Looking to stay ahead of the curve, Tuxia has started porting its version of Linux to XScale, a follow on to Intel's StrongArm family of processors. Although XScale isn't in circulation yet, Tuxia wants to be ready when the chip appears in future PDAs from HP, Compaq and others, O'Sullivan said.
However, he acknowledged what some see as a significant stumbling block for Linux on PDAs, which was also a factor that hampered the operating system's acceptance on the desktop: the availability of compatible applications.
"The gating factor (between Linux and Pocket PC) is definitely the development of applications," O'Sullivan said. "We need to get people to port more software to it."
Tuxia has toyed with the idea of building a Linux portal that would provide a central repository for Linux PDA applications, he said.
O'Sullivan is hopeful the user base for Linux PDAs will grow in the coming six to nine months, but admits that it could prove a tough battle -- particularly since Compaq hasn't even endorsed the operating system on its handhelds.
"We won't support the (iPaq) if someone puts Linux on it," said Compaq spokeswoman Nora Hahn. "We do make the iPaq available to certified Linux developers, but they have to be developers," she said.
Linux on the iPaq "may be attractive if you have some programming talent and want to do some internal program development," Gartner's Kort said. "But I'm seeing more of an Asian phenomenon where they're just trying to get the costs down" by using Linux, he said.
South Korean vendor Gmate showed its Yopy handheld last week, another PDA offered with Linux preinstalled. The device is set to go on sale in Korea next month, with shipments in the U.S. scheduled for the first quarter of 2002, said Seung-Chae Cheong, local market manager for Gmate.
The device uses a clamshell-like design with a 3.5 inch reflective LCD (liquid crystal display) panel in the upper half, and a 40-key keypad occupying the lower half. The device packs 64M bytes of main memory and runs the Linupy Linux operating system for ARM-based processors, as well as X Windows. This should provide users with access to hundreds of applications developed to run on X Windows, as well as a standard platform on which new applications can be developed, company officials have said.
"The great thing about Linux is that it's both free and more scalable than other operating systems," Cheong said. Gmate's device will cost around US$400 in both South Korea and the U.S.