Sharing: It's one of the first things we're taught as children. One of the most basic social graces, sharing allows us to create new friendships, divvy up precious resources and expand our horizons. Too bad the board of directors of so many high-tech companies never figured this out. Companies like Sony, Apple and Iomega have been saddling us with proprietary memory solutions for years now. Here's our pick of 15 of the worst examples.
Following the acquisition of Sun Microsystems, some analysts have heralded Oracle as the biggest and baddest open source vendor on the block, but not everyone is buying it. Some, like Paul Cormier, president of products and technologies at Red Hat, don't even consider Oracle to be an open source company at this point, let alone the largest one.
"I wouldn't even consider calling them an open source company at all," Cormier said. "When you're making a choice as a company on what's open and what's closed then your customers suffer."
Cormier went on to accuse Sun of sometimes holding back "the good stuff" from the open source community in developing MySQL, claiming that "open is not just seeing the code. Open is also having a community of developer. OpenSolaris is not open. There is no community other than Sun people developing Solaris."
Cormier did admit that there are some parts of Oracle he would consider open, but nothing that approaches the level of openness at Red Hat.
I'm not sure which of these is a more compelling criticism of the Apple iPad: "They named it what?" or "Where's the Flash?"
It's no secret that Apple harbors no love for Adobe's Flash architecture. John Gruber over at Daring Fireball recently wrote up a wonderful treatise as to why this is the case. If you have a spare hour or so, I recommend giving it a look-see. I'll spoil the ending for the sake of continuing on with this column: Flash is a proprietary architecture that Apple has no control over. Thus, when Flash-based elements wreak havoc on the stability of Apple platforms, Apple can't do much to fix the issue--nor can the company convert the 32-bit Flash binary over to Apple's goal of a system-wide, 64-bit experience.
The enemy of Apple's proprietary enemy might be the company's friend, but it's no friend to the Internet.
There are dozens of different computing devices in my home, ranging from the common—TVs, PCs, smartphones, and digital picture frames—to the unusual. Some of the more eclectic gizmos, like smart alarm clocks and various types of music streamers, deliver kick-ass functionality on their own, but there just isn’t much communication between these devices. There are dozens of different protocols and software interfaces designed to foster communication betwixt electronics kit, but none of the manufacturers use them. Seems like all the cutting-edge hardware we buy these days uses proprietary cables, software, and communications protocols.
Sometimes propriety is the price of progress: A product includes some new functionality that requires more than existing technology allows. Sometimes a vendor chooses one standard over a different competing standard. And sometimes it’s just sheer bloody-mindedness on the part of the manufacturer. But regardless of the reason, it’s unacceptable.
Apple does a great job of integrating its gear with other Apple products, but is notoriously bad about integrating with third parties. For example, I still can’t pull photos from my Flickr account into my iPhone without using a third-party app. Likewise, there’s no way to stream the music collection stored on my Windows Home Server to an AppleTV, unless I use Apple’s proprietary iTunes software.
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.
The recent announcement of Skype turning quote-unquote open source has me twirling a finger with delicious glee. It's not that I dislike Skype. And it's not that I'm about to get into one of my 1,500-word debates on the differences between the definition of "free" and "open-source," I promise. This is nevertheless an important premise of Skype's entire move, as some Internet commenters are crying foul that Skype is only half-opening its popular application to the crowd. The GUI code will be yours to play with as you please. The underlying Skype protocol... nope!
To them I say: Duh.
I don't want to put words where they don't exist, but I'm willing to bet that Skype's sudden shift toward open-source waters has more to do with applying a giant, universal band-aid to staggered Linux development. It's not quite an altruistic gift to the community so much as it is a package and a bow with the phrase, "you fix it" written on the label. And that's fine. Let the community create the functional GUIs for Skype. It would be suicide for the company to release its heavily encrypted voice protocols for common use.
The promise of in-game physics has yet to be fully realized, but the technology doesn't appear to be going anywhere. Leading the charge is Nvidia, who has a vested interest with its acquired PhysX technology. But in an interview with Bit-Tech, Godfrey Cheng, Director of Technical Marketing in AMD's Graphics Product Group, downplayed the proprietary standard.
"There is no plan for closed and proprietary standards like PhysX," said Cheng. "As we have emphasized with our support for OpenCL and DX11, closed and proprietary standards will die."
The comment came in response to questions about EA's and 2K's decision to license Nvidia's PhysX technology across all of their worldwide studios. And while Cheng said he can't comment on competitor's business models, he did say that AMD views "Havok technologies and products to be the leaders in physics simulation," pointing out that game developers share that same view. If true, it would be reasonable to assume EA and 2K have gone against their development studios' wishes by adopting PhysX.
"People need to scrutinize various announcements on what is beling 'licensed,'" Cheng pointed out. "Is it to replace the whole physics simulation / tool stack within a game or within the whole studio? Is it for a specific physics simulation product or just a couple of titles? Remember PhysX also has game physics libraries in addition to its new GPU based products."
Cheng went on to say that Havok physics on Radeon videocards is still forthcoming, possibly by early 2009, but noted that this is just the beginning of in-game physics.
If you haven't noticed the general collapse of the financial system around you, coupled with the massive switch to corporate cost-savings mechanisms (including a healthy dose of "rightsizing" by every company under the sun), then you need to stop playing Wrath of the Lich King and flip on the news. Money is important, but perhaps never as important to the general corporate well-being as right now.
It's no surprise then that good ol' open source hardware and software platforms are being thrown into the mix now more than ever. Semantic arguments aside, the open source movement is generally consider a cheaper, if not free alternative to proprietary, commercial software in the enterprise market. But that doesn't mean that open-source software comes without a cost, nor are these companies necessarily immune to the financial movements of the technological industry. So where, then, does open-source development rest in the spectrum? Can these solutions do enough to save the bottom lines of big business? Or are open-source companies just as doomed by a market slowdown as the software vendors on the other side of the fence?