Applications for the Sharp Zaurus

Pull up a Zaurus and make yourself comfortable.
Flashing the ROM

Did you get a developer version Zaurus 5000D? Have you already flashed it? If you have not, you should consider updating the ROM.

First, which ROM version are you using? If you have read the previous sections you already know that Applications --> System info --> Version will tell you which ROM version you are using.

The ROM updating process is very simple. First, go to and download the ROM version you need. Remember, the latest is not always the best; for example, 1.11 is known to leave very few places to install applications, peg CPU usage at 100% all the time and keep the system load at 5+.

If you want a free-software only ROM, without the closed-source Java environment or the Opera browser, you can get it from

Once you have downloaded the ROM file of your choice, you have to send it to your Zaurus. The best way is to put in on a CompactFlash card. You can get one for less than $70. You also will have to buy a CompactFlash USB reader or a PCMCIA converter for CompactFlash cards for using the CompactFlash card on your PC. Please check which device drivers are available for using this hardware on your GNU/Linux computer. You will use it to install a lot of applications in the following sections.

Now rename the ROM file to romimage, and put it in the root directory of your CompactFlash card. It must have been formatted in FAT16 to be recognized properly by your Zaurus. Just insert the card, pop up a terminal and type ls -l /mnt/cf to check if the file is present.

If you have any important data in your Zaurus, you should back it up using the synchronizing software as explained before. Any data will be lost during the ROM update process. You have been warned!

Now, turn off your Zaurus and plug in the AC power. The orange “charging battery” LED will turn on. Next, open the battery compartment lid but do not take the battery out. Now the tricky part: while pressing the C and D keys on the keyboard at the same time, press the full reset button once. This button is located below the battery compartment and can be accessed with a stylus.

You may need a friend to help with this awkward key-pressing sequence. If you were successful, both LEDs will turn on and the update process will start. You should not touch anything or play with the power plug or reset button. An incomplete ROM update may damage the Zaurus. It is best to have a coffee and come back three minutes later. You will find both LEDs turned off. You can then eject the card, close the battery compartment and press the reset button. The next time you start up the Zaurus, the new ROM will be used.

Installing Applications

Even with the new ROM, your Zaurus is quite empty. You may have noticed that new applications, like the sound recorder or the infrared apps, came with the ROM update. Run Applications --> Terminal and try some commands. You will quickly find top, vi and other command-line utilities missing.

If you did try to type rpm or dpkg, you must be wondering how you can install applications on the Zaurus. Are we back to old Slackware plain .tar.gz time?

For obvious memory-size limitations, rpm or dpkg cannot be used on the mobile Linux environments. The problem was solved when the first versions of Linux running on the Compaq iPAQ appeared: a new packaging format was designed to be simple and straightforward. Its name is ipkg, and it is mostly a .tar.gz with some basic control information on control.tar.gz and the data on data.tar.gz in the Debian way.

If you want to install an application, just type ipkg install package.ipk. Make sure it was compiled for ARM CPU and that you have the libraries it will need. If you want to remove a package, ipkg remove package will do it.

You also can use Settings --> Add Remove Software, but it fails to work sometimes. Typing ipkg on the command line is the best way to install software.

But how can you bring .ipk files to your Zaurus? If you followed the previous advice, you may have purchased a CompactFlash card and a converter to update the ROM.

If you have not, consider an SDRAM card. This will let you use the additional storage space while a device is plugged into the CompactFlash port.

Installing software is just downloading a .ipk file on your computer, putting it on the Flash card (CompactFlash or SDRAM) and transferring the files with ipkg.

To find out where your Flash card is mounted, start a terminal and type mount. If you can see /mnt/cf or /mnt/card, just go to this directory using cd /mnt/cf, then type ls to see a list of available files. Typing ipkg install somefile.ipk will then transfer the files to the Zaurus.

You may then remove the ipkg file, but it is recommended you keep it somewhere on your PC because a new handheld is like a new toy—you are likely to try a lot of different software before deciding what is worth keeping.

Some recommendations now: first, get the famous vi editor because you will need an editor to change your configuration files in /etc. This vi package will get you ps as well. If you prefer Emacs, download instead.

You also must install zlib from since many applications depend on it.

An excellent way to start using the Zaurus is by playing games. The best way to play games on the Zaurus is to install an emulator. What about playing plain old Nintendo GameBoy games? If you have purchased the games, get GnuBoy and find a way to download the ROM files legally for the game you own. Keep in mind that downloading ROM files on the Internet for games you do not have is illegal.

By making a few changes, you can get a GnuBoy application associated with all of the *.gb and *.gbc files. This means you will be able to start each GameBoy game by simply selecting the files from the Documents tab.

You installed an editor, didn't you? So next add the following line to /home/QtPalmtop/etc/mime.types:

application/gameboy gb gbc

And add these lines to qtopiagnuboy.desktop:


You must know NetHack—wouldn't you like to play it on your Zaurus as well? Download the .ipk file from

If you prefer a plain old chess game, do not forget the Zaurus is a Java-capable device, so you can get Laser Chess Java from

Now, you may want to take a screenshot of the applications you are evaluating. Using the screenshot applet is straightforward. Download it from

What about installing the X Window System? While the Zaurus comes with Qtopia, there is nothing preventing you from installing X as well, except memory limitations of course!

Download all the X files from and put them on your Flash card.

Now from the terminal, install x11zaurus_0.2_arm.ipk by typing ipkg install x11zaurus*; say “yes” to the reboot question; let your Zaurus restart, and then drop to the console again. To prevent Qtopia from starting, press the / key when you see the Wait message if you use ROM version 1.1x, or press the space key for versions prior to 1.1x.

Then install icewm with ipkg install icewm_* and start X plus the window manager by typing wm.

The first time you run X, you should see the touchscreen calibration page. Slowly drag the stylus to the upper-left corner until it bumps against the corner of the plastic frame, then do the same in the lower-right corner when prompted to do so.

Then the window manager should start. It has a couple of applications, as well as default themes, preconfigured.

Here are some X installation notes:

  • The installation scripts support SD and CF card installation. Follow the prompts on installation and point it to either /mnt/card or /mnt/cf as appropriate.

  • To recalibrate your X display if it gets crooked, exit X, start up in console mode and type touch /etc/FORCE_ZTSD_CAL.

  • X installation is known to fail with ROM version 1.11 because of the lack of disk space, and /dev/isd may be missing as well, so you should choose the safe path and Flash an old ROM version (and use appropriate synchronization software) if you want to use X.

We can only hope that a new ROM version will fix the X installation problem soon. Meanwhile, you can play with some interesting X applications.

What about snes9x, available at It is the famous Nintendo SuperNes emulator. Just like the GameBoy emulator, make sure you have the games: it is illegal to download ROMs for games you do not own.

Even better, get xcopilot at and download the ROM of your Palm to the Zaurus. Once again, it is illegal to download Palm ROM to the Zaurus if you do not have a Palm. Now you are able to run your former Palm applications inside the Zaurus.

We will not insist on these two emulators because they prevent you from enjoying most of the Zaurus applications, which run on Qtopia and require you to reboot to use the X Window System. An xcopilot emulator running natively on Qtopia would let you run Palm applications with greater flexibility, either next to Qtopia applications or while using Qtopia applications. It is rumored to be under development. It will certainly be a killer application and broaden the Zaurus market acceptance through Palm compatibility.

If you want more applications, whether for X, the command line or Qtopia, just go to and where you will find a lot of interesting software.

What about a movie now? Go to and download a trailer. Then start Applications --> Media Player, choose Options --> Full screen, plug in earphones and enjoy!

The quality is excellent for such a small device. You can play movies in MPEG-1 SIF (320 x 240) format at 24 frames per second. If you want more frames per second or want to store more movies, HALF SIF (160 x 120) is also possible. The “Fit to screen” option will make the low resolution nearly unnoticeable on this small screen.

With the 1GB IBM Microdrive CompactFlash hard disk, you should even be able to take some movies on your pocket, even more if you think Sharp promised DIVX support soon. Meanwhile, some hints may help you: renicing the mpegplayer process to -20 increases the frame rate. You also can reduce the throughput (400KB) and use VBR (variable bit rate) in your mpeg-1 encoder to get a better looking video. A low sound quality like mono/22KHz also can be helpful to store more movies and increase the frame rate.



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Zaurus SL 5500

baptista's picture

I liked very much everything that you wrote in this article, but what about of ROM v.3.13?,I woul like to know if it functions. How to install the openssh and where I meet the xcopilot.
Another thing I´m interested is in how to make a backup copy, via rsync with the Kurumin, that is a brazilian version of Linux, very similar to Ubuntu. The Kurumin don´t detect the USB port.
Thans a lot for your help

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