Why mobile platforms need to embrace Free Software

By creating environments hostile to the GPL, Apple and other smartphone vendors could be setting back mobile computing by years

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The opportunities inherent in such devices are tremendous. How strange that we seem to have fallen back to modes of thinking borrowed from the 1970s, when the companies that produced computing devices got to dictate how, where, when, and for how long we could use them.

To be fair, not every vendor has taken the same hostile stance toward free and open mobile computing that Apple and AT&T have. Sprint and T-Mobile have yet to announce any limits to their data plans. Google's Android Market isn't the exclusive source of applications for Android phones. And Palm has even volunteered to waive its $99 fee for developers whose apps will be open source.

These are all encouraging moves. But until we see a smartphone market where GPL-licensed software enjoys the same status as commercial software, Free Software will be losing the battle for this important segment of the computing industry. Developers often begrudge the GPL for seeming to emphasize principles over commercial practicalities. But if you want to see what a software market looks like when it neglects principles, look no further than the iPhone App Store. Developers should demand more.

This article, "Why mobile platforms need to embrace Free Software," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Neil McAllister's Fatal Exception blog and follow the latest news in software development at InfoWorld.com.

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