just admire it's form factor.

But if you have been wanting to use a new Zaurus, or would like to pick one up for the novelty and gadget factor, this may be your last chance outside of eBay.

Via Palm Addicts.
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Old 01-20-2007, 04:09 PM   #2
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To me it always seemed like a sideways copy of the Psion -- a device I had 2 of and did a lot of application programming for back in the 90s. It is also a form factor that I do not wish to revisit.

I am one of those that never gave it even a passing nod as something I would like. While some of the features were good, tyhere were too many negatives IMHO to make it a viable product.
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Old 01-20-2007, 04:54 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Russell
TamsPalm has posted the sad news that Sharp is ending production of it's line of Linux Zaurus PDAs in February.
I can't say that this surprises me. But I agree that it is sad.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Russell
The Zaurus is one of those devices that everyone says they love, but nobody actually seems to buy or own.
I have an SL-C760 - the clamshell Zaurus. It's really nice - as a pocket-sized laptop. But for the same price, I can buy a full-size laptop with all the performance that the Zaurus doesn't have.

In the case of the Zaurus, it tried to fit the market of the people who were using a PDA, but wanted something more like a pocket-sized laptop. Unfortunately, it picked up the laptop's drawbacks - poor battery life. When you add that the PDA applications were bad - really, really bad - it means that they missed their market.

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Originally Posted by Bob Russell
So you can see why I think the Zaurus line didn't catch on, just like most other clamshells.
I have to disagree. If you don't like the clamshell, the Zaurus also came in the 5000, 5500 and 6000 models which were non-clamshell. But they didn't sell well either.

No, the Zaurus failed because:
1. It was an awful PDA
2. It was a poorly powered laptop
3. It was priced the same as a full-size laptop

In a nutshell: it was a solution that didn't have a market.

That being said, my Conics order will be here next week with the new 12 hour battery for my C760, spare power adaptor and stylus.
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Old 01-20-2007, 07:08 PM   #4
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This is sad news indeed. I have owned two prior models before buying my current C3100. Sharp's hardware design and the support of the community (oesf.org/forums) made it one of the greatest gadgets of all times. Will something like that (a small Linux laptop with a great screen, full keyboard and a huge battery life) appear on the market again?

My guess is that the resale prices will keep high after they discontinue the product.

Alas...

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Old 01-21-2007, 08:53 PM   #5
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Smile I've Got Z....

Hi Bob,

You may not be aware of it, but there's a very active and lively Zaurus community over at OESF.org/forums....

I've had several Z's the past few years and they were all great devices.

Especially, since unlike the MS PPC/HPC world, the Z's run Linux so there's tremendous flexibility for those that want it to customize the devices to run the way you want (not just the way MS for example wants you to use it).

Currently, I'm running 'pdaXrom' OS on it, so it is literally a little laptop that can fit in your shirt pocket.

The clamshell models do fit in your pocket, without a case.

Zaurus's sold very well in Japan the past few years as they were designed solely for the Japanese market. Unfortunately, Sharp dropped them for non-Japanese markets some years ago. But even when the non-clamshell models were sold in the US, etc, Sharp never supported them well nor had any real marketing campaign to help generate interest. So it was no surprise to me that they didn't do well here at the time.

However, since the Zauruses ran Linux, could be reflashed with new OS, and still had English language option in them, this provided a great opportunity for those interested, to get one and use it outside of Japan, without Sharp support.

So given the fact that there are a lot of Zaurus owners out there around the world using them, without manufacturer support is a testament to how great the Z's actually are.

The only thing I felt lacking in the recent Z's was built-in wifi support. However, I use a CF WiFi card or a CF ethernet card so this hasn't really been that much of an issue.

Obviously, the keyboard was not as good as the Jornada 720 since the Zaurus is about half the size of the 720...so how could it be??

However, I've found that for short amount of typing the keyboard is surprisingly good. If you want to do more extensive typing you can add a USB external keyboard.

If you or others want to see what you can really do with a Zaurus check out this website....

http://www.users.on.net/~hluc/myZaurus/

You'll be surprised....



Here's to the Z's.....




Mark
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Old 01-21-2007, 10:56 PM   #6
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You make a very good point, Mark, about the smaller size of the Zaurus relative to the Jornada, and I have heard good things about the usability of the Zaurus keyboard.

And thanks for the additional info. That link is especially impressive. You might have just sold a few more Zaurus's with that! ;-)

I hope you guys keep the Zaurus legacy going for a long, long time to come!
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Old 01-22-2007, 11:08 AM   #7
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I have a Zaurus and use it several times a day. The main reasons I haven't found anything else that can replace it:
  • Best screen and keyboard on a device capable of fitting in pants pockets
  • Linux/Qt environment is much easier to program for than PalmOS or Windows Mobile (I wrote my own database app, and have a couple of other apps in progress)

I use it primarily for text files and databases: shopping lists, taking notes, inventory of stuff I own, finances tracking, etc. But it also works pretty well as an mp3 player (20 GB between CF, SD, and internal microdrive...and I actually use Ogg Vorbis files rather than mp3s), e-book reader, Japanese<->English dictionary (I read a fair number of Japanese novels and comics), video player, photo viewer, and so forth. The default PDA programs are rather weak, but I rarely used such apps even when I had a Handspring Visor, and much improved apps are now available for it. I can see how that would have killed it outright for a lot of Palm users, though.

The first main problem (from my perspective) with the Zaurus was that it wasn't supported adequately outside of Japan; a much higher proportion of non-Japanese users than Japanese users wrote useful software for the platform, and that development work pretty much ground to a halt when it became clear that none of the newer models would ever be marketed overseas. Then Sharp basically moved the entire development staff onto other projects...the device hasn't seen any major improvements in hardware or (built-in) software since the SL-C760 was released in mid-2003. Overall PDA sales had been declining for years, and all of their major competitors had already pulled out of the Japanese market, so they had no real incentive to put any effort into it.

It's aggravating to see the constant parade of interesting bits of technology being developed, but not a single device released that I actually want to buy...I really dislike Windows Mobile, PalmOS is antiquated and hard to write good software for, the iPhone apparently won't allow installation of apps you develop or download yourself, most e-book readers aren't good for much other than reading text and maybe listening to music, and UMPC devices won't fit in my pocket (I live in the Boston area, and generally get around by walking...without any sort of backpack or bag). I guess there just isn't much demand in the rest of the population for a "pocket computer"...
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Old 01-22-2007, 12:00 PM   #8
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Cool

Thanks, Bob...

If only I got a commission on those Z's...



Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Russell
You make a very good point, Mark, about the smaller size of the Zaurus relative to the Jornada, and I have heard good things about the usability of the Zaurus keyboard.

And thanks for the additional info. That link is especially impressive. You might have just sold a few more Zaurus's with that! ;-)

I hope you guys keep the Zaurus legacy going for a long, long time to come!
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Old 01-22-2007, 12:14 PM   #9
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Cool

Amen, to what you wrote, jmbowman!

The only point I'd make is to say that I assume you're referring to the lack of newer apps developed for the Qtopia OS that comes with the Zaurus.

While that is true, the real strength of the Zaurus platforum using an open-source OS, Linux has shown itself if you look at all the many Linux apps now available (for free) that have been recompiled to run on the Zaurus if you reflash it to run either OZ (OpenZaurus) or pdaXrom (or one of its variants, such as pdaXii13 that I use now).

For example, check out the OESF.org forums in the pdaXrom section (it also includes posts on pdaXii13) and you will see many great current Linux apps you can download for free.

Here's a link to the 'New Packages Announcement' thread, it's now 14 pages long.....

http://www.oesf.org/forums/index.php?showtopic=18415

If you've never tried flashing your Z, it's not that big of a deal and you can always re-flash it back to Qtopia if you want to, don't know why you would want to, once you've tried pdaXrom...but it could happen....



Check it out....


Quote:
Originally Posted by jmbowman
I have a Zaurus and use it several times a day. The main reasons I haven't found anything else that can replace it:
  • Best screen and keyboard on a device capable of fitting in pants pockets
  • Linux/Qt environment is much easier to program for than PalmOS or Windows Mobile (I wrote my own database app, and have a couple of other apps in progress)

I use it primarily for text files and databases: shopping lists, taking notes, inventory of stuff I own, finances tracking, etc. But it also works pretty well as an mp3 player (20 GB between CF, SD, and internal microdrive...and I actually use Ogg Vorbis files rather than mp3s), e-book reader, Japanese<->English dictionary (I read a fair number of Japanese novels and comics), video player, photo viewer, and so forth. The default PDA programs are rather weak, but I rarely used such apps even when I had a Handspring Visor, and much improved apps are now available for it. I can see how that would have killed it outright for a lot of Palm users, though.

The first main problem (from my perspective) with the Zaurus was that it wasn't supported adequately outside of Japan; a much higher proportion of non-Japanese users than Japanese users wrote useful software for the platform, and that development work pretty much ground to a halt when it became clear that none of the newer models would ever be marketed overseas. Then Sharp basically moved the entire development staff onto other projects...the device hasn't seen any major improvements in hardware or (built-in) software since the SL-C760 was released in mid-2003. Overall PDA sales had been declining for years, and all of their major competitors had already pulled out of the Japanese market, so they had no real incentive to put any effort into it.

It's aggravating to see the constant parade of interesting bits of technology being developed, but not a single device released that I actually want to buy...I really dislike Windows Mobile, PalmOS is antiquated and hard to write good software for, the iPhone apparently won't allow installation of apps you develop or download yourself, most e-book readers aren't good for much other than reading text and maybe listening to music, and UMPC devices won't fit in my pocket (I live in the Boston area, and generally get around by walking...without any sort of backpack or bag). I guess there just isn't much demand in the rest of the population for a "pocket computer"...
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Old 01-22-2007, 04:04 PM   #10
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I tried OpenZaurus a while back, but at the time it wasn't as stable as the default ROM. I've seriously considered trying out pdaXrom (especially if I could get Qt 4 applications running on it), but that would prevent me from using the Japanese<->English dictionary...it's a closed-source Qtopia application. Still might be worth it (I could install some reasonably good open source Japanese dictionary tools instead)...I'm getting ready to migrate from my SL-C760 to an SL-C3000, now would be a good time to play around with it.

But this illustrates one of the basic problems with writing software for the Zaurus...people are running multiple, incompatible operating environments on it. The problem wouldn't be so bad if it was just a few people having fun trying out alternatives...but the default ROM is so stagnant that it motivates a lot of people to move off of it. Yet there are also a lot of apps that require Qtopia and Sharp's proprietary libraries, and flashing the ROM is a frightening prospect for many users, so the default is still in widespread use as well. While I was working on PortaBase, it proved infeasible to provide binaries for all of the environments in common use: old Sharp ROM, new Sharp ROM (with much-improved file selector), old OpenZaurus (mostly compatible with stock ROM), new OpenZaurus (using improved but binary-incompatible gcc version), pdaXrom (with X but no Qtopia), etc. The bad PDA apps scared off the Palm users, but this packaging nightmare is what drove off the commercial developers (those few who were willing to work in such a small market, that is).

Many Zaurus users have complained that developers ran off and spent all their time writing alternate ROMs instead of developing apps, but I think the main reason for this is that there was no channel for making improvements to the base environment...Trolltech was reluctant to accept 3rd-party contributions into Qtopia, and Sharp wasn't even bothering to deploy the new versions that Trolltech was releasing. So if a developer didn't like the way something in the base platform worked, they really had no choice but to go off and roll their own ROM.

Anyway, summarizing this into something relevant for e-book readers and portable computing devices in general:
  • It's important to allow for customization of the base platform and (especially) the default apps so that power users can tweak things to their liking; otherwise, they'll move to (or create) an environment that does allow such customization
  • This customization should be enabled in such a way that compatibility with existing applications is retained, so that the result of developers' work can be used readily by other users
  • The base platform and apps should be updated regularly with the most popular customizations so that the baseline for new development doesn't grow too fragmented
  • Compatibility with existing software is a huge plus...pdaXrom came about largely because of the vast supply of existing software written for an X11 environment. I can appreciate the desire to spur development of software optimized for a PDA's software stack and UI conventions, but the way Qtopia handled it (by not supporting existing GUI apps at all) was far from optimal...what's really needed is a way to adapt existing software to work reasonably well on the platform with minimal effort. The iPhone would be promising here, if not for the limitations on installation of custom apps...
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Old 01-22-2007, 05:56 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jmbowman
I tried OpenZaurus a while back, but at the time it wasn't as stable as the default ROM. I've seriously considered trying out pdaXrom (especially if I could get Qt 4 applications running on it), but that would prevent me from using the Japanese<->English dictionary...it's a closed-source Qtopia application. [Snip]
Yeah, I tried OZ too, first impression was great, but then quickly faded and got rid of it. Lots of potential, but not ready-for-primetime I felt...

As for Qtopia, there are several options for having Qtopia and X on your Z...again search around the OESF forums or check out meanie's site...

Quote:
But this illustrates one of the basic problems with writing software for the Zaurus...people are running multiple, incompatible operating environments on it. The problem wouldn't be so bad if it was just a few people having fun trying out alternatives...but the default ROM is so stagnant that it motivates a lot of people to move off of it. [Snip]
Again, the default ROM stagnation issue relates to Sharp's lack of support for the Z outside of Japan. So, given that everyone who bought one (except the non-clamshell design Z's) outside of Japan should have known that they were buying a Japanese market only device, there should not have been any surprise about this situation, right?

Quote:
Many Zaurus users have complained that developers ran off and spent all their time writing alternate ROMs instead of developing apps, but I think the main reason for this is that there was no channel for making improvements to the base environment...Trolltech was reluctant to accept 3rd-party contributions into Qtopia, and Sharp wasn't even bothering to deploy the new versions that Trolltech was releasing. So if a developer didn't like the way something in the base platform worked, they really had no choice but to go off and roll their own ROM.
[Snip]
Again, this relates to Sharp's decision to make Zaurus a Japanese market only device, hence to support for everyone else....

But in the meantime, I and many others are enjoying using our 'micro-laptops'....



Quote:
Anyway, summarizing this into something relevant for e-book readers and portable computing devices in general:
[Snip]
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Old 01-23-2007, 03:10 AM   #12
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Seems like there are a few of us Zaurus usrs here!
I think the lack of marketing or any attempt at selling it in US sealed it's fate for eventual pull out. The clamshells were never even introduced in US less for importers.

I started with a 5500 and tried OZ for awhile, got fed up with its stability issues, lack of proper support for Chinese and snobbish replies on the forum. I left it to rot for awhile, tried Jornada 720 then got a C1000 zaurus and with Cacko rom, it's a winner!

I still ocassionally try out pdaXii13 to see if things are better, but so far Cacko is the deal.

Oh, and did I mention I'm surfing the web and replying to this forum on my c1000?

I think I'll use my z for another 2~3 yrs but its hard to move to a keyboardless device once you try it. Ah well, SHARP are really geniuses in making cool pdas and dumping them!
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Old 01-23-2007, 09:41 PM   #13
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I used to have a Zaurus long ago but typing on the keypad was horrid and I absolutely despised how the memory wiped when the battery died. PDAs, then, weren't much better but at least they were more flexible with the touch screen. Eventually, I gave up on both and use my cell phone and a small notepc. At the moment, I'm learning how to capture conversation on a digital voice recorder and transcribe it into text on my notepc. It's not quite as slick as I'd hoped. When Intel's Santa Rosa platform makes it to the shelves, I plan on changing to a tablet.
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Old 01-23-2007, 10:03 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Anchoku
I used to have a Zaurus long ago but typing on the keypad was horrid and I absolutely despised how the memory wiped when the battery died. PDAs, then, weren't much better but at least they were more flexible with the touch screen. Eventually, I gave up on both and use my cell phone and a small notepc. At the moment, I'm learning how to capture conversation on a digital voice recorder and transcribe it into text on my notepc. It's not quite as slick as I'd hoped. When Intel's Santa Rosa platform makes it to the shelves, I plan on changing to a tablet.
Dragon Naturally Speaking Preferred can do that (transcribe dictation recorded on a pda and transferred to the desktop) just as you mention. I am planning to do a review at MR of that capability very soon!
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Old 01-23-2007, 10:15 PM   #15
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Sweet! I look forward to reading it. =)
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