JLime Donkey 1.0.2
Charles Hague | Handheld PC Guest Reviews
The Jornada series of handheld computers have the potential to be very powerful portable computers, due to their small size, excellent expansion options and large screens. However, due to the ageing operating system these devices utilise and the lack of OEM support some users may feel that they may not be performing to their full potential. New versions of Windows CE cannot run (yet) on these devices, and so third party software is one of the best approaches.
For this reason, several alternative operating systems have been “ported” to run on the Jornada. NetBSD is one of the oldest, while Linux is one of the most popular choices. There are several variants of Linux available to the Jornada, and Jlime is one of the most prominent, offering support for most of the Jornada range. Donkey is the name of the version for the Jornada 620, 660, 680 and 690, while Mongo is the name of the version for the Jornada 710, 720 and 728. As with all Linux's, Jlime is open-source and free. This review examines Donkey 1.0.2.
Jlime is designed to be a Windows CE alternative for the average user, and as such is designed to be easy to use, easy to install and easy to obtain. By offering its own automatic installer, several graphical user interfaces and an active support forum, Jlime is a good choice for new users.
It is worth noting that Windows CE is stored in your devices ROM (read-only memory), and so cannot be removed. Therefore, alternative operating systems, including Jlime, must be booted from a compact-flash memory card. This is a hardware limitation of the Jornada handheld computers. It does however ensure that if anything does go wrong the default operating system will not be damaged. However, booting JLime does clear your devices internal RAM – effectively hard-resetting it, which will result in the loss of any files/databases/PIM you have stored on your device.
Installation onto these old devices used to be a time-consuming and difficult task. However, Jlime has developed its own on-device installer, which should take care of setting up Linux on your Jornada. After asking a few simple questions (such as which keyboard language to use), setup takes care of partitioning, installation and simple settings. Installation is fairly verbose, and informs you of what it is doing every step of the way. Installation does take some time, but runs fairly fast considering the amount of RAM and CPU power actually available.
Presently, the default GUI (graphical-user-interface) provided with JLime is Opie, a graphic interface designed specifically for mobile devices. Opie is also used on the Sharp Zarus PDA, as well as several others, and is a well-tested, stable system. Other GUI packages are in development, with work focusing on bringing IceWM, the popular Linux window-manager, to the Jornada. Jlime allows your device to run in 16-bit colour mode, using the full ability's of the Jornada display. This is especially noticeable on the Jornada 680, where the built in operating system only uses 256 colours. The Opie quick-start wizard guides you through aligning the screen and setting up the clock before you can start work.
Assuming you installed the default Opie image you will have a system similar to the one being reviewed. Opie has a fairly simple layout concept, and is similar in operation to Windows CE, using menus, pointers, icons and windows. However, it has one major difference, which improves usability to a large extent – tabs. The tabs allow you to separate your icons for easy access (like having multiple desktops). By default you are provided with a PIM tab, an Applications tab, a Settings tab and a “Documents” tab (which lists files compatible with the Opie applications). Also present is a menu, similar to the start-menu, a taskbar which displays running applications, and finally a “tray”, showing system applets (e.g. Network status). Overall, the experience of using Opie is very simple, similar to to using Windows CE, and very easy to learn.
The default Opie installation is designed to provide replacements for the applications you are used to from Windows CE, and comes bundled with software suitable for this purpose. You are also provided with the software needed to manage and maintain your Jornada, such as network setting controls and appearance applets.
Office functionality is provided by Opie-Write and Opie-Sheet. Opie-Write is a word-processing package (similar to Pocket Word), and Opie-Sheet is a spreadsheet package (similar to Pocket Excel). Strangely, Opie Write saves in HTML format, an unusual choice. This format can be opened by Textmaker, Open Office and Microsoft Office however, so is not too much of an issue. Opie Sheet uses a proprietary format, but does have the ability to import Microsoft Excel files. These are suitable for simple use, but could be better if compatibility is an issue.
Bundled with Opie is a suite of PIM (personal information management) applications. These are fairly simple yet still very functional. At the moment you cannot synchronise your PIM with a desktop PC, although efforts are under way to make this possible. The default PIM applications provided include a calender, a contacts manager, an e-mail client, a to-do list and a “Today” screen. The calender, to-do list and contacts applications are very similar to their Windows CE counterparts.
The E-Mail application contains many improvements over Pocket Outlook, including support for HTML messages, POP/SMTP and IMAP accounts, secure connections and much more. There is also support for newsgroups. The application runs fast and is easy to use, following a similar layout that that of (Pocket) Outlook.
Some users may discover that the browser shipped with Windows CE does not render all of their sites correctly, or may not allow them to connect to some secure sites at all. However, Jlime and Opie provide the famous Konqueror web browser (in an embedded form) for your Jornada. Based on its desktop counterpart, this browser provides near desktop class web browsing, and boasts many much wanted features such as tabbed browsing, full screen support, zoom control and much more. Scrollbars are not present due to lack of screen space, so scrolling is achieved using the arrow keys. One of the most simple yet effective aspects of the browser is its abiltiy to go fullscreen, allowing a smoother browsing experience. Unfortunately it runs a little slow on the Jornada 680 (although is still very much usable), but a brilliant contender on the Jornada 690 and newer models.
Multimedia software is available for download, but given the hardware constraints of the Jornada it is somewhat limited. Video playback is not recommended, whereas MP3 playback is possible using the Opie media player or a range of console applications which can be installed separately.
Jlime aims to support as much of the Jornadas internal hardware as possible. The majority of the Jornada 680/690 hardware is supported. Support is only lacking for the built in modem, the audio-buttons and the notification button (the button on the screen hinge). However, this is being worked on and should hopefully be available in future releases.
Connectivity is always an issue for Windows CE users. Jlime aims to make connectivity simple and easy. A wide range of drivers are built in, offering support for most PCMCIA Wifi and Ethernet cards. JLime also supports most of the modern day wireless networking standards, such as WPA, making it likely that you will be able to connect to most networks.
The majority of network cards will be automatically configured, meaning that you only need to insert it to get online (similar to Windows Mobile's Zero Configuration). If you do need to enter settings you can do it using the graphical Opie tools or, for the more seasoned Linux user, the console tools.
There is also a Remote Desktop (RDP) client bundled with Donkey, which allows you to connect to your desktop PC and operate it from your Jornada. This is a little slow, but is a very useful addition, especially when coupled with a wireless network.
Due to hardware constraints there is no true suspend support in Donkey. However, Jlime has implemented a “sleep” mode, which disables as much hardware as possible to conserve power and offer near instant-on support. This is reasonable for short periods of downtime, but uses power quicker than Windows CE suspend. During sleep mode the Jornada will survive on battery power for approximately 1-2 days (depending on the condition of your battery). For extended downtime it is possible to halt Jlime and remove the battery. Upon re-connecting the power supply Jlime will automatically restart.
One slight problem with using an alternative operating system, such as Jlime, on your Jornada is that you will lose the ability to run Windows CE software. This is compensated by the extensive Jlime software repository, which offers approximately 10,000 application packages which can be installed onto your Jornada. These packages cover a wide range of applications which should hopefully meet most users needs.
As with any operating system Jlime does have a few annoying little bugs. The worst of these is that some applications do not fit correctly on the Jornada screen (if you have tried PocketPC software on your Jornada then this will be a familiar issue). This can be resolved by rotating the screen using the built in support provided by Opie. There are also a few rendering problems with icons, although this does not affect functionality.
Overall, if your Jornada serves your needs already it may be worth staying with the built in Windows CE. However, if you are looking for improvements to your Jornada's web browsing ability, connectivity and so on, then Donkey is a good upgrade choice. Newer releases can also be expected as Jlime is still being actively developed, so in years to come it may be the choice for even more users.
hp 620LX, 660LX, Jornada 680, 690
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