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I was wondering if anybody has bought a Sharp Zaurus and tried it out. Would you recommend others to buy it? Also, how easily can you install applications on it? Can I, for example, install Gvim without a problem? Thanks for your time...
Yes. I bought a Sharp Zaurus 5500 ten days ago, after years of owning a Palm III.
First, I was surprised at how useful the keyboard (thumboard?) was--much faster than Graffiti. Second, as a basic PDA, it does everything you might want.
The biggest disadvantage against the Palm III is that the battery doesn't last very long (about five hours without the backlight on, about an hour with the backlight on full). But it does so much more... and it's not hard to install other applications.
I would recommend it, especially to people who already know Linux pretty well.
It comes with vi, although not Gvim. You would have to port that (i.e. cross-compile and pack as an ipx application). The screen is small enough that you wouldn't want to do much serious development work on it, though, so that Gvim loses much of its purpose.
The biggest problem for me was getting it to sync with Windows 2000 properly. I spent literally hours on it, then gave up and sync'd with a Windows 98 machine, which it did in under five minutes (counting software install time). There is a new tcp/usb driver for the Zaurus, which I haven't tried, which is supposed to make this easier.
Sync'ing with Linux requires a kernel rebuild, unless you can use the Zaurus .rpm for RedHat 7.3, which was recently published... but once you get the kernel rebuilt with the tcp/usb stuff, it works like a charm.
For some reason unknown to me, the designers made ftp work on port 4242, but it comes built in. Beware! There is no password on root for the default, so if you're using it on a net, you may want to think about the security problems that might cause. It doesn't come with Linux communication software, which is strange, but true.
The included CD has a terminal application. Or you can get to a terminal by using the "shutdown" application.
The neatest part, I guess, is that it is a PDA that actually runs Linux, and it's open source, so if you really don't like how something works, you've nobody to complain to but yourself for not fixing it.
The "hidden" keyboard causes astonishment in everyone who sees it, although some of the key bindings are, well, eclectic. Still, after 10 days I'm still finding little features built into Qt (the windows interface) and the applications that are a pleasant surprise.
It's not a replacement for a laptop (if one of the external folding keyboards were available, it would be a lot closer), but it's getting there. If Sharp were to make a "docking station" that was about the size of a notebook, with a DVD/CD, a hard drive, bigger batteries, USB interface and a big keyboard--into which the Linux Zaurus would slip, then this would be a wonderful combination for travelers.
Is it really vi or vim? Also, do you know if I type Arabic or read Arabic on it (unicode support)? Finally, do you think that it is worth the money and that the extended keyboard would come in useful? Thanks again for your time...
Yes, I think that the Zaurus is very much worth the money. It's probably quirkier than a Palm-based system, simply because it Qt hasn't had the extensive field-testing that PalmOs has gone through. But it's lots more powerful. This, of course, means that a moderately sophisticated user can do him/herself in in very many more ways...
The little keyboard is certainly useful. It adds significantly to the thickness of the PDA, and probably adds a lot to its cost and detracts from its reliability over the long term (more stuff means more stuff to break). I used a Palm for years, and thought that its character recognition was pretty good, after one learned its quirks. I can certainly thumb-type (thype?) much faster than I ever was able to stroke in characters, and that means I enter more data, and that means that the PDA is more useful to me.
Bottom line: Yes, it's worth the money. Yes, the keyboard comes in very useful.
Well, buying a folding keyboard would not be superfluous, but it would not be productive at this time, as I believe that there are not yet any folding keyboards which work with the Zaurus. There are some people working on this, though. If a folding keyboard were available, I would buy one. I like the built-in keyboard better than using PalmOs grafitti, but I'd like a fullsize one more, especially to use on airplanes.
Yes, there is some support for UTF-8 and Unicode. Whether or not a particular application would support Arabic is, of course, application specific. I would think that you'd want some application which can reverse and left-pad strings before sending them to the application (Arabic is right-left). There is an Arabic keyboard map for KDE which should work with qt (but I haven't tried it) at http://alsaid.jumpcomputers.com/ . Generally you may want to check out http://www.linux4arab.com where you can get a lot more information.
As so many people have pointed out before, if the functionality you want isn't there, you could make a sigificant contribution by supplying it and licencing it under the GPL license...