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!
It’s a fun read, actually. One worth a few moments of your time. Over at the Google Blog Jonathan Rosenberg, Senior Vice President of Product Management, defines what Google means by an open system, and lays out an argument for why open systems “win”.
Rosenberg starts with a definition of an open system. An open system has open technology and open information. Open technology consists of two parts: (1) open source: the release and active support of code; and (2) open standards: adherence to accepted standards, where they exist, and creation of such standards where they do not. Open information, says Rosenberg, is “when we have information about users we use it to provide something that is valuable to them, we are transparent about what information we have about them, and we give them ultimate control over their information.”
Rosenberg structures his support for open source by noting that closed systems, the current model, stymies innovation, harms the industry, and shafts consumers. Such a system, Rosenberg says, creates a competitive advantage by making a product popular, then “milking it” through its product life cycle. All you can expect to see is incremental change, rather than true innovation. Because customers are viewed as ‘captives’, Rosenberg argues that complacency sets in: “If you don't have to work that hard to keep your customers, you won't.”
What’s open source have to offer? Rosenberg says three things: innovation, value, and freedom of choice for consumers. If no single entity has ownership of an idea, then any number of competing solutions can be had. Each new innovation adds to the collective wealth of the industry, which in turn promotes more innovation. Ultimately, consumers are benefitted by this continually churning process of making and offering ‘better’ products or services.
One way to parse Rosenberg’s thesis is to consider the National Football League (NFL). The NFL is careful in the management of inter-team competition, through the use of rules and revenue sharing, so that no team dominates the others, such as the New York Yankees do in Major League Baseball. Overall, all teams ‘profit’ from this relatively even competitive balance. (For example, the Arizona Cardinals appearing in the 2009 Super Bowl, and the New York Giants winning one in 2008.) Rather than manage the Internet in the same way, Rosenberg argues that an open environment will produce the same outcome. And while the process may be “chaotic”, it will also be “profitable” for those who understand it and move well within it.
At the start of 2009 there were rumblings that Android was failing as a platform. Phones running the Google-backed open source platform were few and far between for the first few months. Then, in recent months, the Android handsets started dropping more frequently. There are now about a dozen different Android phones floating around. But according to CCS Insight, the flood gates could open wide next year as manufacturers ship more than 50 devices.
Based on plans already announced from vendors, CCS believes that Android usage is about to ramp up quickly. “There are so many companies that have committed to delivering devices ... so to get to 50 isn't that difficult,” said Ben Wood from CCS. Sony Ericson is set to release their Xperia X10 in the first quarter, and HTC is expected to launch five phones in the first half of 2010. CCS also expects Motorola to continue on from the Droid and release about 10 new handsets in 2010.
CCS even speculated that the cost of Android phones could drop under $200 before carrier subsidy. If you thought you had a lot of smartphone choices in 2009, just wait.
Last month Microsoft was forced to take down their Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool after it was discovered to contain open source code. The application allows users to create a bootable USB from an Windows 7 ISO to install the OS on a PC without an optical drive. Now the tool is finally available for download again and is covered by the GNU General Public License Version 2 (GPLv2). It can be found on Microsoft’s open source software repository, CodePlex.
The controversy began in early November when Rafael Rivera posted his findings on the Within Windows blog. "The source code was obviously lifted from the CodePlex-hosted (yikes) GPLv2-licensed ImageMaster project. (The author of the code was not contacted by Microsoft)," wrote Rivera. The software giant later confirmed that a contractor had indeed “borrowed” some GPL licensed code. Microsoft admitted they should have caught the error, but didn’t.
While Microsoft did get a bit of black eye on this one, at least they didn’t take their ball (of code) and go home. Microsoft’s new posting of the tool requires users to complete multiple application installs “for clarity” due to different parts of the code falling under different license terms, but at least it’s available. Get it here.
Get ready Android fans. The mobile browser space is about to get a lot more interesting with the imminent release of Opera Mobile for Android. Don’t confuse this with Opera Mini, which has been available through the Android Market for some time now. Whereas Opera Mini is a java-based browser that was developed for feature phones, Opera Mobile is a full on browser that can stand its ground against the competition.
The odd part here is that it won’t be coming to the Android Market. Opera is only making the software available to OEMs for now. So the next big Android phone could ship with Opera Mobile installed; it could even replace the stock Android browser. Assuming this version of Opera is like the Windows mobile version, it runs a different rendering engine and supports server-side compression like its Mini sibling.
While it will not be available to current Android users just yet, it’s safe to assume that it will soon be in the wild. If Opera doesn’t make it available, the dedicated Android modding community is likely to get a hold of the APK before long. Since the Android Market is really just a suggestion, apps like this can be obtained from outside sources. Between this and Mobile Firefox, it’s going to be an interesting ride. Sorry iPhone users, you’ll be sitting this one out.
If you've been avoiding Thunderbird 3 because you prefer not to roll with beta or RC code, we have good news. The latest version of Mozilla's open source email client has gone gold and is ready for download.
Mozilla touts its latest email client as faster, more flexible, and more secure than previous generations, and it's also more robust. Thunderbird 3 brings tabbed email to the table, as well as a new search interface with filtering and timeline tools.
Other features include the ability to archive old email, better management of multiple email accounts with Smart Folders, an integrated add-ons manager, and a new look and feel with lightweight skins available.
Just last month, Mozilla announced it would keep its Thunderbird 3.0 email client in Alpha form because "calling something a beta is likely to trigger a bunch of extra press attention we're not yet in a position to deal with." Well, Mozilla's now ready and has pushed its email client into Release Candidate status.
The RC is a public preview and intended for developer testing and community feedback, Mozilla says. Mozilla added that it's looking specifically for feedback on the client's new search tools, tabbed email, message archiving, new mail account setup wizard, and improvements for developers.
There are quite a few changes Mozilla made to the new email client, all of which are outlined in the Release Notes here. Be sure to give it a glance before grabbing the download here.
Limiting the time it takes to reach the desktop from the moment the PC is turned on (no pun intended) may not be the holy grail of personal computing but it is something that merits attention. Google is just not chasing distant dreams in the “cloud” with its Chrome OS. It is also trying to address – or exploit - the growing mass resentment of slow boot times. In fact, the focal point of most reports about Google's operating system in the mainstream media has been its ability to boot in just 7 seconds. Not that tech-savvy people don't like quick boot times, but this is wonderful publicity as it is simple enough to stoke the curiosity of tech greenhorns, the majority.
China Mobile was selected as the carrier of Dell's Mini 3i, which the two companies jointly announced will be available by the end of the month in choice of Red Passion or Oiled Bronze.
Coming as no surprise, the Mini 3i will sport Google's open-source Android platform, arguably the hottest OS out there right now, It will be compatible with quad-band GSM/EDGE networks and boast a 3.5-inch touchscreen with a 640x360 resolution, and measure 4.8 by 2.3 by 0.46 inches. By comparison, the iPhone 3GS also sports a 3.5-inch display, but with a 480x320 resolution, and measures 4.4 by 2.4 by 0.48 inches. And at 4.7 ounces, it weighs an ounce more than Dell's Mini 3i.
Other features include GPS navigation, Bluetooth, an a 3MP camera with zoom, auto-focus, flash, video capture, and photo-editing capabilities, eWeek.com reports.
"This signals an important milestone in the long term partnership between China Mobile and Dell," a China Mobile spokesperson said in a statement. "We are excited for Dell to be among the first manufacturers to introduce new technology based on the OPhone platform. We look forward to working the Dell as it brings innovative new products and services to add value to our customers' lives."
China Mobile currently has over 500 million subscribers.
Despite the growing popularity of open source software, there's still the issue of how to make money with it. No easy task, warns Miguel de Icaza, Vice President of Novell, who also heads up the firm's open source Mono project.
"If your livelihood depends on the product that you're selling, until you can figure how you're going to make money on that thing, I say, keep it proprietary," de Icaza said.
The VP went on to say that it's "incredibly difficult" making an open source business. His remarks were in response to an audience member at the Microsoft PDC (Professional Developers Conference), who raised the question of making money via open source. The issue of making money by selling support also came up.
"You need to take those steps carefully in my opinion," de Icaza said. "And support, by the way, is a horrible business. I want to be writing code, and I want to be paid to write code."
The VP did note that if you're a young developer without a lot of obligations, like a family and tuition, then it's far easier to consider doing open source projects.