Customizing the Zaurus C860

Marcus Kracht


For the impatient: if you decide to use pdaXrom, you should at least read about SD Cards, Wake Up Problems and Modem and Dialup. It will save you a lot of trouble! Also: this page is based on pdaXrom 1.0.0. Newer versions are out, I will have to try them myself (but am hesitant to change from a working system to the next).

My Experience

Carrying around 4 kg of computer equipment every day did not look to me like real mobility. So I finally bought a Sharp Zaurus C860 from Dynamism. It was really worth it. Now, one problem emerged right away. The software from Dynamism is not really useful, even though you can download a lot of extra software from Killefiz. Basically, I am using LaTeX and the backslash comes out as "Yen". At Dynamism I was told that there is nothing one can do. However, there is a solution. There are alternatives from Opie and Cacko. I tried the latter and didn't resent it.

Where To Get pdaXrom and Software

Go to pdaXrom. Download their flash ROM and do as they say. Basically, you need to do the following: install the three files on a Flash Card (or whatever), put off the computer, plug the AC cord, take out the battery for 5 seconds, put in the battery, the flash card, and press OK, and hold the OK key while turning the machine on. You will get a boot menu. Follow the instructions on the site. Then you will have installed a raw system. It has barely anything, but the site above provides some very useful software: I downloaded

  1. Konqueror-embedded
  2. Firefox
  3. Sylpheed
  4. Thunderbird
  5. the complete vim (vim, vim-doc, vim-syntax)
  6. Rox (filemanager)
  7. Xpdf (pdf-viewer)


However, what I really also needed was ... LaTeX! And, sure enough, someone has already done it ( I shall give you an adapted rundown of what that website says (or click here for be forwarded):

LateX Installation Instructions

That's it (the fmt files are there). Decide where to put your tex files, latex and dvipdfm them, then move the results pdf into Documents/application/pdf for viewing.

Now, so far the first installation. I did this on my Zaurus, and since I have pdaXrom and it has awk on it, Metafont worked fine. Moreover, if you need extra styles or stuff, just copy what you need from your main machine into an analogous place on your tex-directory (you can put things anywhere in the tex-directory, but at some point you will appreciate that the place is the same on both machines!).


Here is, however, a problem: how do you get dingbats? They do not come out on the xpdf. The solution is as follows. Look for /usr/etc. In the file xpdfrc and look up the line

#displayFontT1 ZapfDingbats /usr/local/share/ghostscript/fonts/d050000l.pfb

It tells you the name of the font. When you invoke xpdf it looks in the named places for files ending in .pfb. The places are stored in xpdfrc. The simplest way is to look up that font on your main machine (on mine I found it in /usr/share/ghostscript/fonts/). Copy the file d050000l.pfb from your laptop (or wherever you found it) into a suitable place on your zaurus and edit the path of that line. Uncomment the line (erase `#' at the beginning). You are set.

XTerm Settings

There are additional problems for which I have a solution. One is the miniature fonts. They are not reallt readable for me. For the xterm I open a window with the command "xterm -fa Helvetica\ 14" (the backslash is no error). This gives me a screen with a much better font, and only slightly oversize. (Also, the number 1 and the letter l are better to distinguish.) I promise to find out how to change that and to make this a default. The next thing to fix is the font for vi. Edit a file .vimrc and put in the following lines:

:set guifont=Courier\ New\ 16
:syntax enable
:colors [Choose from the Colour Menu what you like and put the name here]

When you use gvim, it will now display everything in a larger font, and do syntax highlighting. The vim manual tells you everything about fonts, needless to say that you can put in other ones according to taste. (I found the one above the most pleasant.)

Infrared Keyboard

You can also use an infrared keyboard, since the machine has an IrDA port. I used the Targus, since for this one there is actually software: goto this webpage or download the software here.


You can even run OCaML. It is quite fast. All you need is to install the following packages: ocaml-base and ocaml. This runs OCaML 3.04. The package has been compiled for the ARM architecture under Debian, and then packed for the pdaxrom. The 3.07 version needs glibc-3.3, and this is (not yet) provided under the pdaxrom 1.0.5 (which I have). (BTW the file /etc/issue says the version is 1.0.0, but that's a mistake. It's easy to fix, just edit it.) My programs (made for OCaML 3.06) run perfectly fine.

ATerm and Settings

xterm has a scrollbar but it does not work properly. It is better to use aterm. You can change the settings in .Xdefaults. Mine are as follows:

! --- Aterm settings ----
Aterm*font: -misc-fixed-*-*-*-*-140-*-*-*-*-iso8859-*
Aterm*background: black
Aterm*foreground: white
Aterm*transparent: true
Aterm*shading: 30
! Aterm*tinting: true
Aterm*transpscrollbar: false
! Aterm*fading: 30
! black/BLACK
Aterm*color0: #000000
Aterm*color8: #000000
! red/RED
Aterm*color1: #ff4f85
Aterm*color9: #c12562

If you want to start aterm from the desktop you have to change /usr/bin/; where it says "xterm" you need to put in "aterm -geometry 68X25". (The geometry is your choice, I have made the size big enough that it still fist the screen.) Moreover, if you like the same style of apperance, you need to change also /usr/bin/ to contain only the lines

#! /bin/sh
aterm -geometry 68X25

Modem and Dialup

The pdaxrom page says that the dialer needs testing. Indeed it does not always work. I use a socketcom 56 k modem CF card. To operate it, you have to change a few details in the PPP modem configuration. My card appears as /dev/ttyS3, so you need to put that into Dialup->Modem->Device. Moreover, the init string is
Tick "hardware flow control". In principle that should do it, but unfortunately not always. I have found that some commercial providers work fine with the original setting, but BOL for example does not. Some ingenuity is required. You have to edit a file /etc/ppp/peers/my-peer. The secret lies what you say after connect. Here is what I wrote for BOL (UCLA):

connect '/usr/sbin/chat -s -v ABORT "NO CARRIER" ABORT "NO DIALTONE" ABORT "BUSY" "" "AT&F" OK "ATDTthe number to dial" CONNECT "" "Username:" my username "Password:" my password "ine>" ppp ""'

The secret is that the dialer does not wait for the other connection to come up with requests it just throws the data at the receiving modem. This does not always work, so you have to force the dialer to wait for an answer. In my case, BOL responds with something like "Welcome to Bruin Online", which is caught by the double quotes after CONNECT. Next BOL issues the line "Username:". Other providers, other prompts, so you have to experiment. Now my username is offered. Next BOL prompts with "Password:" and gets the password. Finally, it gives the dialer a prompt that ends in "ine>", after which the dialer may issue "ppp", and get the pp connection established.

Networking and Wireless

I use a wireless card, and it works perfectly. I get access to the network. However, UCLA requires to use VPN, and this works without problems only with Microsoft. However, it accepts ssh. So here is my solution. I have a laptop, into which I can ssh. Now, I made it a DNS-server, and installed squid (proxy server). It is important to modify http_access so that squid does not refuse your request. Next, configure firefox on the zaurus for manual proxy and say:

HTTP server: Port 80
FTP server: Port 80

On my laptop I added as a nameserver (and added under dns_nameservers the IP in squid.conf because squid would otherwise not find anything). Finally, for Sylpheed I also asked to check and send mail with localhost. Finally, the following does it:

ssh -l <username> -L25:<sendmailserver>:25 -L110:<receivemailserver>:110 -L80:<laptop-IP>:3128 <laptop-IP>

(Comment: commonly, email is sent through Port 25, and this is the same with sylpheed and our email server; it is received through Port 110. Finally, squid listens by default to Port 3128, while Firefox sends out its requests to Port 80. From this you should be able to work out your own solution.) After authentification I can read and send email (via Sylpheed) and browse (via Firefox).

Repartitioning SD Cards

Installing packages on your SD card can fail to work. Probably it is because they come with FAT16 partition and you need to reformat them before you use them. Do the following.
  1. umount /mnt/card
  2. fdisk /dev/mmcda1
  3. mkfs.ext2 /dev/mmcda1
  4. mount /dev/mmcda1
After that your card should be ready to be used.

Wake Up Problem

Often I had the problem that the zaurus freezes. This means that you have to open the lid, remove the battery for 5 seconds, put it back in and reboot. I used the following advice. Edit the file /usr/X11R6/bin/startx by adding at the end:

sleep 2
xset +dpms

It did the trick so far.


The Zaurus is at present the only computer of mine that works flawlessly. The software needed a little care in the beginning, but when it was set up it worked perfectly. I travelled with only the zaurus and was able to read and send email either through the phone or through the wireless. I recommend as email client Thunderbird, even though it is slower. The features to deal with spam mail are worth it! After a while you can just tell Thunderbird to get rid of all trash rather than you having to hand pick it. Also, the functionality is much better (attachments etc). The same goes for Firefox versus Konqueror and Dillo. I downloaded the versions from May, and Firefox is the only one that can deal with restricted access. If you want to pay bills online you will appreciate. I like Vim, and I get all I need. Abiword did not perform well, so perhaps I should try a newer version. I tried to install TextMaker, but their version is not for the pdaxrom, as I found out. Rox is nice, but I do not need it that much.


I have downloaded a lot of software so that I keep it even when it goes off the main site. Click here to be taken to the list of software available here.