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Bootstrapping the YOPY PDA
Pages: 1, 2

To zig rather than zag

YOPY with calendar application.
The W applications are interesting but incomplete.

G.Mate made an early decision to use a windowing system called "W Windows" instead of the more common X Window System provided by almost all Unix workstations. X also runs on the Agenda VR3, and the Handheld.org and Familiar distributions for the iPAQ.



W Windows was forked from an effort to make a lightweight windowing system for monochrome displays, with G.Mate adding the ability to handle color. This was done by programmers within G.Mate, as was the development of the W-based GUI applications.

Because of the incompatibility between W and X, not to mention the inability to import and export displays to W, the porting of applications has been significantly hindered. Despite complaints by developers on the Yopydeveloper.org mailing list, G.Mate stuck by its decision, arguing it provided faster displays and a commitment to other commercial parties to provide the W environment. [Note: See the update at the end of this article].

Fortunately for the developer community, Young Hoon Kim, a G.Mate programmer, ported X to the YOPY and made it available "unofficially." Finally, giving up trying to hold back water, G.Mate agreed an X environment would become the new base installation for the YOPY, dumping W Windows. In addition, a 2.4.x kernel would be made available, largely based on the work done by the Handhelds.org group.

This shift in direction demonstrates (again) that introducing an incompatible technology without strong justification just won't work. Particularly amongst open/free programmers, no one is willing to invest in your new technology unless its worth their time. While W may be faster than X on a 206-MHz machine, is it worth the loss of compatibility? Empirically, NO!

So it's like an iPAQ, right?

The other aspect of the new direction of the YOPY is it enviably leads to a direct comparison between the YOPY and the iPAQ. After all, they're effectively running the same software, and they both have the same processor -- a StrongARM running at 206 MHz with 32 Mbytes of RAM and 16 Mbytes of Flash memory. Although new 64K models of the iPAQ are just becoming available.

As mentioned above, the YOPY can display 16-bit color, while the iPAQ is limited to 12-bit. The YOPY also has the advantage of its single CF-II expansion port being built in; the iPAQ requires an expansion sleeve to be used to expose either one or two CF or PCMCIA ports.

On the downside, of course, is the same expansion ability -- the iPAQ can do PCMCIA as well as CF, and can handle one or two of the devices. Even with the required expansion devices, the iPAQ is still smaller (less thick) and lighter than the YOPY.

The last advantage the iPAQ has, of course, is the fact it's available on retail shelves today, while the YOPY must be mail-ordered from Korea. Ironically, the iPAQ also works out to be less expensive than the YOPY, particularly before recent YOPY price reductions.

Bear in mind we're comparing developer versions of the YOPY to the retail iPAQs. Hopefully the size and weight issues will be addressed by the time consumer versions become available.

Show me the community

A question I asked G.Mate, and all the other companies I contacted for this series, was "Where does your independent developer community communicate? Where does the software they create get cataloged?"

The answer for the YOPY is Yopydeveloper.org, hosted by G.Mate, providing documentation for the unit and a mailing list for independent developers with a web-based archive. There are also some web-based bulletin boards. Software isn't cataloged, but is generally announced on both.

As far as activity is concerned, simply subscribing to both the YOPY list and the iPAQ or Familiar developer lists from Handhelds.org will speak volumes. The YOPY list has seen about a dozen messages a week lately, while the iPAQ lists see a dozen or more a day.

Conclusions

When I started this project, I was hoping I would have wonderfully exciting news to report about all three Linux platforms -- the YOPY, the iPAQ, and the Agenda. Oh, well, two out of three still isn't bad.

If the YOPY had been released to the public in March of 2000, I suspect it would have by now been a serious contender. Promoted as the "first Linux handheld," the YOPY had such promise.

Alas, we still wait for a final model. Meanwhile, competitors already have product "on the street" -- iPAQ for very similar hardware or the Agenda VR3 for much lower-end hardware but true "Linux out of the box."

I really hope I'm proven wrong, but I cannot see any way that the YOPY will become a commercial success at this point, at least in North America. There is still a chance G.Mate may attract a critical mass of independent developers to make its platform fly. But I just don't see it.

The Familiar distribution and the iPAQ is the most promising configuration for StrongARM-based platforms. Until G.Mate can tell me -- and every other developer making the decision -- exactly what makes the YOPY better, developers will naturally go to where the action is.

Online resources

The following list is all I could find as far as sites providing YOPY developer information and exchange. No user-oriented sites exist, as expected for a developer-only product.

G.Mate Main Site
Main site for the G.Mate company. Available in English, Chinese, and Korean. Where you go to order a developer edition YOPY.
Yopydeveloper.org
Site run by G.Mate to host documentation, mailing lists, and archives. Links to independent software may be found in messages.
Unofficial YOPY Developers Site
Almost no activity, but looks very pretty.

Update

At the last minute, Young Hoon Kim agreed to answer my questions: The W Windows applications are in fact being dropped entirely, with new applications being developed as replacements. There are 20 engineers and programmers working on the YOPY project, and the current release date for retail product is October of this year.

There are no plans to make Pocket Linux work on the YOPY, although both the Handhelds.org and Familiar (only the latter really matters now) distributions will work with the YOPY, in addition to G.Mate's own distribution. In response to how G.Mate will differentiate the YOPY from other players in the Linux market, Mr. Hoon replied "We will make this device much like PC for performance and look."

Thanks to Mr. Hoon for replying to my final inquiry. I sincerely wish him and G.Mate well in their continued efforts in bringing the YOPY to market.

Chris Halsall is the Managing Director of Ideas 4 Lease (Barbados). Chris is a specialist... at automating information gathering and presentation systems.


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