Review of Embedded Applications from


Jim D. Gilbert


If you didn’t hear about the new Sharp Zaurus (5000 series for developers and the newly release 5500 for mass market) then you are in for a real treat. The Zaurus isn’t the first Linux based PDA, but it is the first one backed by a major corporation and has just about every whizbang thing you can think of. This review isn’t of the Zaurus, but I’ll go ahead and give some background so you know what I’m talking about.

The Zaurus uses Embedix, which is an embedded Linux kernel from Lineo, and Qtopia desktop environment from Trolltech for the windowing and presentation technology. The Zaurus also comes with Java built in, which is also very unusual. For physical specs the 7.3-ounce device has a 206MHz Intel StrongARM processor, 64MB of RAM, and a sweet looking, 3.5-inch, 240×320-pixel color LCD. There are both Compact Flash (CF) and SD slots (the SD slot will also take MMC) and since all the peripherals use the CF port, having the SD slot for memory was a great design decision. What is really awesome and unique about the Zaurus is a small QWERTY keyboard that becomes visible by sliding down the panel that has the thumb pad and application buttons. I’ve got to say that in general this is the most “right” PDA that I’ve used, it really is nice.

The Zaurus comes with a decent selection of applications but many of them seem to lack polish and don’t seem really finished. I ran across as the only commercial software company that was making applications for the Zaurus and I was really impressed by the look and selection of their software, so I bought what they call tkcBundle which is a bundle of all their applications for the Zaurus. All of their applications for the Zaurus start with tkc and consist of:










Each of the products can be purchased separately or you can do what I did which was buy the tkcBundle which saved me $25 on the total cost. Since there isn’t any decent way to make screenshots other than with a digital camera I’m going to just use some from theKompany web site.


Let’s take it an app at a time here and in alphabetical order:

Product: tkcEditor

Price: $14.95

tkcEditor is a cool programmer oriented text editor. I say programmer oriented because it has support for syntax highlighting for the following languages:

PHP, HTML, SQL, C++, Python, Perl, Zope (DTML), and ColdFusion.

This screenshot from theKompany web site doesn’t illustrate the new syntax’s that were just added.













I’ll say that it has the only sane file open dialog I saw on the Zaurus (other than other tkc apps that use the same style)

In addition tkcExplorer has the following features:

  • Tabbed interface for having multiple documents open

  • cut/copy/paste

  • find/replace

  • ‘goto’ line

  • Multiple fonts

  • find/find next

  • Word completion

  • indent/unindent

  • Vertical and horizontal selection

  • Configurable interface

Product: tkcExplorer

Price: $9.95

This is what the file explorer on the Zaurus should have been, there isn’t much to say beyond a screenshot and bullet points of the features. I will say that they need to add a feature to launch applications, theKompany said it will be in an upcoming release:

  • multi-pane navigation with adjustable views

  • configurable file sort

  • multi-file select for operations

  • cut/copy/paste

  • rename

  • delete

  • rapid navigation tools to access /root, SD card, Compact Flash card, etc., directly without having to navigate the linux file system tree

  • bookmark files into a virtual folder for rapid access application launching based on file type












Product: tkcFTP

Price: $9.95

This app is really only useful if you’ve got some sort of network connectivity either through wireless or from a CF modem card or network card. I’ve got the Linksys wireless CF card and base station, so I was able to take advantage of it. I must admit that an FTP client seemed a little odd at first, but I saw how getting documents or audio files was a lot easier with this application. There aren’t a tremendous number of features you can put in an FTP client, but theKompany seemed to have it covered well:

  • Multiple connection profiles to store login and password information for various sites

  • Select multiple files for upload or download

  • Progress indicator for uploads and downloads

  • Create, Delete, and Rename directories and files

  • Delete multiple files at a time

  • Sort by file name, size, type

  • Show/hide hidden files

  • Intuitive web browser style navigation to go forward, backward, up a directory








Product: tkcGallery

Price: $9.95

I gotta admit that other than Jabber, this one was my favorite. Basically it is just really well done image browser designed with digital cameras in mind. It only supports jpeg format images, but since that is what digital cameras typically spew out, that was ok with me. I just took the CF card out of my camera and put it into the Zaurus and pointed tkcGallery at it and bang, I could get a much better preview of my pictures to show other people. The slideshow feature was really cool, and easy to use, that way I could tag off the “good” versions of pictures and let it cycle through for people. One of the main things is I didn’t get any memory problems with tkcGallery that I did with the bundled Image Viewer. Here’s a list of features:

  • Thumbnail image browser with image properties

  • View full screen images

  • View full screen images in a slide show

  • Rotate images in Thumbnail and full screen mode

  • Rename/Delete images

  • Work with big image sizes (1600×1200 and more) from your digital camera








Product: tkcJabber

Price: $19.95

I love doing Instant Messaging (IM) and live in ICQ, but recently started to check out Jabber which is an open source IM protocol that uses XML and will interface to pretty much every other protocol through what they call “transports”, the supported transports in tkcJabber are AIM, MSN, Yahoo Chat, ICQ and even IRC. You have to be careful with IRC as of the time of this writing theKompany had done some major fixes to the IRC Transport, but those fixes haven’t found their way back into the Jabber code, let alone get deployed into the general population, but theKompany maintains a public Jabber server that is selected by default that you can use.

I happen to have a wireless set up for my Zaurus and it is really cool wandering around the house and being able to stay in touch like this, I don’t have to keep running back to my home office to check if something happened I need to know about while I’m watching TV. I really like Jabber even more, overall all the transports work real good, I tried the ICQ, AIM, MSN and IRC and Jabbers group chat specifically.

The only thing that is kind of confusing is getting started. theKompany has done a good job of setting up protocol connection wizards, but they really need to have some help files for this part, once your set up its no big deal but there are certain things you need to know. First when you are setting up Jabber, the login screen will create a user if it doesn’t exist. Next, if you want to interface to ICQ for example, you need to already have an ICQ user and then set that up in the configure screen. This works the same for the other IM transports as well. tkcJabber has the following features:

  • Support for any Jabber transport such as Jabber, AIM, MSN, Yahoo Chat,ICQ, IRC

  • Buddy lists

  • IRC servers

  • Taskbar server to notify you of messages even when tkcJabber isn’t running

  • Flash email light and ring buzzer to notify you of incoming messages

  • Connect to multiple protocols at the same time

  • Tabbed interface for multiple chats and servers






Product: tkcKapital

Price: $19.95

In case you didn’t know, theKompany has a Linux/KDE personal financial application called Kapital. tkcKapital is a port to the Zaurus that is designed to make sense on the form factor. This is a real handy application, but there are some features that aren’t done yet that might make it less useful for some people, basically it doesn’t have the ability to import/export QIF files yet or sync with their desktop version. I’m told this is all coming soon and the updates are free. The other problem is a lack of documentation. I complained and was sent a preliminary copy, which certainly helped, but they need to get the information put into the help system, even if it is preliminary.

Basically with tkcKapital you can set up and manage multiple accounts, categories and sub-categories. Track transactions in the register, search the register with both a basic and advanced search engine, and set up transactions in the calendar for scheduling.






Product: tkcPainter

Price: $4.95

You can think of tkcPainter like a Scribble type of program really, but it’s fun. I was over a friends with the unit and his young son had a great time drawing on it, he even did some decent stuff. Basically you have a drawing surface, a color palette on the right with basic colors that you can cycle through or bring up a whole color selector. You can draw or erase and select the point size, and do fill operations. In tkcPainter you can either explicitly save a drawing, or it will just create a new page. At the top of the screen are basic VCR type controls so you can go to next/prev drawing or the beginning or end of the list. The file system is basically hidden from you, which is actually a nice idea. This is a good way to jot down notes or maybe articulate a thought in picture to someone else.




Product: tkcPlayer

Price: $9.95

I’ve got to admit that this wasn’t part of the bundle when I bought it, I got a copy just after they finished it, but before they put it on their web site. I’m sure it will be globally available by the time you read this. What I was told by theKompany is they have two different programs for media, one is tkcPlayer which does MP3 and Ogg files, and as far as I know makes the Zaurus the worlds first portable Ogg player. The second is tkcMediaCenter which will doe MP3, Ogg, Mod files as well as streaming MP3 and Ogg, and eventually video from what I’m told and will cost $14.95. MediaCenter might even be available by the time you read this, but I couldn’t talk them into giving me an early release.

Just as a pure technical interest, the Ogg decoding took about 25% of the CPU but MP3 took 35% to 40% based on my informal tests. The application is broken into 3 tabs, there is the Play List, the Media Library and the actual Player visualizer. The Play List shows you all the selected media you have for playing, you can change the order of songs, remove songs, clear the list totally or just have it grab all available media files it can find on your Zaurus and plugged in cards, this last option makes it quick if you just want to listen to everything you have. All the song details are also on this panel.

For the Media Library tab, there is a list of all the MP3 and Ogg files that can be found, you can filter by Artists, Albums and Years. It was really cool that the combo boxes are auto-filled with the detail data of the songs that are found. Again, there is a list of the songs, albums and the years that were found, you can add songs selectively to the play list or remove them.

Finally there is the Player, which I’ve included a screenshot of courtesy of theKompany. This has the dynamic EQ graph, song information, media file details such as the sample rate, stereo, total file size and then a counter of where you are in the song and a control panel. theKompany also makes use of the hardware cursor key for song control, so up and down control volume, left and right skip tracks, and the space button in the middle will pause and restart a song.

This player is much nicer than the one that comes with the Zaurus, and the inclusion of Ogg support is just totally cool, I love Ogg files as they take less space and have a higher fidelity. Overall the sound quality for either Ogg or MP3 files is just stunning, it really sounds great, now I just need to get one of those 1GB microdrives from IBM that fit in a CF slot so I can get some serious music library on there.





Product: tkcMahjongg

Price: $4.95

Here is the only game from theKompany at the moment, and it is a classic Mahjongg game basically. They have a bunch of tiles and backgrounds you can select from as well as a huge number of tile layouts and a board editor to create your own edits. I wasted a lot of time playing this game, it’s a lot of fun.





Usability (also installation)

I don’t much care for how the Zaurus installs software, and there is no way to update a package. I received a couple of updates from theKompany and it required that I uninstall the software then install the new versions. I was told that this is how ipkg requires it work and they couldn’t do anything about it. Beyond that though everything was fine.


All of the products from theKompany were very stable, I did get a couple of crashes in tkcKapital but I’m told a new release is coming out in a week or so that solves those issues.


Overall there is no latency in the applications, although tkcMahjongg is a bit slow, I assume because of the graphics, but the Java sample applications on the Zaurus are all very fast, so I’m not sure what to attribute it to. Everything else starts up and reacts very quickly which is very nice.

Supportability (including Doc)

Support from theKompany is really awesome, they answer emails so fast it’s like being on ICQ with them, I was really pleased. They also provide free, unlimited upgrades on all their software. Most of the applications are intuitive enough that documentation isn’t needed, which is good because most of them don’t have documentation. tkcGallery was the only app that had online help, there was some preliminary doc for tkcKapital which was also good because it is a little confusing to start, but tkcJabber could really use some online help, once you know how it works it is obvious, but at first glance it can be a little confusing.


The applications from theKompany are priced right, work and look great and either fill some gaps or make good replacements for the default apps. If you’ve got a Zaurus you really can’t go wrong by picking up some or all of the apps from theKompany, the bundle is currently priced at $74.95 for 9 applications worth about $100. The fact that you get free updates on the software makes it all the more compelling. The only real downside is that there aren’t any demo’s available at the time of this writing. You can get to theKompanys home page at and see all their embedded products at