Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mobile open source gets disconnected

The Open Source in Mobile (OSiM) conference was held in Madrid, Spain this year. Focused on “mobile Linux and open source”, it offered some great networking opportunities (one had flamenco dancing) but no new insights or OSS projects as far as I could determine. There were many seemingly indistinguishable sessions on open mobile Linux and open source technologies, initiatives, and strategies over a two-day period.

In contrast to last year, I think the mobile open source industry had reached a plateau in OSS development and business applications. In Amsterdam last year there was a lot of discussion and demonstration of prototypes of mobile applications, open source phones, standards, and other open source development.

This week most of the attendees had developed infrastructure solutions by adopting both open source components and community development processes. These solutions were “open source” by merit of their components, but on the whole they were mostly proprietary software. This is disappointing. Just as disappointing was the fact that -- except for examples like Nokia’s open source phone and open source initiative, Symbian’s open source platform and community center, and some browsers -- the solutions on display or presented were not created by a concerted open source development process.

And they certainly did not fall onto the copyleft end of the IP spectrum. Bill Weinberg recognized this first. During a panel in Madrid we both served on, Bill said he said that open source processes (especially license-related ones) were shabby in the '90s but have improved in the last 1-2 years.

Meanwhile, “Lefty” Schlesinger from ACCESS avowed that this shortage in broad-based open source development is just a temporary phenomenon. He claimed that more “open sourcey” applications and solutions will appear over the coming months as companies launch their infrastructure products and need to bring more technologies to market in order to attract new customers.

One encouraging open source mobile arrival is the Wireless Industry Partnership (WIP) championed by Caroline Lewko. This portal has been built on and to foster partnerships and a network of successful companies in wireless. A key concern is developing open source wireless applications. These community organized efforts are bound to help propagate more pure open source development efforts.

These efforts can't come too soon. Given the proliferation of proprietary mobile solutions on the market, developing mobile open source alternatives is definitely a good call.

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