MAKE:TNT Tools 'n' Tips

K-Byte's Zipit Wireless Messenger

by Dave Prochnow

As seen in MAKE 07 Toolbox

Tool photo.

K-Byte's Zipit Wireless Messenger is a cute pocket-sized Instant Messaging (IM) appliance that can connect to any wi-fi access point for on-the-go IM. Just turn the Zipit on, sniff out a wireless network access point, and start messaging through your usual IM account (e.g., AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc.). The Zipit scans automatically for available wi-fi access points, which makes it useful for wardriving; I used it to locate a few WLANs walking around my neighborhood.

That would be the end of the Zipit story if it were not for one unbelievable feature laying hidden on the device's main circuit board. Along with the 320 x 240 monochrome LCD, Agere wi-fi chip, stereo sound, and 16MB SDRAM is a 2MB Flash memory chip dedicated to storing the Zipit's Linux ARM 2.4.21 Kernel. Sing Hallelujah! That's a usable Linux OS inside a half-pint portable wi-fi computer that costs less than $100.

Of course, to savor the full exciting potential of this Linux installation, you must hack the little Zipit. First, make sure that you fully understand and accept the possibility that you can "brick" the device or render it useless with just one boo-boo during the wi-fi reflashing procedure. Got that? OK, here is a short list of some of the best Zipit Wireless Messenger hacks, starting with the basics. YMMV. (Zipit programming is in its infancy, so more applications can be expected, and contributions are welcome.)

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