Spotlight on the Winners: PocketLinux
Next year's hardware will always be faster. Sometimes PR weenies or OS advocates use that simple fact to justify sloppy software and bloat. But, much to the annoyance of hackers who stay up late coming up with clever ways to pack bits into structs, it's usually a good bet that by the time your project is done, something fast enough to run it will be for sale at the discount computer store, cheap enough for your target users.
In the GNU Manifesto, written in 1985, Richard Stallman announced that he was targeting Motorola 68000-class CPUs. At the time, the 68000 series was found in relatively expensive Macintoshes and Sun workstations, not the Commodore 64s we all had. But Richard figured that by the time GNU was popular, the hardware would be cheap enough. And, by the early 1990s it was.
Today, PocketLinux is taking on the ambitious task of putting a full Java environment, XML and a web server onto a PDA. Oh, and user interface themes, the silly but cool-looking software innovation du jour. Their target platforms are the PDAs we all want, such as the Compaq iPAQ, which has 32 MB of RAM, 16 MB of flash ROM and a big-enough-to-do-email-on color 240x320 screen. That's as much RAM as my second desktop Linux box.
Wait a minute? A Java GUI environment? How totally last decade! Everyone knows Java is just the "new Cobol"--a server-side language for people who write sales-tax-calculating applications and wear short-sleeved shirts with ties to work!
Wrong. PocketLinux has an active development list, and if anyone can take Java back to its "virtual machine for small devices" roots, they can. If you think Java is lame, find me another way to "beam" applications from PDAs of one architecture to PDAs of another architecture.
We can thank PocketLinux for doing work on the Kaffe free Java Virtual Machine. Considering the fact that free software developers are finally starting to do ambitious Java projects (can you say Freenet?), Kaffe is rapidly becoming "part of this complete breakfast" for putting together a sensible Linux environment.
Naturally, PocketLinux isn't the only project that's doing Linux on PDAs. Agendacomputing.com and handhelds.org are some of the other sites. So, what can you do with Linux and Kaffe on a PDA? Nobody really knows. That's the fun part about enabling technology. If you thought that Java training was only good for writing e-business applications, get PocketLinux and try it out.