Friday, October 07, 2005

Zaurus pdaXrom 1.1.0rc11

pdaXrom is a Zaurus ROM (kernel and root filesystem) that doesn't ditch the Zaurus ROM structure entirely, but does replace Qtopia with an optimized XFree86 and a host of X11 replacements for the standard Qtopia utilities. The goal is to turn the Zaurus into more of a mini-laptop than PDA. There is a GPE variant of OpenZaurus that endeavors to do something similar, but the pdaXrom developers tend to be a bit more pragmatic than the OZ folks leading to a ROM that has always worked better for me than the more technically correct (but often less finished) OZ.

I like the idea behind pdaXrom and so I've been following its development and periodically flashing new releases into my SL-C760 for evaluation. Unfortunately, each time I have found myself flashing back to the Cacko (Sharp compatible) ROM within a day because pdaXrom was missing something things that I just wasn't willing to do without. So when RC11 (the 11th release candidate for version 1.1.0) came out last week, I had to give it a try.

The results so far have been very favorable. I won't try to review it here, but I can say that for the first time, pdaXrom has stayed on my Zaurus for more than 24 hours. In fact, it's now been in place for an entire week and I still haven't identified any problems that are likely to send me back to Cacko.

The only issue that came close is the lack of support for my Belkin F8U1500 external IR keyboard. I tend to use my Zaurus for taking notes in meetings and the built in keyboard, while great for capturing info on the go, just doesn't cut it for any significant amount of data entry.

With a business trip planned just days after installing RC11 and a strong desire not to abandon the new ROM, it was clear that I was going to either have to hack up a solution fast. Out of the box, pdaXrom includes XVkbd -- an on-screen soft keyboard for X11. Since XVkbd takes mouse clicks and turns them into keypress events for the active X11 application, it looked like a likely candidate for a "hack attack".

It proved to be fairly trivial to modify XVkbd to open the IR port and listen for IR keyboard events in addition to mouse clicks. Since I had previously worked out the Belkin's protocol for addition to the IRK driver in for the standard Zaurus ROMs, I just had to drop that code and keymap code into XVkbd. In almost no time at all, I had a version of XVkbd that took keystrokes from the IR keyboard and dropped them into whichever app had the focus. It's not a perfect solution (it won't work unless X is running, it pegs the CPU at 100%, and it would be a pain to add support for different types of keyboards) but it looks like it will be good enough to let me keep pdaXrom until I can come up with something a little more elegant.

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