I'm often surprised by what people find popular in the world of freeware and open-source applications, let alone Web apps. It's tough to use the comments on Maximum PC's website as an official barometer, as they don't take page views, click-throughs, or raw downloads of whatever apps I/we recommend into account. Nevertheless, judging by the wrath, boundless joy, and heavy presence of spam-filter-nose-thumbing-signatures attached to the various weekly software articles, I can sometimes get a general vibe for what's appreciated... and what's not.
But I'm not about to dedicate the next 700 words or toward tooting my own horn--not unless there's an app for that. I do find it interesting, and a little bit funny, that a relatively innocuous application like last week's "Instant Elevator Music" received such an exuberant amount of interest via the blog comments. Of course, that's after weeks can go by with nothing but tumbleweeds greeting other applications that, honestly, I find much more useful.
You can't walk a mile on the Internet without stumbling across the same argument over and over: iPad or Chrome? Chrome or iPad? Apple, Google, and Microsoft walk into a room: there are two bats on the ground. Who comes out alive?
The answer, of course, is the proverbial letter D: none of the above. No matter how you slice and dice the various players in the netbook/laptop/tablet/whatever markets, the consumers are the ones that ultimately suffer from today's battles. In the case of Google and Apple, the loss is one of control. And I, myself, worry how this might represent the future of general or portable computing: A time when it's the manufacturer, not the user, who dictates every bit of how you interact with your system.
The software world has gotten this point pretty well by now. Sure, you can wrap additional elements of a larger business plan around an open-source offering. But even at its core, the concept of open-source isn't really designed around capitalistic ideals. If anything, it's more communistic in its focus: everybody shares an equal stake in a project, and anybody is free to assert their individual ownership in a piece of work by advancing it toward a new direction as they see fit.
But these... these are just the tools of the revolution, as Marx might have said. When it comes to actual content itself--the very bits and bytes of progress that open-source tools help create--the current crop of major content creators and distributors are behaving like dictators in an open world. And it's costing both them and us rather greatly. Instead of reaping the success of a community-driven groundswell for their assets, these companies would rather lay down the hammer and stifle all innovation in an attempt to control their futures to a "T."
Two recent examples from Lawrence Lessig and the band OK Go really hit home the biggest elements that are wrong with our current system of open information distribution on the ‘net. If it's not the owner of the content acting like an idiot, it's the system we've allowed to propagate that virtually criminalizes content sharers without a second thought.
Think about it for a second. Do you care if your programs are open-source? Do you care if companies whose services you frequent are built around open-source technology or not? Do you care whether their developers, in turn, support other open-source movements or not?
If you're not a decision-maker at a company when it comes to IT requirements or business operations, then no, open-source doesn't matter. If you're not a developer who has the knowledge--but more importantly, the time--to invest as much into an open-source project as you receive back from its functionality, then no, open-source doesn't matter either. If you're a typical computer user who wants programs that offer more than what you'd otherwise find in a vanilla Windows installation, then the concept of open-source really has no bearing on you.
Open-source matters as a concept. In its execution, however, a vast majority of enthusiasts, average folk, and neophytes could honestly care less. But why is that? Why aren't we all raising the flag with Linus Torvalds' head on it and parading through the aisles of our local electronics stores in support of the open-source movement?
I've been a relatively fortunate mobile phone owner. I've dropped various phones countless times throughout my geek life, including the extended cleaning of my first-ever iPhone by accidentally introducing it to my apartment complex's pool. I've broken countless critical features on my phones as a result of this clumsiness, the smashing of a phone against the car keys in my pocket, and the general wear-and-tear of a semi-busy lifestyle. In college, I had a flip-phone that was anything but, the exterior having been beaten up and bruised enough to transform the phone's external screen into a strobe light of-sorts whenever anyone called. Awesome for parties; useless for caller ID.
I've never lost my phone, though. And every day I board a train to head to work, sit in a taxicab, or go about my business without really paying much attention to where I last put my dialing device, I wonder: Is this it? Will today be the day that some unscrupulous person gets a hold of my iPhone and, by proxy, my entire online life?
In some ways, someone already has.
This isn't some kind of "won't somebody think of the children" scare tactic. It's a simple reality: You're hearing a lot about the wonders of cloud computing at this year's CES. And while that has different applications for the enterprise level than consumer, the practical reality of it for most PC users (and laptop users especially cough-cough-Chrome OS-cough) is that you're taking the data that would otherwise reside on a system within your control and placing it in the hands of another entity.
Cloud applications can be super-useful when you let others run the services that improve your geeky life. Your data, however, is your own--the more consumers coalesce their computing lives into access points, the more this data becomes ripe for abuse... or worse.
What a year for Google! Though I suppose one could really say that almost any year. Not to sound like a wide-eyed admirer or uninformed fanboy, but it seems as if Google always has something grand up its sleeve. But instead of waxing nostalgic about all of "The Goog's" fancy Web-based services or search refinements or what-have-you, I think it's important to note just how dramatically Google has made its mark on the open-source world in 2009.
Yes, I'm talking about Chrome. Or Android. Or Chrome-Android. You know, those two independent-but-not-really operating systems that are different yet similar enough to warrant Google splitting them with a wink-and-a-nod that they'll likely be combined at some grand point in the future.
I'll simplify. Android is the mobile version of Google's open-source OS. Chrome is the desktop/laptop/netbook/who-knows version. Sort-of. Android is in the process of spilling over to tablets and has already made the jump to netbooks. Chrome is currently under-wraps at Google, save for the open-source variant Chromium OS which is free for the taking, building, and installing.
Confused? I wouldn't be surprised. For all the intelligence packed into the dark recesses of Google's worldwide campuses, the company doesn't have a walk-in-the-park path to victory in the mobile, desktop, or laptop markets with its bevy of open-source operating systems. I've identified five points that could turn Google's fortune--and you'll find these after the jump!
I don't often connect to the Apple's iPhone App Store. It's not that I don't like perusing through new and interesting applications or games to try out. Rather, it's because Apple has made the processes of purchasing new applications so impossible to handle that it's simply not worth my time to scan through the listings to find new things to try out.
In fact, you could make a solid argument that there are no "real" listings of applications and games in the App Store. As to why that's the case, one need look no further than Apple's stranglehold on its own platform--were there a clarion call for a more open experience in application management, it would be require Steve Jobs to sit on the receiving end of one of those giant horns from the Ricola commercials.
We've been down this road before, however. I only readdress the issue because of all the unrestrained hype surrounding Intel's development of its own App Store for netbooks. Given the success of the Apple model--three parts promotion, one part consumer restraint--I can see no reason why Intel wouldn't follow suit.
As if Microsoft didn’t have enough on its plate in advance of the October 22 launch date for its latest operating system, Windows 7, an old, familiar friend is entering the fray. Like a second player that adds a quarter and interrupts your progression in an arcade fighting game, Google is bringing its open-source Android operating system out of the handheld market and into the PC world.
Acer netbooks are the target for Android’s first foray beyond the mobile market. The company has announced that it will begin offering both Microsoft-based operating systems and Google’s Android platform for a majority of its netbooks—or “mini-notebooks,” as Microsoft now prefers to call them. Acer’s latest Aspire One netbook will be the first of its kind to offer Android as an alternative platform, and you’ll be able to pick one up in the third quarter of this year.
The move is a boon for the open-source world… sort-of. For Android is as open as it is Linux, which is to say that it might be based on the Linux kernel, but it’s not a Linux operating system. Similarly, although Android comes close to fulfilling the philosophy and licensing requirements to deem it a full, open-source product, a few qualifiers exist that give cause for concern. Together, these two issues combine to create a troubled picture for Android’s future outside of the mobile market.
If you're a fan of open source, you're a fan of licensing. Okay, maybe not a fan. But you still have to respect the legal power of the documents attached to open-source software and projects, which describe for you the exact ways you can and cannot use, modify, and pass-along the licensed material. While a newcomer to the open source might see these licenses as restrictive entities prohibiting commercial exploitation of a body of work, they're the lifeblood of those who spend untold hours poring over the bits and bytes of a dream. Not as a means of financial extortion for companies that want to use the software, rather, these licensing documents ensure that the spirit of open source carries on regardless of a project's potential iterations.
I sometimes wish I could apply a license to everything I do on the Internet. And perhaps you will too, once you realize that you're a content creator -- just like me, anyone who writes for this site, and any of the estimated 17 million (and counting) microbloggers on the popular Twitter service. As of yesterday, Twitter has joined forces with Threadless. The t-shirt retailer and community hub is now the centerpiece in a massive effort to transform your witty public Tweets into cash-generating, hipster t-shirts. But this partnership respects the spirit of licensing, even though the actual legal rights you hold as a Twitter user are still open for debate.
Fire up your best 140-word comment and click the jump to learn about this fashionable new deal!
A large part of the Web as we know it today is built around independent communities. Think about it. You have a login for your Twitter account, a login for your Facebook account, a login for your [insert favorite Web site here] account. And while each of these independent entities can play with each other via plugins, coding trickery, or outright hacks... you're still stuck in three separate sandboxes at the end of the day. Does Twitter know what I like on my Facebook page? Can Amazon take a gander at my current interests and suggest related purchases? Do any of these sites know who my friends really are--not just the people I tweet, but the people I email on a regular basis?
While that's the current state of social affairs on the Web, it's not necessarily the future. Open-source projects like OpenID are paving the way for a new generation of connectivity, one where differing Web entities come to you for information and display it in a format and location of your choosing. Instead of jacking your life into the Web on a variety of fronts, you will have one point of interaction, one location to present your information. Your interaction with your typical litany of sites will become highly accurate and customized for your lifestyle. And best of all, you won't have to login to 85 different places to make it work.
Learn how OpenID has played a role in this transformation after the jump!