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Review: Agenda VR3 Linux powered PDA

I recently got my hands on a developer edition of the Linux powered Agenda VR3 hand held PDA device and am quite excited about it. It runs on an NEC MIPS processor (designed originally for Windows CE devices) that runs the Linux 2.4.0 kernel, XFree86, RXVT, BASH and all your favorite Linux tools. It is available now in developer edition for only $179.

It runs the VR-Linux project’s 2.4.0 kernel and a full XFree86 display on a 160×240 16 level grayscale display. It also sports a serial cable that allows you to set up a TCP/IP connection using ppp to your desktop so you can interact with it with Telnet, ftp, rsync (the most popular way to synchronize files). It has BASH running in an RXVT terminal. There is a keyboard app. with very good handwriting recognition embedded into it. You can redirect it’s X display to your desktop and vice versa. The development environment includes a cross compiler for gcc that allows compiling most Linux apps for it – the MIPS lacks a floating point processor so some changes have to be made when compiling apps for it instead of the X86 architecture. It also has a modem and can send faxes. It has an infrared port for beaming to OBEX compliant devices.

The most exciting thing for me is that Tcl/Tk is ported already to it, as is a version of PERL, PYTHON, and RUBY. You can also use the FLTK – fast light toolkit when programming in C or C++.
Over 100 Linux applications are already ported to it by the Agenda community.

I am working on a Tcl version of a wildly popular drug database for the Palm. I have a college student who is home for the summer working on it. I’m hoping to develop some useful ways to use the Tcl socket library and http to connect to my Tcl data server and web server in the Tkfp EMR.
I already have all the drugs starting with the letter “a” ported to it. It has it’s own icon in the launch pad along with the default apps provided by Agenda computing.

More info on the VR3 Linux powered PDA at http://www.agendacomputing.com
The developer edition has 8mb of RAM and 8mb of flash RAM and costs only $179 with the cradle and serial cable. The Modem costs $99. There will soon be a consumer version released with a somewhat more polished interface and more applications.

My wish list for it includes a way to connect into an ethernet jack so you could use say DHCP and move from exam room to exam room with it and say connected to your network.

The display is sometimes a little hard to see in subdued lighting conditions. Maybe my cataracts have something to do with that, my kids don’t seem to have any problems with it.

The software that ships with the developer version is not the latest version. You have to carefully read the excellent instructions provided on the developer web site and reflash it with the newest kernel and romdisk image to get the latest handwriting recognition.