Mobile computing now an open source driver

Conference centers on potential for device-based software

Mobile computing has become a dominant focus in the open source arena, a theme on prominent display at a major open source technology convention last week.

The O'Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) in Portland, Ore., highlighted mobile efforts along with Linux, Web computing, and languages. Mention of various mobile efforts abounded, including LiMo (Linux Mobile), Intel's Moblin, and the Google-backed Android platform.

"We've seen some amazing things happening in the Linux development process that's really going to impact the mobile world," said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, in a presentation at the Open Mobile Exchange portion of the conference. Zemlin explained that datacenter innovations pertaining to power consumption in Linux can be applied to the mobile world, translating to longer battery life. Real-time technology also is pertinent, he said.

Intel's Dirk Hohndel, chief Linux and open source technologist, touted the Moblin platform championed by the company as well as Intel's open source push. "Open source is something that we believe really helps change the game," Hohndel said.

The Android platform also attracted attention, although not all of it positive. "I like the idea of Android. I've been really disappointed in the progress of the project," Tim Bray, director of Web technologies at Sun, said in an interview on the OSCON show floor. There has not been any Android hardware out and not much has been offered as far as new releases, Bray noted. Also, the project has lacked transparency, he said.

Google released a statement affirming its Android plans. "We remain on schedule to deliver the first Android-based handset in the second half of 2008 and we're very excited to see the momentum continuing to build behind the Android platform among carriers, handset manufacturers, developers and consumers," the company said.

A Java developer conducted an evening "birds of a feather" session at OSCON to familiarize attendees with Android. "I think [Android] will be successful," said Sean Sullivan, an independent developer, in an interview. "I think [there are] going to be many mobile phone platforms. It's not going to converge quickly." He is building an Android application to help people in Portland use the local bus system. 

Bray expressed disappointment with the overall mobile market.

"The only mobile platform that's widely used to access the Net is the iPhone and it’s a totally controlled ecosystem where you're only allowed to write the programs Apple says you're allowed to write," Bray said.

The iPhone attracted attention at the conference. An audience member during a morning keynote presentation event asked why the open source world has not done anything as "insanely great" as iPhone.

Bray held out hope that Sun's JavaFX Mobile platform now in development could serve as an open source, encumbrance-free, mobile platform for the industry to adopt. Openmoko technology also could succeed, according to Bray.

Aside from mobile computing, OSCON also featured calls by Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu Linux, for a Linux desktop to exceed what Apple has accomplished and development of free software business models. He advocated a services-based model.

Sun, meanwhile, used OSCON to release Sun Web Stack, a software stack that lets users choose which OS they want to include with their Web deployments. Microsoft also courted open source at the conference, making contributions to the Ruby and PHP communities and partnering up with the Apache Software Foundation, becoming a platinum-level sponsor.

"This sponsorship will enable the ASF to pay administrators and other support staff so that ASF developers can focus on writing great software," said Microsoft's Sam Ramji, director of platform strategy, in a blog entry.

Meanwhile, Open Web Foundation, an industry effort to develop and protect non-proprietary specifications for Web technologies, was unveiled at OSCON.

"The Open Web Foundation differs from most formal standards bodies as it is based around individual membership (like the Apache Software Foundation) and is designed to have a lightweight process, which makes it easier for a community of individuals and/or companies to come together and start work on an open specification," said David Recordon, an organizer of the foundation and open platforms tech lead for Six Apart, which makes blogging tools.

"Like the Apache Software Foundation, the incubation process will also focus on building a diverse community of contributors to each specification as well as ensuring the existence of multiple interoperable implementations like the IETF does," Recordon wrote in an e-mail.

OSCON attendee Jon Rockway, an author of the Catalyst Web framework for Perl, was disappointed with what he perceived to be the overly commercial bent of the event.

"One thing I don't like about OSCON is it feels a little bit too commercial for me," Rockway said. "Companies come and they want to pitch open source as a magic solution to any problem and really, I'm more of a coder than a business person."

Nonetheless, Rockway said he enjoyed seeing colleagues face to face at OSCON.

"I always come to these to meet up with friends," Rockway said.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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