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CPEN and Linux: Techno-Tools for the Techno-Cool

Like a Kid at Christmas: Checking Out the CPEN

  • September 5, 2002
  • By Rob Reilly

CPEN is a 75-Mhz StrongArm processor jammed with a little OCR (Optical Character Recognition) module into a package the size of a pudgy dry erase marker. It has 8 MB of RAM, an address book, calendar application, dictionary, tiny little 7 line LCD and can scan most text either right to left or left to right.

With all the applications loaded there's about 3.5 MB of space available for scanned text. That's a lot of text! Did I mention that it recognizes graffiti style letters as you draw them, will scan bar codes and can store binary files, too? It will even trade files with other PDAs. Plus, no connecting wires and it works with Linux. Are light bulbs going off yet?

The CPEN also blows away every other device on the market for attention getting and boosting your techno cool factor. Put it together with Linux and you will have truly cutting edge technology at your fingertips.

Just run a CPEN over a page of text for a couple of minutes around any decent sized group of people. Guaranteed, they will stop what they are doing and watch you. Try to be low key about it. I hope you can handle the interruptions and gawking. At some point, some brave soul will ask you what the heck you are doing. You can then proceed to show them how all the features work and maybe meet a new client for your business. People have stopped me in restaurants, the mall and in meetings as I've used the CPEN to take notes, look up phone numbers and check my calendar.

The most expensive model is around $200, but if you use one steadily for a week, your scope of new contacts and friends will be well worth the cash. I think the 600C model goes for about $99. If you just happen to have your Linux laptop there too, it's a great opportunity to enlighten your new friends about the merits of Open Source software, as well.

All jokes about improving geek status aside, I typically use my CPEN and my Linux laptop with the IR port for managing business contact information, collecting web sites, and as an aid for article research.

Considering the rate at which Linux is adding applications and moving into all kinds of businesses, it's no surprise that niche applications for something like a CPEN would be a little slim. I'm happy to say that the basic functionality of moving information from the CPEN to Linux apps is out there.

Fortunately, since the irOBEX protocol is used for transfers, the CPEN operating system knows what type of files are being transferred and simply makes them available to the correct CPEN applications. To make it work, for example, you just make sure the file extensions are correct, beam the file, and poof, your new contact comes up in the CPEN address book. It's simple!

The Open OBEX software used to send and receive files with the CPEN is available at SourceForge. As for writing software on a Linux machine that will run on the CPEN, there's a SDK that is available for download from CPEN. Unfortunately, it's Windows-based. I looked at the source code a year ago and it looked like C++. The application would probably require extensive modification, but it might serve as a starting point to get going on some CPEN/Linux application development.

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