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On The Desktop

Make the PDA Web-Centric and the world will beat a path to your Pocket(Linux)

PocketLinux CEO Tim Wilkinson says Java and XML are the right choices for the handheld market, and his company is out to prove it.

[Tim Wilkinson, CEO, Transvirtual Technologies]
New York - Tim Wilkinson, CEO and Chairman of PocketLinux maker Transvirtual Technologies, never expected to have fun being a business man. "I'm a technology guy. Up until our announcement at LinuxWorld in San Jose in 2000 we were all engineers. When we went public the inquiries started pouring in. Then I knew that there were things that I had to do or they wouldn't get done. We'd lose that business. But it has been a truly educational experience, and a truly enjoyable one, which I wouldn't have thought." Not profitable now, though they were before taking in their first round of funding. They'll be taking another round of funding this year.

PocketLinux began as a small company founded by Wilkinson and Peter Mehlitz in 1997. Up to that point Wilkinson had been working on open source Java implementation while living in Stockholm.

"In the winter it was -17 degrees, with 3 hours of daylight," noted the energetic CEO. "I was working for Ericsson doing a very boring job. If I'd had any sense I'd have been dating Swedish women, but instead I started working on my own Java virtual machine (JVM) for FreeBSD." This, of course, is the now famous Kaffe implementation.

Tim then moved on to work on a Java smart card for Schlumberger working with Scott Guthrie where they continued work on Wilkinson's JVM. While working on that project he realized there was demand for Java in a number of different markets. They moved to California to form Transvirtual to commercialize Kaffe. At the end of 1999, while working on the Itsy project with Compaq, they started to put the Ice Web browser on a PDA under Java. This proof of concept showed how putting applications on a PDA using Web technology instead of using C++ or some other programming language made for a more meaningful design.

"Most applications tend to be point and click anyway, and that's what the Web is." It was this model that Transvirtual decided was the right way to handle PDAs. They went out to raise money on their own, started talking to hardware vendors, and started work on PocketLinux.

"PocketLinux is a stripped down version of the Linux kernel and Kaffe, the Java virtual machine we wrote. We then added an application framework for writing applications in XML - all the data is XML, all the visuals are XML, all the communications is XML. The initial debut was at LinuxWorld San Jose in 2000."

Response has been strong, and not just from PDA vendors. "We have PocketLinux running on a TV back at the office, we've talked to companies about doing it on cell phones and car navigation systems." According to Wilkinson, in Japan Java-enabled applications are big on cell phones. "We're trying to set up a Japanese office to work with the device manufacturers over there." Wilkinson has actually talked to a number of people, but he couldn't elaborate. "We have a bunch of things in motion, but we can't disclose them yet. They're all in Asia, however. All the interesting device makers are in Asia - the Sonys of the world."

Transvirtual is trying to build a ubiquitous platform, one that doesn't care if it's running on StrongARM or MIPS or x86, one that is Web based and Java based and, in time, Javascript enabled. Users don't care about the processors and developers don't want to care. "This stuff will work on all of these devices unchanged. This makes multimedia possible because the hardware is faster but the abstractions make it cheap."

"We chose XML to make it easier to sync between devices." While Linux didn't help much in that area, it did provide an easier way to get Kaffe running on the devices of interest. "It saved us a lot of man hours to get up and running."

But with all this abstraction of applications in XML and Java, multimedia could potentially suffer. Graphics applications are always happier when they're closer to the hardware. Wilkinson says "You can embed video the same way the Web does now, by embedding frames that use the frame buffer to get direct access to the hardware. You don't have to use the XHTML abstraction. You can structure it as shared library or a separate entity. The video demonstration we have is done like that. It's a completely separate process. We just say 'here is your screen space, now draw to it however you like'."

While Wilkinson doesn't want to take Kaffe to other platforms, it would be possible. "The problem is our customers are the hardware device manufacturers and right now their pissed with WindowsCE in general, partly because of performance and partly because of the closed nature of that platform. It's both cultural and technological. They're looking for alternatives."

Right now Transvirtual's biggest problem is hiring really good low level Linux hackers. "We have a couple of guys but could use another 10," he says. But at LinuxWorld New York this year, the focus was still on getting the word out to developers. The company was actually showing PocketLinux 2.0, an unreleased version of the system (version 1.0 is available from the PocketLinux web site).

While the Compaq iPAQ was the display model of choice for demonstrations (along with a few other models), there are a whole slew of new devices running some version of Linux on the way or already here. And with so many available platforms, PocketLinux is bound to find its niche.

Desktop Environments

GNOME 1.4 Release Candidate 1 available. GNOME 1.4 got one step closer to reality this week as Release Candidate 1 was made available for download. Along with this, the GNOME Foundation also released some additional tools. "Also available at this time is the GNOME Fifth Toe 1.4 RC 1 release, which is a collection of additional packages that are not part of the core desktop but are designed to work well with gnome."

Eazel announces launch of Nautilus 1.0. While GNOME 1.4 got closer, Nautilus 1.0 got real. Here is the press release from Eazel which made the launch of Nautilus 1.0 official. The company also announced this past week a new version of its software catalog service.

Nautilus: here today. Eazel: gone tomorrow? (ZDNet). Immediately after the Nautilus release, Eazel announced the layoffs of half of its staff. ZDNet examined what the future might hold for Nautilus, with or without Eazel. "How can Nautilus look forward to a rosy future while parent company Eazel gasps for venture capital? Simple: the GPL. The GPL ensures developers and users alike that the code will have a life of its own, apart from the economic health of any associated commercial vendors."

Evolution 0.9 released. Not to be denied a spot on the release train, the folks at Ximian released Evolution 0.9, the latest pre-release of the GNOME mail, calendar and address book application. This was a bug fix release with a few new features and a few features pulled out that won't be ready for the 1.0 release, scheduled for some time in the near future. contains a number of new features and bug fixes, and appears to be rapidly heading toward its 1.0 release.

Kernel Cousin KDE Issue #2 is Out. This week's KC KDE has 14 topics covering RealPlayer 8 and KDE2 integration, HTML form completion in Konqueror, the new KDE2 scanner library and GUI, SDI vs MDI, kISDN and kppp integration, and more.

KOffice.org relaunched. The only other news this week on the KDE front came from the relaunch of the KDE Office web site. No word on if there was any real reason for the changes.

GNUStep. While the GNUStep Weekly Update offers information only a developer could love, LinuxFocus provided a little more useful information for end users in their article on GNUStep environment. If you aren't familiar with GNUStep, you should known that it A) is based on the well designed but often forgotten NeXT platform's OpenStep environment and b) it requires the Window Maker window manager to provide the front end interface. "NeXT decided to port the [GUI] framework to different OSes such as Sun, for instance. This API was called OpenStep. From there, GNU started a big project, GNUStep, to build a free OpenStep implementation."

Office Applications

Applix sells VistaSource. Not much news on the office application front this week. The big news probably had to be the announcement that Applix has agreed the sale of VistaSource. The new owner will be Parallax Capital Partners; evidently no layoffs are planned.

Take a Letter, Rex! Applixware is Coming to System/390 Linux (Enterprise Linux Today). This story from Enterprise Linux Today suggests that the VistaSource acquisition by Parallax Capital Partners is unlikely to be the death of ApplixWare. "Zimmer says VistaSource hasn't set a release date for the S/390 port yet, and that "many things have yet to be determined" about product announcements after the acquisition. This doesn't mean, however, that the S/390 product is vaporware. In fact, Applixware Words and Applixware Spreadsheets are already running in the development environment, with the other components of Applixware Office following close behind."

Gnumeric 0.64. While still not to 1.0, the GNOME spreadsheet is starting to look and act more like a professional tool. Gnumeric 0.64 was released this past week. This is a release candidate for GNOME 1.4, though it's anyones guess if that means we'll jump to a 1.0 Gnumeric with GNOME 1.4.

Desktop Applications

Opera 5, Beta 7 for Linux. Noted this week: Opera released another beta version of its Opera 5 browser for Linux. While the "days left" dialog has been removed, an advertising banner has been added in the upper left. I guess you have to pay the bills somehow.

KuickShow for KDE 2.1. KuickShow, an image viewer based on Rasterman's Imlib and known for its "blazing speed", has a new version for KDE 2.1. KDE Dot News reports: "You won't be disappointed by the latest release for KDE 2.1 -- I was blown away. It's even noticeably faster than the venerable XV".

Paul Nolan Software Launches Photogenics 5.0 for Linux. With GIMP 1.2 firmly in the hands of the worshiping masses, it can be easy to overlook alternative graphics applications. One interesting (proprietary) tool comes from independent developer Paul Nolan. This week he released Photogenics 5.0 for Linux through the new Photogenics eStore. With features like Paint Layer Technology, which allows you to paint out mistakes (instead of using levels of undo as in GIMP), Photogenics offers a unique alternative for the Linux artist.

Other Desktop News

.comment: A Whole New Desktop with Anti-Aliasing (LinuxPlanet). This week LinuxPlanet ran a lengthy article on using antialiased fonts with KDE. "As you have probably heard, Keith Packard's Xft extension, which had been available hacked into versions of QT since 2.2.3, took up permanent and official residence there with last week's release of QT-2.3.0. This means that if you build QT with the -xft compile option (or obtain a binary that has it compiled in), and you do a few more things I'll discuss in a moment, you'll have anti-aliased screen fonts. They are a joy."

Fiorina sees darkness on tech horizon (News.com). As the lead in story for this week's On the Desktop notes, there are a slew of Linux handheld options available these days. While Carly Fiorina was escorting the Tech Reaper in this C|Net article, the interested reader would have noticed it also mentions, near the bottom, Sharp's jump into the Linux handheld market. Previously, Sharp had been using their own proprietary operating system on its handhelds.

Section Editor: Michael J. Hammel

March 22, 2001

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