Japan's Turbolinux will begin selling its Wizpy Linux-based multimedia player in February. As a bonus, the device can also be used to boot a PC into the Linux OS, allowing users to access their files in their own working environment on almost any PC.
The Wizpy will be available first to customers in Japan via the company's home page on Feb. 23 and then in shops in March. It will come in two models: a 2GB version will cost ¥29,800 ($245) and a 4GB version will cost ¥33,800.
At first glance the Wizpy doesn't look very different from other multimedia players on the market: A 1.7-inch OLED (organic light emitting diode) color screen occupies the top half of the front of the Wizpy and the lower half has a keypad. Within, there is software to play music in Ogg, MP3, and Windows Media Audio formats, and to show XviD and MPEG4 video files and JPEG images. It can also record sound to MP3 files and display text files, and has an FM radio.
But the Wizpy's flash memory hides another feature that differentiates it from other media players: a bootable version of Linux.
The operating system doesn't have to be installed on the computer, but runs straight from the Wizpy.
"The installation operation is ... a high barrier of entry for users to use Linux. So we came up with this device," said Koichi Yano, president and CEO of Turbolinux.
To the computer, the Wizpy appears to be a bootable USB CD-ROM or hard-disk drive, which means most computers will boot the Linux OS without any fuss, said Turbolinux.
For some PCs -- the company estimates about a quarter of those it has tested so far -- users will either have to insert a supplied CD-ROM into the computer, which will divert the boot-up sequence to the Wizpy, or make a change in the computer's BIOS settings so the PC looks to a USB-connected device for an operating system before its own hard-disk drive. The device should work with all PCs, and on newer models of Apple's Macintosh that are based in Intel chips, said Yano.
The Wizpy contains an updatable version of Turbolinux's own operating system, based on Linux kernel 2.6.19, the Firefox browser, Thunderbird e-mail client, Skype, CD and DVD ripping software, Turbo Media Player, RealPlayer 10, a Flash player, Open Office 2.1, Adobe Acrobat reader, some Ricoh fonts and Justsystem's ATOK Japanese input system
The OS and installed software occupies about 1GB of memory space so that leaves either 1GB or 3GB left for storing files or multimedia, depending on the model. User files can be stored in either a media folder, which is accessible from the host PC when the Wizpy is connected as removable storage, or a documents folder, which is only accessible from within the Linux OS on the device.
It's not possible to access files stored on the host machine's hard disk drive when it is booted from the Wizpy. This is intended to reassure people who lend their PCs to Wizpy owners: they will be able to do so knowing that the Wizpy user cannot ferret around in their files, a company official said.
The device will be able to connect to a network through the host PC and also access connected peripherals, if they are supported. Because Linux support for some audio hardware is patchy, the Wizpy uses its own audio output system: Users can plug speakers into the device's headphones socket to hear system sounds.
The Wizpy should start appearing outside of Japan from April, priced in the same way as in Japan, where it is aligned with local iPod prices, said Yano.