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Apple, Google and the open alternativeJay Lyman, February 3, 2010 @ 4:10 pm ET
Say what you will about Google, its open source software use, its perspective on openness or its lack of openness in some cases (and as evidenced by the links, I have), but the company deserves some credit for being — like it or not — the ‘open alternative.’ In addition to its contributions of code, developers and support to open source, Google also gets credit as the biggest, toughest ‘open’ badge wearer. Regardless of how open it is or is not, at least we have a formidable software and technology company carrying the mantle of the open alternative.
Take Android as an example. Although we continue to hear developer and vendor concerns about its openness, including recent reports it is not continuing in mainline Linux kernel development, Android continues to present the biggest challenge to Apple’s iPhone, both in terms of actual market penetration and buzz. While Android has its limitations in terms of openness, it continues to put pressure on Apple to be more open itself, particularly with its development process and application store. Much in the same way enterprise open source software vendors have put pressure on proprietary competitors to lower prices, improve support and quality, I believe Android is similarly keeping pressure on Apple to respond to concerns about its closed, controlled approach.
Now the discussion has turned to Apple’s recently announced iPad tablet device. As I indicated, I expected some type of open source response, most likely from an existing technology or effort. Where is the open alternative coming from? Again, it appears it is Google, this time with Chrome. Had it been proposed, announced or rumored before Apple’s iPad, a tablet from Google might not seem very open at all in terms of developer and partner access to source code and other aspects. However, when it sits alongside Apple’s announcement and strategy, it again becomes the open alternative.
Whatever Apple comes up with, it seems Google or somebody else or a band of competitors such as the Open Handset Alliance are ready and willing to come up with something in response. In order to make it cost-effective, fast, brandable and developer-friendly, the response also involves open source software.
This is a theme we highlighted in our CAOS special report, Mobility Matters. Part of the reason we saw real traction for mobile Linux, particularly Android, after previous false starts for mobile Linux and open source software was the array of hardware and handset makers, third-party software vendors, wireless carriers, advertising outfits and others that were all similarly focused on their iPhone response: the open alternative.
True, the concerns and issues around Android’s openness, or lack thereof, have significant implications. This is further illustration of how Google may be the open alternative juxtaposed against Apple, but by adding its own strings and closures, Google is also leaving the door open for another, more open alternative. Perhaps Palm and its WebOS are an example, but again, it seems no matter what a company or consortium does, they still leave opportunity for a relatively more open alternative.
It begs the question of how open is open enough? The answer inevitably varies for developers, consumers, vendors and enterprises, but it appears open alternatives will continue to serve as competition and counterbalance to closed technology and strategy and this is a good thing.
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